Saturday, 2 October 2010

Great Dunmow, Essex

St Mary the Virgin and Dunmow tick all sorts of boxes for me, first it contains memorials to ancestors, second it has remnants of 18th century Flemish glass representing 11 apostles and a selection of Old Testament figures, third Newton Hall, the seat of the said ancestors, still remains and fourth there are many extant pillboxes remaining on the GHQ defence line.

The church is in the valley of the river Chelmer on the north east outskirts of the town and was originally 14th century Decorated style but was adapted in the 15th century to give us the church that stands today with heavy 'restoration' undertaken by the Victorians. It is an extraordinary light church with many plain glass windows and amazingly large - at 145ft in length it, like Thaxted, seems far too large for a smallish town, equally the size of the churchyard seems disproportionate. In the south aisle is a, sadly inaccessible, raised wooden gallery which was probably built to house the overflow for the Guild chapel above the south porch and was later used as the family pew for the inhabitants of Newton Hall.

The south aisle windows contain the Flemish glass and an astonishing window of remnants of 15th century glass.

The church is locked but a keyholder is nearby and I recommend an internal visit - I've been twice; the first time I was left cold but the second visit was more leisurely and led to the interior warming to me. There are no great treasures but the parts build to a greater whole.

I've been back several times (it's a local church) and always found it locked but today, 21/05/15, found it open with a welcome sign outside the south door; hopefully this is a new open church policy.

ST MARY. A large town church, though it lies at Churchend, away from the town and to this day in quite rural surroundings. Pebble-rubble, and externally all of a piece, although, alas, all very restored. In fact the chancel is earlier than the rest, early C14, as the windows clearly show. Thin tracery with cusped lancet lights, foiled circles, spheric triangles and no ogee arches; these motifs are a safe indication of date. The E window is unusually sumptuous, of five lights. Chancel arch on triple-shafted responds. Inner nook-shafts to the windows. Sedilia with polygonal shafts. Double Piscina. W tower with angle buttresses connected by a chamfer, an uncommon form, battlements and polygonal embattled pinnacles. Above the W doorway a frieze of shields. Three-light W window and large straightheaded. three-light bell-openings. The S side all embattled, with two-storeyed porch with a higher stair-turret. Niches l. and r. of the doorway. The S chancel  chapel projects a little to the S beyond the S aisle. The N side also embattled. The aisle windows all renewed. Only the S doorway proves that the S aisle was in fact built as early as the chancel. It has a handsome arch with roll-mouldings with fillets and a hood-mould  ending in big scrolls. The wide four-bay arcades inside are C15. They have piers of the familiar four-shaft-four-hollow moulding with no capitals over the hollows, and two-centred arches. The fact that the W tower has E buttresses projecting into the nave shows that it was built before the nave joined up with it. The most attractive feature of the inside is the wooden balcony extending from the upper storey of the porch into the S aisle. It is of late C15 date. - STAINED GLASS. Many C15 fragments assembled in a S aisle window. - Small ļ¬gures of Saints on purple panels, C18, Dutch, also in S windows. - PLATE. Silver gilt Cup and Paten on foot, C17; Silver gilt Dish of 1709. - BRASS of 1579. - MONUMENTS. William Beaumont d. 1718, by C. Harsnaile, and Sir George Beaumont d. 1815, by Rossi (R. Gunnis). 

GREAT DUNMOW. It is a quaint old town along the Roman road from Bishop’s Stortford to Colchester, by the River Chelmer. It has a marketplace with a steep-roofed town hall 400 years old; a wayside pond in which Lionel Lukin, the designer of one of our first lifeboats, is said to have made his experiments; the 16th century house of Bigods with old thatched barns and an Elizabethan summerhouse; and cottages nestling close to its church. A very interesting corner is this, with the great 14th century tower shading a 16th century vicarage with a timbered and plastered front, and there is near the church a 400-year-old house with a timbered clock turret and a cupola containing a bell of 1651. Over one of the windows of the gabled front is a woman’s bust which has survived the weather of three centuries.

Much interest is there for us before we go inside the church - a monkey and a lion carved on the tower above a window, an imposing array of monsters as waterspouts, a coffin lid 700 years old, and a band of Roman tiles above a window.

We come into the nave by a pinnacled porch of the 15th century, through a doorway of the 13th, and we may call on our way in the upper room of the porch, which has still its original door; the room has a beautifully carved niche, and is remarkable for extending as a wooden gallery, from which we may see the nave and aisles. The gallery has been here 500 years, being as old as the clerestory windows.

The church is rich in possessions, having a font and a chest of the 14th century and another chest of the 17th, two Jacobean chairs, and a 13th century coffin lid. There is a brass portrait of Philippa Glascock, a subject of Queen Elizabeth, and on the wall is a carved oak tablet in memory of one of our heroes who fell at Gaza, "marching to the Promised Land." One of the windows is full of jewelled fragments of the 14th and 15th century. There are Flemish panels in other windows of 11 apostles, and in the tracery of two other windows are 12 Old Testament figures.

Hanging on the wall are two framed charters, one granted by Philip and Mary, their seal broken and the crown floating in air over their heads in a little drawing, the other by Elizabeth with the seal perfect, and the crown firm on her head in a drawing.

The church has two heroes. Thomas Bowyer gave his life for his faith in the terrible reign of Mary Tudor, and the vicar we found here (Edward Noel Mellish) won the VC in the Great War. He was a Saffron Walden schoolboy and joined Baden-Powell’s Police in South Africa, where, besieged in a farmhouse by the Boers, he broke through and returned to his comrades with the good news that help was on the way. He came back from South Africa to work among the poor of Deptford, and the Great War found him on the battlefield again, walking out among the wounded, seeing three killed as he dressed their wounds, bringing ten men back to the trenches; and at last he received the VC, the first chaplain to win it in the war.

Flickr set.

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