Monday, 21 June 2010

Elsenham, Essex

I visited St Mary in March and can remember that although it was the last visit of the day, it was also, at the time, the best church of the day. At the time I loved the location, the big Hall and walled churchyard but looking through the photos I’m left strangely flat. Perhaps it’s because it had become overcast and then started raining which resulted in grey and dull exterior shots and the interior wasn’t the most exciting I’ve seen to date.

I like the workaday exterior with lots of recycled material from Roman tiles to re-used bricks in the flint work walls and its stolid, foursquare stance – nothing flashy, just a solid Essex church saying take me as you find me. The location though is lovely, so perhaps I need a sunny day revisit to get some better pictures and re-adjust my memories to a more positive slant.

CHURCH. Norman windows in nave (N and S) and chancel (N) In the nave on the S side in addition a three-light mid C16 brick window and a brick porch with brick doorway and two-light side openings. But inside the porch the best piece of Norman decoration of the church, a doorway with zigzag carved columns, oddly decorated capitals (do they mean Sun and Moon?), a tympanum with chip-carved stars and tiers of saltire crosses, and the extrados of the arch with another two strips of saltires. Inside the church against the tympanum a re-used COFFIN LID of the same early date, with a‘ rough cross and bands of saltires. - The chancel-arch also is Norman. It has, like the doorway, columns with zigzag carving and two bands of saltires in the extrados of the arch. In the chancel a C13 addition, a Double Piscina with a shaft carrying a stiff-leaf capital and arches with dog-tooth decoration. - PULPIT Early C17 with strapwork and arabesque motifs. - PLATE. Cup of 1562; Paten of 1595; Paten on foot of c. 1700; Almsdish. - BRASSES of 1615 and 1619. 

 St Mary

St Mary

Anne Field


St Mary

1614 - 1619

Anyway Arthur Mee is more positive than me:

ELSENHAM. A Roman must have set up house here, for we find his red tiles in the church across the valley. The inner arch of one doorway is entirely made of them. They are in the 15th century tower, and were used in the walls of the chancel and the nave by the Normans whose simple carving turns the narrow south doorway into exquisite beauty. It has spiral shafts, and a tympanum repeating the pattern round the arch. A most curious thing is behind this tympanum, a Norman coffin lid with a patterned border and a raised cross, made for a Knight Templar who died about the time the doorway was made, but probably picked up from the chancel floor and put here to strengthen the tympanum by some casual workman when the 15th century door with its metal plate was put in. For 400 years a high-pitched brick porch has sheltered this old door and the older doorway.

High and narrow are the splayed Norman windows to the nave, but most of the light pours in through the lovely 20th century glass in the medieval east window, which we see perfectly framed in the Norman carving of the chancel arch. A mother and her stepdaughter face each other on the jambs of this arch, their brass portraits made to match with twice as much lettering as picture. Though only four years passed between their deaths, early in the 17th century, their costume shows great changes. They were the wife and daughter of Dr Tuer, the vicar whose initials are on the Elizabethan chalice.

A Norman peephole to the altar is cut on one side of the arch, and red bricks frame the doorway to the old rood loft. The 15th century kingpost roof has been saved from the death watch beetle, except for one beam which it had almost completely devoured. The pulpit on an oak stem has Jacobean carving. In the chancel, where a fine double piscina was carved 700 years ago, are some coloured metal panels with portraits of saints, brought from France by Sir Walter Gilbey. Edward the Seventh used to come here to talk with this man who in his youth drove a coach hereabouts for a living and in his old age drove the most splendid coaches in England for the joy of it.

Sir Walter lived in the big hall seen by the church against a dense background of trees, and by the road is a well in memory of his wife, with oak pillars supporting a gilded dome. A lover of horses, he wrote many books about them before he died in 1914.

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