Friday, 17 September 2010

Great Sampford, Essex

For reasons I wont go into I have a soft spot for St Michael, and even more so for its sister church, St Mary the Virgin, in Little Sampford. It is Grade one listed, constructed mostly in the 14th century of flint and rubble with stone dressings although the south chapel is late 13th century and was the transept of an earlier church. It apparently owes its existence to the Knights Hospitallers and on the walls of the chancel are stone arcades with clustered columns and cusped pointed arches mounted above stone benches. The north wall has 11 bays and the south 15, each is supposed to have seated one of the Knights.The arch from the south aisle has some of the finest carving in Essex - see Mee's comments below.

The interior is fairly plain but the details, like the carvings and the chancel bays, make the church special. All, or pretty much all, of the stained glass has been lost but this gives a light and airy feel, particularly true of the huge traceried east window and the chancel in general. On either side of the altar survive four finely carved panels, the two to the left being Exodus altarpieces and the two on the right containing the Our Father and The Creed.

There appears to be a lost stone rood screen, presumably a victim of the Reformation rather than Dowling's attentions, as at Stebbing and Great Bardfield, which must have made a magnificent entrance to the chancel if the quality of the east window is anything to go by.

On the north wall of the nave are traces of frescoes and deep grooves are cut into the tower arch where the bell ropes have, over the centuries, worn their way. It is, admittedly, light in the monuments and brass department but I think I can forgive it that.

GREAT SAMPFORD. It has a 14th century church built by the Knights Hospitallers, its great attraction being the chancel, which has two splendid features: the beautiful tracery of the great window, nearly filling the wall above the altar; and the series of arches on the side walls, each with a seat for one of the old knights. On the north are 11 of them, divided by a handsome priest's doorway; on the south are 15, one for the piscina and one pierced for a doorway into the oldest part of the church, a 13th century chapel. With their carved arches and clustered columns these chancel arcades have great beauty. One old treasure may have gone, for the rough stone­work at the base of the chancel arch suggests that one of the rare stone screens such as are still seen at Great Bardfield and Stebbing once stood here.

There is much to see as we walk about the church, inside and out. We notice two fierce goats standing out from the chapel gable, the niches in the buttresses, and the consecration crosses, formed of dark cut flint. The 14th century tower has a stair turret of Tudor brick, and the nave has six fine columns supporting a 14th century clerestory, in which a window was cut in the 15th century to light the rood loft. There are roof beams, a porch, and a fine tomb recess all 600 years old; and on an archway of the same time are some of the best stone carvings in Essex. One of the capitals has two monkey heads and rich foliage; the other shows a cowled head, pigs with lolling tongues, and the head of an owl with its feathers delicately suggested.

The handsome stem of the font is 14th century, but its plain bowl is 15th. There is a panelled Tudor cupboard, a 17th century chest bound with iron, and a beautiful six-sided table. The best modern craftsmanship is in the wooden lectern, a splendid eagle on rocks, with a pillar resting on lions. It is in memory of Robert Eustace who died in 1905 after 55 years as vicar; we read his name again on a tiny cross in the shadow of the tower, the grave of his little child.

ST MICHAEL. The S chancel chapel is the transept of a former church. It dates from the later C13, as is proved by the two two-light E windows with a separated sexfoiled circular window above. The two pointed windows have each two pointed trefoiled lights and an un-encircled quatrefoil above. The rest of the church is all of the first half of the C14, and the chancel is more lavish than usual. It can hardly be later than 1320, as ogee arches occur only very secondarily in the S side windows. The E window is very large, of five-lights with a large circle as the central tracery motif. In the circle are four smaller circles with quatrefoils arranged in two tiers, and not cross-wise. Buttresses with niches. Also two niches l. and r. of the E window. Inside, seats under deep cusped pointed arches run all along the sides, and all windows are shafted. The N aisle is contemporary with the chancel. The windows show that, and also the arcade of quatrefoil piers with very thin shafts in the diagonals (cf. Thaxted) and double-chamfered, two-centred arches. The S arcade is characteristically later. The piers are octagonal, and the arches start with short vertical pieces dying into them. Nice arch from the S aisle into the S chapel. The capitals have bossy leaves, and there is one horrified face among them, bitten by a dragon. In the chapel at the foot of the S wall a C14 recess with a crocketed gable and deep niches to the l. and r., also with crocketed gables. The roofs of the church are all original. The best is that of the S aisle. - FONT. Elaborately traceried stem, plain bowl; C14. - PLATE. Cup and Paten of 1562; Dish of 1630, secular, with repoussé decoration.


Great Sampford has a three-cornered green, a big pond, and many houses 300 years old. One, The How, has kept its moat complete. White House has old fireplaces and a handsome staircase. Tindon End, some way off, has a panel with the date 1684, and some carved Tudor stones lying in the garden; but it is famous for another reason: it was the home for many years of John McAdam, the Scotsman who re-made our English roads.

Flickr set.

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