Saturday, 26 June 2010

Felsted, Essex

I'm at a loss - how does Finchingfield get into Simon Jenkin's 1000 Best Churches over Felsted? Both churches are similar in layout and design, although I'll grant Finchingfield the prettier location - I think this swung it - both, however, are surrounded by medieval remnants and houses but, and to my mind it's a big but, Felsted has the Rich Chapel.

I know you're thinking that a tomb to an out out bastard shouldn't swing the decision Felsted's way but the Rich Chapel really does set it apart, in my opinion, from Finchingfield - which anyway already holds the accolade of Essex's prettiest or most picturesque, I forget which, village.

I suspect Arthur will agree with me - I haven't checked yet, honest.

HOLY CROSS. A sizeable, prosperous town-church, excellently placed away from the main street and separated from it by a range of low houses with a gateway through. Unbuttressed Norman W tower with later battlements and an C18 cupola. W doorway of two orders of columns with defaced capitals, zigzag decoration in the arches. The rest of the church exterior appears mostly C14 and is much renewed; Exceptions are the C15 S porch and the S chancel chapel which dates from the middle of the C16 and, while the rest of the church is of pebble-rubble, is faced with clunch ashlar. Inside, the building history appears a little more complicated, as will be seen, directly one enters the church by the S doorway. The water-leaf capitals of this take one at once to the later C12, and to that date also belongs the S arcade. It has short sturdy circular and octagonal piers with capitals decorated with upright leaves. The pointed arches are single-stepped with an odd soffit decoration which recurs in the tower arch and the N arcade (cf. Castle Hedingham). The tower arch is round, the N arcade of octagonal piers with double-chamfered arches, C14 work. Of the same century are the two-light clerestory windows. - FONT. Early C14? Circular with human heads connecting the circular with an upper square part. - EASTER SEPULCHRE, in the chancel, mid C14 and much restored. Recess with embattled top and a crocketed ogee arch; buttresses and ļ¬nials. - POOR BOX. Iron-bound and studded.- PLATE. Large silver-gilt Cup of 1641; Paten on foot of 1641; Paten on foot of 1700. - MONUMENTS. Richard, first Lord Rich d. 1568 and his son d. 1581, erected probably only about 1620 and attributed convincingly by Mrs Esdaile to Epiphanius Evesham. Lord Rich, great grandson of a London mercer and born in 1496 in the City of London, had risen, by means of ability and absence of scruples, to be made Lord Chancellor in 1548. Big standing wall monument with the figure of Lord Rich comfortably reclining and looking back at his son who is kneeling on the ground by the side facing a prayer-desk attached by a generous scroll to the monument. Behind the figure two coats of arms and three reliefs of groups of standing figures, with all the lyrical intensity of which Evesham was capable. They represent Lord Rich with Fortitude and Justice, Lord Rich with Hope and Charity, and Lord Rich with Truth (?) and Wisdom. One looks in vain for Lord Rich with Intolerance and Occasio. The monument is flanked by two tall bronze columns carrying a pediment. - Brasses to Christine Bray d. 1420 and to a Knight of about the same date, both with figures c. 2 ft long, and both on the chancel floor.

 Holy Cross

Holy Cross

Richard Rich

Richard Rich detail

Robert Rich, 2nd Baron Lees

Robert Rich detail
FELSTEAD. Its fame is wherever the influence of our public schools has gone. It lies off the Roman road from Great Dunmow to Colchester, and has a fine little group of farmhouses and buildings. On one cottage in the heart of the village are the words, "George Boot made this house, 1596," and we must agree that he made it well, for its overhanging storey still rests on a moulded beam borne on carved brackets decorated with dragons and rosettes, and at one corner crouches a remarkable figure of a woman with cloven feet. Near by is the 17th century vicarage, and beyond is a charming group of almshouses made new in the old style with a small chapel in which we found an Elizabethan table with hinged flaps. The almshouses were founded by the Lord Chancellor who gave the village its chief pride, one of the most famous schools in England, older than Shakespeare. He was Lord Chancellor Rich, a melancholy figure in our history but a benefactor of this countryside.

His school has now about 300 boys, and the main modern building, with its towers and gabled windows, faces one of the finest cricket fields in Essex, on which is a pavilion built from the beams of old cottages that have gone. A cloister leads to the noble hall sheltered by a pair of lofty elms, and beyond is the gracious memorial building designed by two Old Boys. The school began in Tudor days in the delightful timbered and plastered building still standing in the heart of the village, the old schoolroom occupying four bays of the upper storey overhanging the street. The original roof beams are still visible. Next door is the 15th century cottage in which the schoolmaster lived, its three gabled windows projecting from the tiled roof.

In this small schoolroom four sons of Oliver Cromwell learned their lessons - Robert, who may have died at school; Oliver, the Captain Cromwell killed in battle; Henry, wisest and best of all the Protector's boys, and Richard, one of the pathetic figures of our history. To this school also came John Wallis, well known as a mathematician in the early 17th century. His amazing mathematical feats made him famous everywhere, and the rapid deciphering of a cryptical letter during the Civil War set him on the road to fortune, though indeed he was well off, his mother having bequeathed to him an estate in Kent. He is regarded as the chief of all the forerunners of Sir Isaac Newton in mathematics, for which he invented the symbol of Infinity. He would solve the most intricate problems in bed at night and startled even those who knew his great abilities by his wonderful ingenuity with figures, and his easy dealings with them. He knew Pepys, and one of his sad little notes was written to the diarist saying that till he was past 80 he could pretty well bear the weight of years, but he was now an old man, and his sight, hearing, and strength were not as they were wont to be.

There followed John Wallis as a scholar at this school that other mathematician whom we meet in the Poets Corner of Westminster Abbey, Isaac Barrow. Here he had his first lessons in mathematics, and it is no small tribute to this little grammar school that Isaac Barrow grew up to be the mathematical master of Sir Isaac Newton. That was the proud office he gave up in order to travel abroad, and he had great adventures, and when he fell asleep the last words on his lips were "I have seen the glories of the world."

Under the old schoolroom is a wooden arch leading to the ancient church, which has a Norman tower capped by a cupola set up about 1700, when the clock was made. Tiny Norman windows light the stair turret within the tower, which has a fine Norman doorway with a column on each side and two rows of zigzag ornament on its arch. We come into the church by a Tudor porch with a roof which still has its original rafters. The doorway into the nave was built about 1200, and has four columns with carved capitals. The south arcade is from the end of Norman days, the magnificent piers having foliage capitals. The tower arch is also Norman, though it has been restored with Tudor bricks. The chancel and the fine rafters in its roof are 14th century, and so is the grand roof of the nave, the clerestory, the north arcade, the walls of the aisles, and the much-worn font with its sculptured heads. Probably by these same 14th century craftsmen is the Easter Sepulchre carved with elaborate foliage and rich with pinnacles in which tiny arches are flanked by faces. There are two 500-year-old brasses, one with the portrait of Christine Grey in a veiled headdress, and the other showing a man magnificent in armour.

But the glory of this church is the great monument of Lord Rich. It is in a chapel built by him as the resting-place of his family, and his tomb is one of the most captivating pieces of carving in Essex. It is, moreover, a significant monument surviving from Tudor days, being one of the few works that are definitely known to be by our first eminent English sculptor, Epiphanius Evesham, whose work we have come upon in two or three places in Kent and in other counties. Here the sculptor has shown us a remarkable figure on a remarkable tomb. Lord Rich is leaning on his elbow in his robe of state, a living portrait of craft and guile with his long beard, and wearing a flat cap. The canopy over him rests on two black columns, and his coat-of-arms and scenes from his life are worked into panels behind him. We see him as a youth holding a cross and a document, Truth and Wisdom standing by him. A second panel shows him as Speaker in the House of Commons with Virtue and Justice behind him, and in the third, where his companions are Hope and Charity, he is represented as Lord Chancellor, carrying the Purse of State. We see him again engraved in black marble on the front of the tomb, riding on horseback, and, last scene of all, we see him on his funeral hearse elaborately canopied, with mournful watchers paying the last homage. The second Lord Rich kneels at a prayer desk let into the tomb, and as a background to the monument are pilasters framing the family arms supported by finely carved stags.

For all Cromwellians this church has much human interest, for here lies Cromwell's first-born son and here was married his last born daughter. They could never have known each other. Robert Cromwell died at Felstead when he was 18, a scholar in the old schoolroom; there is an exceptional tribute to him in the register by his friend the rector, who wrote, "Robert Cromwell, son of the honourable man Squire Oliver Cromwell. Robert was an uncommonly pious youth, fearing God beyond many." Like his three brothers, who were pupils here, Robert would spend his leisure hours at Grandcourts, the 16th century home of the Bourchiers.

In a grave near by lies that Robert Rich who married Cromwell’s youngest daughter, Frances. His death was full of pathos, and her life crowded with romance. She is the subject of a remarkable group of marriage stories. It is said that Charles the Second was willing to marry her but that Cromwell would not agree to this plan of bringing peace to the kingdom, because, as he said, "Charles would never be such a fool as to forgive him the death of his father." Cromwell's chaplain, Jerry White, then made love to her, and, being caught by Oliver in the act, timidly protested that he was pleading for her support for his suit to the lady's maid, whereupon Oliver insisted on his marrying the lady's maid on the spot. The third marriage story is that Robert Rich, heir to the Earl of Warwick, fell in love with Frances and married her, so that she would have become Countess of Warwick in due time; but they were married in November in this church at Felstead and Robert Rich died in February leaving no issue. His widow now married into the Russell family, giving Sir John Russell several children, but burying him at last and remaining his widow for more than half a century.

Another figure still remembered here (pupil, master, and governor of the school) is Edward Gepp, a clergyman who spent most of his life at or near Felstead, retiring at last to Chaffix, a Tudor cottage at the end of the village. Here in our time he produced his Essex: Dialect Dictionary, a rich fund of rural speech gathered from the neighbourhood. It is a careful and scholarly work, and the only book of its kind.

In the chapel of Felstead School is a memorial to 239 Felsteadians who gave their lives for England in the Great War; it is a fine screen made of English oak, designed and painted by Frank 0 Salisbury. It has a statue of St George and the Dragon flanked by figures of Sir Galahad and King Arthur. The embattled cornice is carved with foliage, and on the back of the stalls below the screen are carved three wreaths for the Army, Navy, and the Air Force. Above it all is Mr Salisbury's beautiful window of Our Lord supporting a soldier in khaki, and on the panels are the names of the 239 fallen, among them the name of John Leslie Green, who was with the Royal Army Medical Corps in the Great War, and was awarded the VC for bringing a wounded man from the enemy's wire entanglements, dressing his wounds in a shell-hole amid a storm of bombs and rifle grenades, and bearing him to within reach of safety.

RICHARD RICH, Lord Chancellor, who has slept at Felstead since 1567, was one of the sinister figures of Tudor England. It has been said that he made stepping-stones to fortune of the dead bodies of his benefactors. After a wild youth he became a foremost lawyer and was made Solicitor-General, making use of his office to visit Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher in the Tower and to betray both to death. Under a pledge of secrecy he extracted statements from Bishop Fisher which he treacherously used at the trial. When More was brought before his judges Rich put into his mouth words he had never uttered, leading More to declare that Rich, who had been a great gambler, was loose of his tongue, and such a man as no one could communicate with on any matter of importance.

Rich marched to power by servile flattery of Henry the Eighth, and was rewarded with part of the king's ill-gotten gains from the monasteries. Having worked with Thomas Cromwell, he now helped to manoeuvre his fall, and with his own hands he tortured Anne Askew in the Tower. In the troubled years which followed he sup-ported whichever side seemed uppermost, betraying his friends in turn. He signed the proclamation for Lady Jane Grey and then came down into Essex and proclaimed Mary. He sent Roman Catholics and Protestants to their death. He rode with Queen Elizabeth into London, and was one of those summoned to discuss the question of the queen's marriage, but he was unworthy of his office, a base intriguer, one of the most selfish of men in spite of his benefactions.

Flickr set.

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