Thursday, 16 September 2010

Great Hallingbury, Essex

St Giles was locked when I visited in March, which is a pity as it contains some brasses to the Morley family - one of whom, Sir William Parker (d. 1622) was complicit in revealing the gunpowder plot and most of whom appear in my family tree.

St. Giles’ Church has a great deal of Roman brick and mortar in its walls and the obvious re-use of the material already there shows that there was probably a Roman building on the site. The chancel arch, which is built entirely of Roman brick, is probably the church’s most splendid feature.

With the coming of the Morleys began a long succession of over-lords closely in touch with the Crown and its ministers, serving their sovereign at home and abroad for more than 300 years and giving the name Hallingbury Morley to the village. The Hall was their manor house until in Tudor times their large red-brick mansion was built in the park. A number of the Morleys lie buried in the church but their tomb stone was removed during the church’s restoration in 1874. Their memorials in the tower and the helms on the chancel wall remind us of this once great family. The impact they made must have been enormous, related as some of them were to the royal families of their time. Their Hallingbury hunting ground was, in the 16th century, transformed by the building of the mansion and the making of the park around it, which enabled the Morley family to live in a life-style more in keeping with their status than the five rooms of The Hall allowed. The pond in the parkland is the last remaining relic of that era.

ST GILES. C15 W tower with thin diagonal buttresses and a tall shingled spire. The rest externally all Victorian, of 1874. Internally however, to one’s surprise, one finds a complete Early Norman chancel-arch built up entirely of Roman bricks, with the imposts of unmoulded  stepped bricks. The arcade of 1874 is of circular piers with very richly and naturalistically carved capitals. An original motif the screen-like stone arches to the l. and r. of the chancel arch. Another reminder of the Norman church is one S window close to the W end. Ecclesiologists will be interested in the extremely rare feature of a Piscina high up apparently to serve the rood-loft. - PLATE Cup of 1661; Paten dated 1675. 

GREAT HALLINGBURY. It was the home of a man very anxious to die and of one who saved Parliament from a sudden end. In a wooded countryside near Bishop's Stortford, it has an ancient camp called Wallbury above the River Stort. Protected by a double rampart, it covers about 30 acres and must have been here before the Saxons came. Near Latchmore Common is a charming thatched cottage 300 years old, and in the walls of Hallingbury Place is good 16th century brickwork. Here for centuries lived the Parkers, who sprang into fame 600 years ago. One was admiral of the fleet which won our first naval victory, the Battle of Sluys; another was Henry, the eighth Baron Morley, who served Henry the Eighth at his court, was a student of the New Learning, and an authority on Italian literature. But the most famous of all the family was William Parker, Baron Morley and Lord Monteagle, who has been sleeping here since 1622 and is remembered for bringing Gunpowder Plot to light.

The Morley tombs have perished, and all we see is a collection of brass inscriptions brought together with a quaint figure of Death inside the 15th century tower. It is the only part of the church not rebuilt, except for a very remarkable chancel arch made almost entirely of Roman bricks. It was made about the time the Normans came, and there is a window as old. A doorway older than Agincourt is still in the porch, and a piscina unusually high in the nave shows that in the old days there was an altar in the rood loft. The head of the piscina is also of Roman brick.

Kept in the church are two Tudor helmets, one of them inlaid, and an ancient British burial urn, about a foot wide, dug up from the floor where it had lain almost since history began. Among the modern possessions is a beautiful mosaic of the Walk to Emmaus.

Both tower and chancel must have been familiar to old John Brand in Queen Elizabeth's reign, one of the queerest characters a village ever had. So queer was his story that it came to be written in the church archives, and there it is told how his troubles began one Christmas Eve, when an angel of the devil appeared before him in a vision and showed him plainly where he would find Mother Pryor's money. He found it, £7 18s; but that was not the end, for three months later the same angel came and told him it were better to kill himself than to marry the widow he had in mind. Determined to take this advice, John Brand began on a Monday by taking a dagger, and was only saved by his friends. On Wednesday he put a sack over his head and plunged headlong into John Pryor's pond, seven feet deep. The next Sunday he "took rat's-bayne and drank it in a messe of potage at his dinner, which pained him so, and could not die. So he took a hay halter and hanged himself upon an oak beside his house, and lieth buried at Hangman's Oak."

It is one of the oddest village stories we have come upon, handed down from the days when people everywhere were superstitious.

The Man Who Surprised Guy Fawkes

COINCIDENCE as strange as any novel was responsible for the way in which the Gunpowder Plot was revealed and prevented from taking effect by William Parker, fourth Baron Monteagle and eleventh Baron Morley, who sleeps in this old church.

Bred a Roman Catholic, he was imprisoned for complicity in

rebellion, but was active in bringing Jesuits to London to disturb the Protestant peace. But he changed his religious views, and wrote to King James stating his desire to be admitted into the Church of England. James marked his approval by summoning him to sit in the Parliament which was due to meet on November 5, 1605. In doing so the King unconsciously saved himself and his two sons.

An entirely new situation was now created in the mind of one of the chief conspirators, Tresham, who was Monteagle's brother-in-law. At all costs Monteagle must be preserved against the impending massacre. Catesby would not hear of Tresham warning Monteagle, but it is supposed that, without positive breach of confidence, Monteagle was warned to take serious notice of information that he would receive. At any rate, Monteagle ostentatiously gave a supper party, and there, in the presence of all the guests, a note, mysteriously brought, was conspicuously delivered into his hand at the supper table.

Monteagle gave it to an attendant, who was in the confidence of all the conspirators, and bade him read it aloud. The material part of the letter ran as follows:

I would advise you, as you tender your life, to devise some excuse to shift your attendance at this Parliament, for God and man hath con­curred to punish the wickedness of this time. And think not slightly of this advertisement, but retire yourself into the country, where you may expect the event in safety, for, though there be no appearance of any stir, yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow this Parliament, and they shall not see who hurts them.

There was neither address nor signature. The man who had read the letter aloud to the company was now free to go and warn the conspirators that the plot had been published, while Monteagle took the letter to the Lord Treasurer as he sat at supper with other lords at Whitehall.

Accompanied by the Lord Chamberlain, Monteagle proceeded to the cellars of the Parliament House, where they saw a man standing by a heap of faggots. It was the unshakable Guy Fawkes.

Monteagle became a national hero as the saviour of the dynasty and of Parliament itself. He was rewarded with a grant of land worth £200 a year and a pension of £500 which he lived 17 years to enjoy.

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