Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Conington, Cambridgeshire

On my way home from Ely I stopped off at St Mary (locked no keyholder) which is/was on my wishlist of churches to visit. Why I wanted to visit eludes me now but it plainly wasn't for the exterior which is run of the mill excepting the flat chancel roof and massive tower buttresses. A disappointing church.

ST MARY. C14 tower, brick-built nave of 1737, chancel of 1871. The tower has an arch towards the nave which is triple-chamfered and has no capitals, bell-openings with Dec tracery, no battlements, and a ribbed spire with two tiers of dormers. The tower is propped up by massive sloping brick buttresses. The W doorway is of the same date as the nave. The nave windows are arched and have Gibbs surrounds, the doorway also has one, and above it an open pediment and an oval window reaching down into the opening of the pediment. Inside the nave shallow arched niches l. and r. of the windows. They hold eight MONUMENTS of which the following need mention: Dame Alice Cotton d. 1657, by Joshua Marshall (Mrs Esdaile). Frontal demi-figure in oval niche with a laurel garland. - Robert Cotton d. 1697, signed by Grinling Gibbons and with the gorgeous flower garlands in stone which are so characteristic of Gibbons’s work in wood. Portrait medallion, leaving much space between the head and the upper frame. — Frances and Mary Askham d. 1748, with two proļ¬le medallions. - STAINED GLASS. Chancel windows typical work of c. 1850-60.

St Mary (2)

CONINGTON. Here is one of the homes of the Cottons, to whom the nation owes one of the great libraries in the British Museum, saved from the wreck of the monasteries by Henry the Eighth, and cherished by a man who was happy in the friendship of Francis Bacon and Ben Jonson. The Cottons are remembered in the neat little church, with a gabled lychgate set at the little square by a pond, and two of their marble monuments are by sculptors no less famous than Edward Marshall and Grinling Gibbons. Marshall, who was Master Mason to Charles the Second, sculptured the head of Thomas Cotton’s wife Alice with her curling locks; we have seen her twice on our journeyings, for her figure is also at Eyworth in Bedfordshire, on the tomb of her first husband, Edmund Anderson.

Grinling Gibbons carved the head of a boy in a rich frame of flowers, with palm leaves below, and cherubs supporting the family arms in memory of Robert Cotton, a boy of 14 of whom we are told that “he had marks of sprightly courage.” Here also are remembered three Cotton children who died a few years after the Restoration, none living for a week, and two sisters in their teens who died in two days of fever.

The church is a landmark in this flat countryside, the spire rising above the trees on its 14th century tower; in it are three bells older than the Reformation. The old chancel was made new last century, and the nave 200 years ago, with the Cotton vault running along its outside wall. There is a little old glass, and two ancient chests.

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