Saturday, 2 October 2010

Gosfield, Essex

I expected St Catherine to be attached to Gosfield Hall, which is now a private school, so blithely drove up the drive only to see the church some distance away on the other side of some fields so did a U turn and followed my nose to the site. On first sight it appears to be a humdrum, run of the mill church but closer inspection reveals what appears to be a double chancel  and the interior definitely returns value for money (had one shelled out).

This is de Vere country and it is no surprise to learn that the first church was built by Aubrey de Vere, 3rd Earl of Oxford, in 1190. As one approaches Gosfield church through the lych gate a silver star can be seen, painted on the corner buttress. It is the de Vere star or mullet of the Earls of Oxford. When the buttress was rebuilt in 1560 the 16th Earl had just paid for a new roof to the chancel, and as a compliment to him his star was placed on the east, the corner of the church which looks towards Hedingham, the seat of the Earl.

In 1435 the church was rebuilt and in the 16th century Sir John Wentworth added the Tudor chapel which leads to the allusion of a double chancel. There is a Purbeck tomb in the chapel is dated 1554 and carries an inscription commemorating 'Sur Hew Ryche' (eldest son of Lord Chancellor Rich - see Felsted) 'who maryed Anne the Daughter and Ayre of Sur John Wentworth knyght'. But there are rivet holes of former brasses and again the tomb is said to be earlier than its inscription.

Above the chapel is a Georgian family pew.It was built in 1736 to commemorate John Knight, MP, by his widow, later Countess Nugent. The memorial pew, with its opening looking into the nave, is now used as a choir vestry. It houses a handsome plaster ceiling and a remarkable memorial (looking somewhat out of place) by Rysbreck, the famous 18th century sculptor. The daughter of Mr and Mrs John Knight married George Grenville, first Marquess of Buckingham, who introduced straw-plaiting as a village industry in 1790. Straw hats were made, and the Buckinghams publicised the hats by wearing them around the village. The Marquess, we are told, "hung his straw hat ostentatiously over the front of the Hall pew". The Marchioness is commemorated in the hatchment on the north wall of the Wentworth chapel. The three hatchments over the Tudor arches in the chancel are to the Sparrow family of Gosfield Place (a house now demolished).

ST KATHARINE. Entirely of the C15 and C16. The most interesting parts are the N chancel chapel and the S side of the chancel with large very domestic-looking Perp windows, straight-headed, of four lights with a transome and arched heads to all lights. These parts are as late as c. 1560. The arcade to the N chapel has a pier with a lozenge-shaped chamfered section and four-centred arches. Of the C15 the W tower with diagonal buttresses and a large transomed W window, and the chancel E window of four lights with an embattled transome and much panel tracery. The C18 made a remarkable addition, a square brick room W of the N chapel with a Venetian window to the W. It is a squire’s pew and at the same time a family chapel. The squire’s family of the name of Knight sat somewhat elevated and could look at the altar from behind a velvet-covered parapet. And the congregation could see, behind the arch of this theatre-box, against the N wall of the room, the large and magni´Čücent MONUMENT to John Knight d. 1733 and his wife d. 1756. It is by Rysbrack (Mrs Webb quotes his sale catalogue and suggests that it may have been begun by Guelfi). T. K. Cromwell in 1818 wrote that the monument was made by Scheemakers under the direction of Pope. The two white marble figures are seated, with an urn between them. The sculptural quality is high. The chapel has a handsome plaster ceiling too. In the N chapel various earlier monuments. Large tomb-chests of Purbeck marble with black marble tops to Sir Hugh Rich d. 1554 and Sir John Wentworth d. 1567. The one has on the chest elaborate quatrefoil etc. panels, the other blank arcading. - all the motifs still entirely Gothic. A third and earlier tomb-chest (with plain quatrefoil decoration) in a recess in the S wall of the chancel. - Thomas Roye 1440 in the robes of a Sergeant-at-Law. Brass on tombchest with quatrefoil panels.-BENCHENDS in the chancel, with poppy heads, probably late C16. - PANELLING with Early Renaissance decoration of a style frequently found in houses, c. 1550, along the back of the chancel seats. - PLATE. An unusually fine set; all gilt. Elaborately engraved Cup of 1604; Cover with steeple top of 1604; large chased Cup of 1610; Cover with steeple top of 1613 (?); engraved Paten on foot 1704; large Flagon of 1704.

The master says:

GOSFIELD. Beautiful with its heritage of parklands, it has welcomed a queen in her glory, housed a treacherous Chancellor, and sheltered a fugitive king. Its cottages blend harmoniously with the scene, some backing on the grounds of its great houses, Gosfield Place and Gosfield Hall.

The hall, with a charming lake of 50 acres, stands in grounds rich in cedars, tulip trees, and spreading shrubberies. Here came Queen Elizabeth as the guest of Lord Rich, of whom we read at Felstead. Wealthy from the spoil of the monasteries, he owned a great part of the county, including the hall which Sir John Wentworth had built. Two wings of Wentworth’s house remain with their stately chimneys and splendid windows, and an entire floor is occupied by what is called Queen Elizabeth’s Gallery, over 100 feet long.

There was an earlier hall here than Wentworth’s, the home of the Rolfs, who 500 years ago built the church in a corner of the park by the lake, where the 17th century vicarage keeps it company, shaded by a great oak. The tower with its lofty arch is 15th century; so are the double doors in a doorway over which a queen and a bishop keep watch in the modern porch; so are the nave and chancel. The north chapel, a century younger, was converted in the 18th century into a raised chamber for the owners of the hall. An altar tomb of 1440 has a brass portrait of Thomas Rolf in the robes of a sergeant-at-law. There are only three such brasses of the period, and this is the most famous of the three for its perfect detail.

In the private chapel, its walls decorated with shields, its ceiling elaborate with plaster foliage, is the monumental tomb by Scheemakers showing the fine figures of John and Anne Knight, he in Roman costume, resting his hand on her shoulder, she touching her brilliantly coloured shield.

A beautiful window in the tower, with St Elizabeth, St Catherine, St George, and the story of the Good Samaritan, is to George Courtauld and his wife, founder of the great silk firm which bears his name. The sanctuary window, with scenes from the life of Christ, is in memory of Susannah Courtauld, who died at the hall in 1879. ln a chancel window are fragments of red, blue, and yellow 15th century glass. There are two other fine tombs, one of which has coloured and enamelled shields, and the chancel walls have Tudor linen-fold and friezes carved with grotesques and mermaids.

Flickr set.

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