Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Littlebury, Essex

Holy Trinity was closed with no keyholder listed when I first visited but recently I was passing and on a whim stopped to have another look and, fortuitously, a group of very pleasant ladies were tidying up post Harvest Festival and allowed me to have a look around (I also gathered that locked is its normal condition). Following another whim I visited today [29/03/17] and found it open which appears to be the new norm.

The church dates from the middle of the 12th century when the manor of Littlebury belonged to the Bishop of Ely who had a house here.

The North Aisle and what was originally a South Transept were built about 1225; the South Aisle was added, and the South Transept was merged into it about the middle of the 13th century. The tower was built about 1325 (writing in 1773, Morant mentions a spire), the Nave was made a bit longer when the tower was built, the Western arches of the Nave arcade will be seen to be wider. In 1875 the Chancel was entirely rebuilt, the Tudor windows of the aisles and clerestory were replaced at this time. Some ancient wills between 1484 and 1504 mention: "The 3 aulters of the churche"; "The tabernacle of Sainte Anne within the chauncelle"; "The rode loft there"; "The alter of Sainte in the South ile"; and "The fraternytie of Saynte Petir holden within the church".

The font is also Transitional Norman, and is encased by a masterpiece of Tudor wood-carving. It is both beautiful and very unusual. Three tiers of linen-fold panelling form a case which has double doors. The hinges are engraved with swords, hammers and other devices. From a carved cornice rises an elaborate pinnacle top with buttresses, the whole being surmounted by a figure of Our Lord.

The north doorway is early English and the magnificent door is 200 years later. It has a small wicket above which are carved two pairs of shears showing the connection of the parish with the wool industry. The Porches are decorated, the fan vaulting has almost disappeared in both porches, and later roofs have been added, the windows have no drip-stones. Wills dated 1504 and 1505 besides making bequests for repairing church and bells go on to the "Makynge of a new Porche on the South syde."

The best feature, though, are the collection of brasses. These have all been set-up and placed on the walls. Near the pulpit are two brasses, a priest wearing Eucharistic vestments and holding a chalice (1510); and a civilian (whose two wives and family are missing). He wears a long gown fur-tipped gypciere, double-tasselled rosary, cap on right shoulder, and scarf to knees (date 1475). Around the font are five more brasses, Anne Byrd (1624), wearing a hat with a wreathed crown, neck ruff, cloak, shows and bows; a civilian (about 1520) has unusual hands, gypciere, fur-lining; a civilian and wife (1510), here the man’s gown is fur-lined, the wife has a pedimental head-dress and a girdle with an ornamental ending; Jane Bradbury is a good specimen of typical 1578 costume, for she wears a French hood, with frills at neck and wrist, the sleeves are striped and the petticoat embroidered with a diagonal diaper pattern, her over-gown is sleeveless and she has a high collar. It was this Jane Bradbury who founded a school here.

The other brass is an inscription commemorating James Edwards, a bailiff who died here in 1552, it is in Latin and the date is put in Arabic figures, the 5 being very peculiar. It is one of the earliest instances of the use of these figures, here is a translation of the inscription:

"Here lies James Edward, Steward formerly of Hadstock and Hadarn, afterwards of this Manor, who filled this office with complete integrity and discharged its duties with unqualified approval of Redman Lord Bishop of Ely, till at length seized by a deadly disease he devoutly breathed his last on the 28th September in the year of grace 1522".

Henry Winstanley, who built the first Eddystone light-house, lived in Littlebury. He was Clerk of the Works to Charles the Second at Audley End House. He built himself a house in the meadow opposite our Church, and here fantastic tricks were played on visitors. Among the curious things invented and made by this unusual man were, an armchair which imprisoned anyone who sat in it, a slipper lying on the floor which gave a shock to whoever attempted to pick it up, and a trap door which precipitated the visitor into the next room! By 1703 his great Lighthouse was completed and had already been tested in minor storms. In November of that year, however, came the Great Storm in which the great superstructure was totally destroyed and Winstanley and five friends perished therein.

HOLY TRINITY. The E parts of 1870-5 by Edward Barr. At the same time much restoration of the other parts went on. All windows for example look new except that in the W tower which has flowing tracery. That dates the tower. It has half-angle buttresses, because both aisles extend nearly as far W as the tower, a feature very uncommon in Essex. The S doorway must be re-set. With its waterleaf capitals on two orders of columns and its two roll—mouldings of which the outer is keeled it cannot be later than the late C12. Here we may well have the date too of what originally was a S transept - see the E bay of the S arcade - and it is most probably that of the N arcade as well, with circular piers and one-step arches with one slight chamfer. The S arcade in its W parts is later. The details here tally with the tower arch, i.e. correspond in date to the Dec style. The most ambitious pieces, at least in their conception, are however the two porches. For when they were rebuilt (or built) early in the C16, they were given entrance arches much taller than usual, two-centred, with large two-light openings in the sides. What is more, fan-vaults were begun with their springers and their panelling - no doubt on the pattern of Saffron Walden. They were not completed. - FONT-CASE. A unique feature in the county. Square, with linenfold panelling and a pyramidal canopy with niches, gables, buttresses, crockets and finial - early C16. - LECTERN. On a concave hexagonal base, with buttressed stem, C15, the bookrest not original. - SCREEN to the N chapel. With much pretty inlay work and other ornamental details in the Neo-Early-Renaissance taste; 1911, designed and carved by the Rev. H. J. Burrell. - DOOR (N doorway). Late C15. On one horizontal batten two shears as the only decoration, referring no doubt to the source of income of the donor. - PAINTING. Kneeling Angel, 1879 ; signed F. S. Is it by Frederick Shields? - PLATE. Cup of 1626. - BRASSES. Civilian, c. 1480, and Priest, c. 1510 (N aisle E end); Civilian and wife, c. 1510 (figures 2 ft long); Civilian, c. 1520; and two others, of 1578 and 1624 (S aisle S wall).

LITTLEBURY. Its cottages line two Roman roads by the River Cam, and its ancient stronghold a mile away is hidden among the trees, an oval earthwork of 16 acres with a ditch 50 feet wide. The church is at the cross-roads, and has a 14th century tower, a Norman nave, and 13th century aisles. The two porches have vaulted roofs left unfinished by 15th century builders, and one of them shelters a beautiful doorway made at the great change of style from Norman into English, its capitals showing both the Norman waterflower ornament and the stiff foliage which was to be so popular with 13th century carvers. The other porch has a true 13th century doorway, and in it is a magnificent nail-studded door which has been opening and closing for 500 years. It has a little wicket, and is carved with two pairs of shears to remind us of Littlebury’s ancient connection with the wool trade. There is a lectern whose stem and base were carved in the 15th century, two handsome chairs from Stuart days, and an attractive modern screen, the work of a son in memory of his father, a churchwarden. But the masterpiece of woodcarving here is the Tudor structure which completely encloses the 13th century font. Three tiers of linenfold panelling form a case with double doors, the hinges engraved with swords and other devices; and, rising from a carved cornice, is an elaborate pyramid top, with buttresses and pinnacles leading up to a figure of Our Lord. It is of rare beauty, rivalled in Essex only by the font cover at Thaxted. The church has a 19th century wall-painting of the Crucifixion; and a memorial to one of its modern benefactors Lord Braybrooke, who rebuilt the chancel.

Quite a gallery of Littlebury folk are here in brass, from a man with a long robe and a curious hat, who died just before the Tudor Age began, to Anne Byrd, with a ruff and high-crowned hat from
Jacobean times, she being possibly a kinswoman of the immortal William Byrd whom we come upon at Stondon. One of the last priests before the Reformation is shown in his robes, holding a chalice and a wafer; a man and his wife are shown from the same time; a civilian of about 1520 has a portrait not very flattering, perhaps engraved by an unskilled village craftsman; and Jane Bradbury is here in a fine Elizabethan dress, with striped sleeves and a French hood. A brass inscription to James Edwards, who died of the plague in 1522, is interesting as an early example of the use of Arabic figures, the 5 being a curious shape. It is interesting also because he was a bailiff working for the Bishop of Ely, which reminds us of the ancient link between the village and the bishopric. In Norman times the manor belonged to the Bishop, who is said to have had his house where Gatehouse Farm now stands. The farm is a gabled Tudor building, with a roof sweeping down very low.

Flickr set.

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