Friday, 22 October 2010

Little Chesterford, Essex

The earliest detail in St Mary the Virgin is of the 13th century but the proportions and the position of the doorways perhaps indicate an earlier date for the structure. The roof of the chancel and nave has plain moulded collars and ties and is of the 15th century. The roof of the porch is modern but has a 15th century moulded wall-plate.

In the north wall of the nave are two early 13th century lancet windows with external rebates; between them is a late 14th century North doorway of one moulded order with a two-centred head; at the East end of the wall, behind the organ console, is a recess, apparently the remains of the stairs to the rood-loft. In the South wall are three windows, the Eastern is of similar detail to the North East window in the chancel but is entirely modern except a small part of the head. The two Western windows are modern and between them is a late 14th century south doorway, now blocked, of one moulded order with an external label. The West window is modern.

The chancel, which was possibly rebuilt towards the end of the 14th century, has a late 14th century East window of three trefoiled lights and net tracery in a two-centred head; the jambs, mullions and head are moulded. In the middle light there is the shield of the Peverells and, in the heads of all lights, fragments of border with fleur-de-lis and eagles are displayed (14th century). In the North wall are two windows also of the late 14th century, of which the Eastern most window is of similar detail to the East window but of two cinque-foiled lights under a traceried three-centred head. In it there are panels bearing a crowned Tudor rose with H8 (this reads as 8H from inside) above it; a head of an angel with diadem; and a rebus (the representation of the syllables of a name by pictures) in this case on the name of John Islip, Abbot of Westminster 1500-1532 and Privy Councillor 1513 whose beautiful chapel is still in the Abbey. The rebus shows an eye with a hand holding a little branch and the word “SLIP”, as in the front of his chapel at Westminster. These windows were badly damaged when the ammunition dump at Chesterford Park blew up in May 1944. The piscina with two centred head, moulded capitals and bases is late 13th century.

The following notes about the memorial brasses were compiled in July 1977 by Alan Heathcote and his daughter Gillian after a good deal of research:

This serene lady is Isabel Langham, who lived in the Manor, Little Chesterford, in the fifteenth century. Isabel, nee Colville, was married first to William Hasilden, Lord of the Manor of Little Chesterford and High Sheriff of the Counties of Huntingdon and Cambridge in 1452. The Hasildens were an old Cambridgeshire family who had come to Little Chesterford early in the reign of Richard II. After William’s death she was married briefly to John Newman. As her third husband Isabel married George Langham, Sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire, who held the Lordships of Langham, in Suffolk, and Hempstead and Panfield in Essex. Through this marriage George Langham became the new Lord of the Manor of Little Chesterford. George died in 1462, Isabel outliving him by some years. George and Isabel had one son, Richard, who later married Elizabeth Southcote. Upon George’s death in 1462, the Lordship of the Manor returned to the Hasilden family with John Hasilden.

The above account is erroneous, she is actually Isabel (often called Elizabeth) Hampton who first married Thomas Hasilden and William was her son not her husband.

The brass memorial to Isabel Langham now rests on the chancel floor but was originally on a fine tomb. By her side was a brass of George, dressed in full and splendid armour, his feet resting upon his faithful dog. The tomb also bore a Latin inscription and four shields with family arms. In the eighteenth century, the brasses, with the exception of that of Isabel, were torn up and taken away. In 1781, The Revd William Cole saw “the brasses of these (Langham and Hasilden family) monuments on the floor of a passage, let into stone, in the house of Mr Richard Reynolds, on the Market Hill, in Cambridge, the Incumbent injudiciously (not to say sacrilegiously) suffering them to be so taken”. After many adventures, the brass of George Langham passed into the collection of Dr Philip Nelson of Liverpool, and was eventually acquired by the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in Cambridge.

The top half of the brass of George Langham has since been restored to the church.

The monument, which is in a recess to the west of the vestry door, is a finely carved memorial to James Walsingham. It was erected by his sister Lady (Elizabeth) Osborne and, according to Pevsner, is no doubt the work of a leading London sculptor.

The inscription on the plinth reads:

“Here lies the body of James Walsingham who was son of Thomas Walsingham Esq., late of Scadbury in the county of Kent, (by the Lady Ann Howard, daughter of Theophilus Earl of Suffolk) he was lineally descended from Sir Richard Walsingham knt who lived in the reign of King Henry III. He died October 1728, aetatis suae 82”.

The following extracts which are from the Concise Dictionary of National Biography may be of interest:

The Walsingham family is assumed to have come from Walsingham in Norfolk. The earliest authentic traces of it are found in 1415 when Alan Walsingham was a Cordwainer (shoemaker) of London. The family accumulated much wealth in the City, and in 1424 Alan’s son Thomas, a Vintner (d. 1456), bought Scadbury, an estate near Chislehurst in Kent. Like many merchant families whose wealth was made in the City of London, the Walsinghams provided the Tudor monarchs with administrators and political support. Among them was Sir Francis Walsingham, a collateral ancestor of James Walsingham whose monument is mentioned above, statesman and diplomat, who was secretary of State to Elizabeth I for seventeen years until his death in 1590. The great grandfather of James, Sir Thomas Walsingham (1568-1630) was a patron of the poets Thomas Watson, Christopher Marlowe and George Chapman. He entertained Queen Elizabeth at Scadbury in 1597 and was knighted. He was a Knight of the Shire for Kent in 1614 and MP for Rochester. He married Ethelred (or Awdrey)Shelton, who was a favourite of Anne of Denmark, James I’s queen. James Walsingham’s father, Thomas, married Anne, daughter of Theophilus Howard, the 2nd Earl of Suffolk, whose father built the great palace at Audley End, near Saffron Walden. Theophilus was Lord Lieutenant of
Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Dorset; MP for Maldon; K.G. and Warden of the Cinque Ports in the early 17th Century.

James himself was born in London in 1646 and went to school in Great Chesterford. He may have lived at Place Farm, about two and a half miles from Saffron Walden. It is said to have been the family seat of the Walsingham family. He was admitted Fellow Commoner (aged 15) at Magdalene College, Cambridge. He matriculated in 1663 and took his MA in 1665. In 1670 he was Master of the Buckhounds to the Duke of York (afterwards James II) and in 1693 he was Master of the Beagles to William III. He died at Little Chesterford on 30th October 1728, aged 82.

At his death the main Walsingham line ended. His sister Elizabeth, who erected his monument, married Sir John Osborne, Bt, of Waterford, Ireland. She and her husband are both buried in Saffron Walden church and so is his brother Thomas. His mother is also buried there in the Earl of Suffolk’s vault.

THE SCREEN between the chancel and nave has three bays on each side of the doorway, with small finialled buttresses between them, each bay of two cinque-foiled lights with moulded jambs and mullions; the doorway with four centred cinque-foiled head and traceried spandrels, late 15th or 16th century.

The church was restored in the 19th century when the vestry and bellcote were added. At the same time the pews, which were probably made by Mr Pritchard of Bishop’s Stortford, were installed.

ST MARY THE VIRGIN. Long nave and long chancel of the C13 under one roof. C19 bellcote. Lancet windows on the N and S sides and a Piscina which is over restored. - SCREEN. Plain, C15, with two-light divisions. - MONUMENTS. Brass to the wife of George Langham d. 1462. The figure is 28 in. long. - James Walsingham d. 1728, in a recess added to the S wall of the chancel. At the time of writing it looked sadly bedraggled. Yet it is no doubt the work of a leading London sculptor. Standing wall monument with comfortably semi-reclining figure in Roman toga. Unsigned, it seems. 

LITTLE CHESTERFORD. Here among the willows on the banks of the River Cam is one of the oldest farmhouses we have seen. It was built as a manor house at the time of Magna Carta and has kept much from those far-off days, though much was changed in the 16th century when the stack of Tudor chimneys was built in. The oldest part of the house is the kitchen wing, from which two deeply moulded doorways lead into a central hall with something of its ancient timber roof still left. It is astonishing to look up at these oak posts, with their moulded capitals, and to remember that they have been here since about the year 1275.
The little church close by has its nave and chancel under a 15th century roof. The doorway and some of the windows are 14th century, but there are two nave windows which have been letting in the light since the old farm was first built. There is a brass portrait of Isabel Langham as she was in the early days of the Tudors, and a handsome screen carved a few years after she died. On an 18th century monument to a descendant of the great Elizabethan statesman Sir Francis Walsingham is a finely carved figure of James Walsingham in a classical robe, a cherub watching over him. Among some fragments of Tudor glass is a rebus on the name of John Islip, the abbot of Westminster whose beautiful little chapel is in the Abbey. The rebus shows an eye with a hand holding a little branch and the word Slip, as in the front of his chapel at Westminster. Other fragments of glass are 200 years older, and show eagles, fleur-de-lys,and a shield of the Peverells.

Flickr set.

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