Monday, 25 October 2010

Little Easton, Essex

Little Easton (Estaines Parva) 3 miles north of Dunmow was once a hamlet in the Northern confines of the Great Forest of Essex which stretched from the North East of London almost to Thaxted. After the Norman Conquest a fortified Manor was built close to the little Saxon Church which was rebuilt in the Norman style. These two buildings were surrounded by a moat which probably once held a Roman fort or look out tower.

The Manor was listed in the Domesday Book (1086) as belonging to William de Warenne and Geoffrey de Mandeville.

It  was then occupied by the de Windsor family for several generations and was passed down by female descent when Delicia de Windsor firstly married Robert de Hastings and secondly married Henry de Cornhill and their daughter Jane de Cornhill married Godfrey de Louvain, brother to the Duke of Brabant. After four generations of this family it passed to the only surviving daughter, Alianore (or Eleanor), this lady lies buried to the left of the Altar in the chancel. In 1365 Lady Eleanor married Sir William Bourchier and the Manor was held by the Bourchier’s family for several generations but during Henry Bourchier’s time it is felt that the Manor was at its peak. Henry Bourchier and his wife Isabel Plantagenet are buried to the right of the Altar.

Henry Bourchier’s son and heir, William, pre-deceased him and the successor to his title went to his grandson, also named Henry. He died in March 1540 after a riding accident, and his estate went to his only daughter named Anne who married William Parr brother to Queen Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife. Shortly after their marriage William Parr conveyed all the property he had acquired from the marriage, to Thomas Wriothesley in payment of debts. Thomas Wriothesley allowed William Parr to stay on at the manor, but this was not to last as his marriage to Lady Anne was far from happy and eventually she ran away with her lover.

The Manor was passed to the Throckmorton family who were closely associated with Wriothesley in 1558, Kenelm Throckmorton presented the Manor to the church - a gesture which, perhaps denoted a fit of conscience concerning the long neglect of the building.

About a mile away west of the Manor ere was a wooden hunting lodge built during King Henry VIII’s time called Easton Lodge and in 1590 Elizabeth I, at the behest of Lord Burleigh, granted the Manor of Estaines ad Turrim and lands in Little Easton to Burleigh’s private secretary - Henry Maynard Esq. He pulled down what was left of the sadly ruined great  Manor House and built himself a fine mansion and laid out a great deer park on the site of the little hunting lodge. So Little Easton ceased to be an unconsidered fragment of other estates and became the chief seat of its Lord of the Manor, Henry Maynard.

St Mary is a curious looking building from the east with south and north chapels flanking the chancel and a strangely squat tower. The south chapel and chancel are 13th century whilst the north chapel is a late Victorian addition, for once actually rather well done.

But it is the interior that is the main attraction, being a goldmine of monuments, wall paintings and brass. It also boasts one of the most thorough guides I've come across.

ST MARY. The Norman origin of the nave visible only in scanty fragments of two N windows. The rest, as it appears to the eye, is essentially Perp and C15 (except for the N vestry etc. which dates from 1881). The W tower has diagonal buttresses and a W doorway with shields in the spandrels. The chancel has a four-light window with panel tracery. In the S chancel chapel (Maynard Chapel), which is as wide as the nave, are large windows, those on the S side having apparently been converted first in the C18 into plain arched shapes and then some time about 1840 into their present preposterous Neo-Norman shape. The pier of the two-bay arcade towards the chancel has semi-polygonal main shafts and circular shafts in the diagonals. The chapel, according to T. K. Cromwell, was built in 1621. - SCREEN. Early C18 screen of wrought iron to the Maynard Chapel. It was originally a gate of Easton Lodge. - PAINTINGS. Splendid figure of a seated Prophet, c. 1175; the black underpaint for the flesh has been compared by Tristram to St Albans, the style to the Bible of Bury St Edmunds. - Stories from the Passion of Christ in two tiers, early C15. The scenes represented are Last Supper, Agony in the Garden, Betrayal, Christ before Pilate, Christ crowned with Thorns, Christ carrying the cross, Crucifixion, Deposition, Entombment. The iconography is not Flemish but North Italian, and C14. - STAINED GLASS. S windows, six C17 panels of South German glass, put in in 1857. - PLATE. Silver-gilt Cup of 1618; Paten on foot of 1618; Paten on foot of 1634; large Flagon of 1641. - MONUMENTS. Brass to Robert Fyn, priest, praying; c. 1420; the figure 18 in. long. - Monument to Lady Bourchier, c. 1400. Tomb chest with three cusped panels carrying shields. Tall cusped ogee arch between thin buttresses with finials. Six shields in the spandrels. On the tomb-chest a small effigy of a C13 Knight, only 2 ft long. - Viscount Bourchier, Earl of Essex d. 1483 and wife. Tomb-chest, panelled, and traceried, with brasses on top, the figures 4 ft long. Large heavy straight-topped canopy, tripartite with richly cusped vault. - Sir Henry Maynard d. 1610 and wife. Alabaster monument with two reclining effigies on a tombchest with large kneeling figures of children. The sculptural value high. - Lady Maynard d. 1613, reclining figure. - Sir William Maynard and wife, late C17, large standing wall monument with life-size standing figures in Roman costume, an urn between them. Attributed by Mrs Esdaile to Cibber, but said by R. L. Gwynne to be by Pearce. - Lord Maynard and family, erected in 1746; by Charles Stanley. Also a large standing wall monument. Lord Maynard in the middle in a musing attitude leaning against an urn, with the portrait of his wife. Other members of the family as busts or relief-medallions. Big relief below with figures of Justice (blindfold), Charity, Fortitude etc. - Frances, Countess of Warwick d. 1938, bust in very Edwardian costume and attitude. - In the churchyard wooden TOMBSTONE with a rough head carved on and elaborate decoration (F. Burgess).

LITTLE EASTON. It used to be rather like a fairyland to the traveller who was happy enough to find himself in Lady Warwick’s garden, or having tea with her in the stables. She was one of the great ladies of Queen Victoria’s later days, a friend of Edward the Seventh, and, this house being too magnificent for her in the simpler days when she became a Socialist, she fashioned the stables into a beautiful place and lived here with her animals and flowers. In her park not a thing was ever killed or hurt; it mattered nothing if they came into the drawing—room. The lawns were like velvet, and delightful it was to walk about the flagged paths, down the stone steps by the lily pools, through the pergolas and along the herbaceous borders. It seemed as if it had all been here for centuries, but Lady Warwick could say as she walked here, "I planted this, I planted that".

But the fairyland of other days has vanished. The great house (Easton Lodge) which stood here with all the grace and dignity of the 16th and 17th centuries about it, and was available for use on behalf of all the good causes Lady Warwick believed in, has been demolished. For 300 years the home of the Maynard family, Easton Lodge had outlived its day as one of the stately homes of England.

Lady Warwick, wife of the fifth Earl of Warwick, was the heiress of the last Viscount Maynard and the monuments of her ancestors can be seen here in the church that has stood here from Norman
days, though much refashioned by our medieval builders. There are Roman tiles in the walls, gargoyles looking down from the 15th century tower, and a handsome tower arch leading us into the Norman nave. On one of the walls is a small seated figure painted there by an artist 700 years ago, and fading away are 500 year old paintings of the last days of Our Lord in Jerusalem.

By the altar is the beautiful tomb of Lady Eleanor Bourchier placed here about 1400, and resting on it, though not belonging to it, is a miniature statue of a 13th century knight in mail armour. In the chancel is the brass portrait of a priest who would know this church 600 years ago, and on a richly canopied tomb between the chapel and the chancel are the brasses of Lord Henry Bourchier and his wife, who were laid here towards the end  of the 15th century. Sir Henry’s enamelled brass is one of only live in England showing a man wearing the Order of the Garter; his wife has a velvet mantle, faced with ermine, over a scarlet gown, with a coronet and two angels at her head.

Sir Henry Maynard lies in the chapel on an altar tomb of Shakespeare’s day, he in armour and his wife wearing a farthingale. The carving on the cushions at their heads and in the detail of their dress is very beautiful. At the side of the tomb kneel their 10 children, tive boys with skulls in their hands, the artist having quaintly varied their heights. Sir Henry was secretary to the great Lord Burghley, and on his tomb we read:

Whence, who, and what I was, how held in court,
My prince, the peers, my country, can report.

Wearing a loose dress, hood, and ruff, lies Lady Frances Maynard who died in 1613, and there are two other Maynards of the 17th century, one with a fine statue in Roman dress, one with his wife and a group of portraits in busts and medallions showing members of his family who are buried here. In front of this monument is a relief with five symbolical figures. The windows of the chapel are in memory of Lady Maynard of 1857; they are in rich dark colour.

Here are remembered two people famous in their day, one Lady Warwick’s great friend Ellen Terry, who loved to worship here and is remembered in a portrait on a marble tablet; the other the fifth Earl of Warwick in whose name his widow placed these lines:

And now he rests; his greatness and his sweetness
No more shall seem at strife;
And death has moulded into calm completeness
The statue of his life.

Flickr set.

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