Sunday, 3 October 2010

Halstead, Essex

Halstead, on the face of it, is blessed with two old churches to serve the populace who were split by the river Colne in ancient times.

Arriving from the south you first encounter Holy Trinity - a seemingly over restored mediaeval church now in the care of the CCT. Whilst you sense that there's something wrong, all the corbels are modern and even the damage seems contrived, your impression is of an ancient church - or at least parts that could date back to Norman times.

It actually turns out to be a Disneyland church, built in 1843/44 by Sir George Gilbert Scott and is either a mocumentary of an original or a sincere attempt to replicate architectural past.

The game is more or less up upon entering the church, every item is so obviously Victorian as to beggar belief. Why go to the length of deception on the exterior to then fuck it up on the interior? Perhaps it's a comment on the, somewhat common, over 'restoration' of the times.

As a folly it's a clever bit of architecture - it fooled me for a while - but as a church it fails. By that I mean that there is no real history behind the fabric of the church. Scott was presented with an opportunity to build something new, which might have have been hard in his time, but in choosing to recreate a classic church he succeeded on the exterior but failed with the interior.

St Andrew on the other hand is the real deal and everywhere you turn there is something of interest. The church dates mainly from the early 14th century with extensive repairs and alterations taking place in the late 1840's and again in the early 1990's following two fires. It looms over the town at the top of the high street commanding and impressive.

The main 'attraction' are the two Bourchier tombs and the fine brass to Bartholomew Bourchier and his two wives.

The first Bourchier to be connected with Halstead was John, who obtained in 1311 the estate of Stanstead and married Helen de Colchester. He was buried in 1328 and in all probability the granite effigies resting on the eastern most tomb are those of him and his wife with four bedesmen being positioned at their feet. A wooden shield painted with the Bourchier arms has been fixed above the knight, but does not necessarily belong. (There is evidence suggesting that this is a replacement dating from as early as the first half of the sixteenth century. No other such separate shield has been known to have survived.

The remains of the tomb on which the effigies lie (three portions of two sides of a limestone tomb chest with ‘weepers’ and shields) belonged to the tomb of Robert, first Lord Bourchier, son of John and Helen, and his wife Margaret, daughter of Sir Thomas Prayers. Robert was the first Lay Chancellor of England (1340); he fought with the Black Prince at Crecy and was ambassador to the French to treat for peace. He died in 1349 of the Plague. According to the researches carried out by J Enoch Powell MP the effigies lying under the adjacent canopied tomb are those of Robert and Margaret.

The canopied tomb with battlemented pinnacles and damaged tomb chest is characterised by the style prevalent in the early part of the fifteenth century. They display the Bourchier Arms supported by an angel and a dragon. One angel panel in the front appears to have a scallop (cockleshell for Coggeshall?). lf so, the tomb may have been made for John, second Lord Bourchier, KG (son of Robert) and his second wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John de Coggeshall. He died after a long and distinguished public career in 1400.

Some interesting medieval scribbling on the western canopy shaft is gradually becoming obliterated. This records the names of important people connected with the parish. These include Colet (possibly John Colet, since the great tithe belonged to the Dean and Chapter of St Paul`s). and Warner, whose family held the Manor of Dynes, alias Boises, from the reign of Henry VI to that of Mary.

Another scribble close by reads ‘John Worth, let be your nice legs’ although the last two letters are open to question. The Worthies held the Manor of Blamsters and John Worthie was steward to Lord Bourchier at Stanstead Hall during the reign of Henry VI.

Weever, in the seventeenth century, mentioned seeing in the church the much damaged tomb of George de Vere, which has entirely disappeared. George was the nephew of John, the redoubtable thirteenth Earl of Oxford who commanded the van of the Duke of Richmond’s army at Bosworth Field. George was buried at Halstead in 1498.

At the East End of the Bourchier Chapel lies a fine brass on a slab of Purbeck marble which formerly was the mensa of an Altar Tomb. The figures are those of Bartholomew, Third Lord Bourchier (only son of John and Elizabeth) who died in 1409, and his two wives, ldonea Lovey, whose shield is lost, and Margaret Sutton, whose shield is above. The portion of brass representing the helm and crest is also lost, but the matrix shows that the crest was a Saracen’s head of the same shape as that on the Garter Stall plate of Bartholomew’s son in law, Lewis Robessart, who was Lord Bourchier in right of his wife, Elizabeth, Bartholomew’s daughter and heir.

However, as I said, there are many more treasures including roof angels, monuments, Victorian painted chancel and sanctuary, wonderful corbels, grotesques and gargoyles, a singing gallery and a 15th century font with shields. On top of all this the Guide to the church is one of the most informative I've come across.

ST ANDREW. In the centre of the little town. Of flint rubble, much renewed. The chancel pretty well deprived of medieval detail. The W tower of 1850. The rest mostly C14, porches and Vestry C15. The windows not of special interest. S aisle Dec, N aisle Perp. Inside six-bay arcades of the C14, with square piers with four demi-shafts and double-chamfered arches. The chancel roof whose exact date (1413) is known from documents is hidden behind boarding. - FONT. Octagonal, Perp, with motifs of shields and flowers. - REREDOS. 1893 by Sir Arthur Blomfield. - STAINED GLASS. S window in the S aisle of 1891 (Brewster) by Powell & Sons, in a style showing clearly the influence of Burne-Jones in design if not in colour. — MONUMENTS. John Bourchier and wife (?), effigies of Knight and Lady each under a separate canopy on thin shafts, c. 1300. The tomb-chest with weepers and shields and the diapered panels behind do not belong. They seem to date from the middle of the C14. - John, Lord Bourchier d. 1400 and wife. Tomb-chest richly decorated with quatrefoils carrying shields. Two recumbent effigies under tall canopy of a chaste, rather frigid design, again with frieze of shields, and ending in a cresting with small shields. Higher angle shafts. - Brass to Bartholomew Lord Bourchier d. 1409 and wives (S aisle floor, mostly covered by a seat).

Mee says:

HALSTEAD. Built about a hill overlooking the Colne, it is a prosperous place, famous for its silk and crepe. For nearly a century it has had its town hall and its library; it has fine public gardens, and in its wide High Street are charming gabled shops and houses.

One house, with a carved hammer beam truss in its roof, formed part of a 15th century chantry founded by Bartholomew, Lord Bourchier, member of a family figuring in the Law, the Church, and Literature, and giving Shakespeare characters for two plays. We stand in the presence of many of them in the church; we see the house in which they lived.

The town grew up 600 years ago about the clerestoried church which crowns the hill, its 19th century tower replacing one that fell. A majestic eagle watches from a buttress of the pinnacled north porch, which has a 15th century window in an upper room. Angels look down from the timbers of a roof 500 years old. The church has a bell which has been ringing since about 1400, and an earthenware pot, used since 1658 for the refreshment of bell-ringers.

Among the memorials are a marble tablet with a 17th century brass portrait of Elizabeth Watson and her six children, one in swaddling clothes; a tablet of 1720 to Sir Samuel Tryon, last baronet of his line; an 18th century tablet to Elizabeth Holmes, who gave £4000 for the benefit of industrious townsfolk; and another to John Manistre, a Dorset rector who left £2500 to be spent in bread for 21 people - Dissenters excepted! If a man does not agree with the rector he shall not eat.

But the finest monuments are those of the Bourchier family. In the floor is the splendid 15th century brass of Bartholomew, Lord Bourchier, showing him in his armour with his two wives. On a low 14th century tomb, under canopies with angels, and instinct with pathos and solemnity, lie John Bourchier in his armour and tunic, with two monks and a dog at his feet, and his wife with two nuns and a dog at her feet. He was a judge under Edward the Second. His wooden shield is under the canopy of a handsome altar tomb, rich with cusped panels, arches, and spandrels, with an angel and a cockle shell, elaborate with heraldry. On another tomb is the judge’s grandson John in armour, his head resting on a helmet with a Saracen’s head as a crest, and his wife in a 14th century headdress with angels supporting her head, and dogs at her feet; they seem to say to us

Peace, good reader, do not weep,
Peace, the lovers are asleep.

Stanstead Hall, the old home of the Bourchiers, still has its moat filled with water, and beside it a line 15th century barn of 11 bays, with aisles. The house is mainly Jacobean, with its original chimney stacks and octagonal turrets.

Here rose a family which for two centuries produced scholars, lawyers, ecclesiastics, and soldiers. In the church are three generations, but the line gave rise to Thomas Bourchier, the 15th century cardinal who figures in Richard the Third. He crowned Edward the Fourth and Elizabeth Woodville, and then, in an evil hour during her widowhood, induced her to let her little second son leave sanctuary to join his brother in the Tower, so yielding him up for the horrible murder by Richard the Third. Richard having waded through blood to the throne, Bourchier crowned him, and he crowned his successor when Richard fell like a dog on Bosworth Field, launching the Tudor dynasty on its magnificent way.

But of all the family we owe most to John Bourchier, second Baron Berners. Scholar and soldier, he beguiled the tedium of his Governorship of Calais by bequeathing us a veritable literary treasure, his incomparable translation of Froissart. We had at the time only one fine prose work, Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, and that a marvellous fairy tale. Bourchier’s was history, and helped to found our serious literature. Dying in 1533 desperately in debt, he left us a rich gift which, if it has ceased to bring profit to publishers, has never ceased to bring delight to readers. Four centuries after his death a new version of his masterpiece was issued at 25 guineas.

Flickr set - St Andrew.  Flickr set - Holy Trinity

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