Monday, 22 November 2010

Little Horkesley, Essex

At approximately 9:55pm on Saturday, 21st September 1940 (during the Battle of Britain), the church of St. Peter and St. Paul, was completely destroyed by enemy action. A landmine, dropped by parachute, hit the belfry and then exploded In the body of the church. There is no doubt that the great thickness of the walls (of which none were left standing) saved the lives of many of the villagers; at the same time the Beehive Inn was destroyed. The explosion was so great that windows were broken at Stoke by Nayland, four miles away, and pieces of lead from the roof were picked up at Wiston. Rubble, lead debris and huge beams were scattered many hundreds of yards from the church. The parachute was found on Lowesland some half mile away.

Very few of the ancient and beautiful things described in histories of the old church were saved. The three 13th century wooden figures of the de Horkesley family which were badly damaged have been reconstructed. It will be noticed that one head is now black; this lay under the debris for many years before being found. Most of the brass from the previously perfect Swynbourne tomb was found and was reconstructed by the Colchester and Essex Museum.

The Marney tomb, on the left of the Altar, has also been reconstructed, but a great deal is still missing. The Katherine Leventhorp brass, a small shrouded figure dating from Henry VIII, was found intact and part of the lettering from another tomb has been put together and is now on the wall in the Lady Chapel.

Of particular interest is the carved stone in the lower wall of the Lady Chapel. When the foundations for the new church were being laid, the vault belonging to the Husbands family which lay under the Altar, was disturbed. This stone was in the vault and as so little of the original church remained it was decided to move this into the new church rather than brick it up. If closely examined, it is possible to see that coats of arms were attached to this stonework; these had already been removed when the vault was opened.

The beautiful Communion Plate, the Charles II Paten, dated 1685, and the Queen Anne Flagon and Chalice, dated 1705, were fortunately not in the church and therefore saved. No glass from the windows was found and nothing remained of the two beautiful screens and font canopy, all 15th century. Only one panel from the oak reredos was found and it has been incorporated into the new one. The old bells were broken beyond repair and the new peal of bells was given by All Saints, Colchester, after it ceased to be used as a church.

Three books were salvaged from the ruins in 1940. One, an Old Testament and Apocrypha, was presented to the church by the parishioners in memory of R.M.B. Otter—Barry, Churchwarden from 1903-1917; another was the personal prayer book and Bible of his son, W.W. Otter-Barry, given to him by his God-parents in 1878. The Service Record Book was also salvaged and is in the display cabinet by the South Door. The brass cross on the High Altar, although not old, was salvaged from the rubble of the old church.

The rebuilding was due to the efforts of a large number of people, chief amongst whom were the Patron of the living, Mr, W.W. Otter-Barry and the Revd. Frank Lawrence, Vicar, who was appointed only months before the church was destroyed. He remained in the Parish for eighteen years, holding services in the village school (now the village hall), and was instrumental in the planning and preparation for the new church. He had the reward of being able to conduct the first services in the new church shortly before his retirement.

The foundation stone of the new church was laid by Mr. W.W. Otter-Barry on 5th January 1957, in the presence of the Rt. Revd. Dudley Narborough, Bishop of Colchester. The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt. Revd. Faulkner Alison, re-dedicated the church on 24th May 1958. The architects were Mr. Duncan Clarke and Mr. Marshall Sisson, and the builder was Everett of Colchester.

ST PETER AND ST PAUL. Completely destroyed by a bomb in September 1940. The important MONUMENTS are now in the Castle Museum at Colchester. 

SS Peter and Paul (2)

de Horkesley effigies (3)

Swynbourne brass (2)

Bridget, Lady Marney (2)

Chancel window 

Mee visited before the bombing and reports -

LITTLE HORKESLEY. It is a fascinating place in rolling country, with two exquisite timbered houses of the 17th century and a church full of treasures, chief among them the wooden figures and brass portraits of lords of the manor.

An avenue of chestnuts leads through the churchyard, with a lovely view over the wooded valley of the Stour at one end and a 16th century porch at the other. The north wall of the church is three feet thick, probably part of the priory which has left its name to the farm next door. The Normans built this wall, and marks of 14th century masons are on the tower. With the 15th century came the arcade and the south aisle, the beautiful chapel screen with its mysterious holes (perhaps for the children to peep through), the delicate tracery in the lectern, the fragments of glass with glowing suns, and the plain font with a pinnacled oak cover  like a little spire, 400 years old, but with new statues in its canopied niches.

Under the altar table is a broken altar stone with three consecration crosses still showing. The iron-bound chest with a money slot is 16th century; the iron screen with fleur-de-lys on its standards is 17th; the railed bier with carved brackets has taken nine generations of village folk on their last journey.

The older inhabitants have left a priceless heritage in their memorials. First is a stone coffin lid with a raised cross, and then comes the rare group of three wooden figures. Only three other churches have so many and only Clifton Reynes in Buckinghamshire has more, while no other church has three such figures all from the 13th century. The two men are in mail, the younger one lying cross-legged with a lion at his feet and his heart in his hands, to show that only the heart was brought home for burial. The third is a woman eight feet long, wearing a short mantle looped at the elbows, and with two dogs at her feet. Once these oak figures were gay with paint and gilding, but only a trace of red remains. All three belong to the Horkesley family, lords of the manor till 1322, when they were succeeded by the Swynbornes, whose brass portraits here are unsurpassed in Essex.

Sir Robert Swynborne and his son Thomas are shown life-size with their shields hung on their triple canopies and lions at their feet. The father is in mail armour of 1391, and has his monogram on his sword belt; the son is in plate armour. Only fragments are left of his brother’s brasses and that of the niece whose marriage brought the Fyndornes here as lords of the manor. The wife of the last of them is shown in a wonderful brass group on an altar tomb, lying between her two husbands, Thomas Fyndorne and John, Lord Marney, whose own sumptuous tomb is by the altar at Layer Marney. She died in 1549, leaving instructions for this magnificent brass which shows all three in rich heraldic costume, Thomas on a flowery mount, Lord Marney on a lion, and Lady Bridget with a beautiful coif on her head. A great contrast is the little shrouded brass of Katherine Leventhorp, who died in 1502. The next lords of the manor were the Husbands, whose brilliantly painted arms appear on one of their memorials in the chancel.

Yet another precious thing is here, a painting by Van Hoeck, a pupil of Rubens, showing the Wise Men. One has a rich yellow robe held up by two delightful children, and two camels poke their heads into the picture.

Flickr set.

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