Sunday, 7 November 2010

Strethall, Essex

Strethall lies on the Roman road between Great Chesterford and Braughing. The parish was part of the Diocese of London from the earliest times until 1846, when it became part of the Diocese of Rochester. In 1877 it was transferred to St.Albans, and in 1914 to the Diocese of Chelmsford. For two years during the Commonwealth period it formed part of the Presbytery of Clavering.

The flint church is dated by HM Taylor to Period C3 (1050-1100) but the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments (1916) dates it to the first half of the C11th, which is supported by Ethelred’s sale to Ely in 1008. From the outside the tower, in three stages, predominates. The Royal Commission erroneously describes it as C14th - an error perpetuated by both Pevsner and Taylor. The lowest stage is Norman (English Heritage report, 2000) though they possibly encased an earlier Anglo-saxon structure. Certainly the upper stage is C14th and there is evidence that the bell-frame was raised eight feet. Compare the remains of a grotesque face of unknown date on the North-West angle with the two C14th human faces high on the South face of the tower. On the East side can be seen the weathering of a thatched nave roof of steeper pitch than the present one. Anglo-Saxon long-and-short work can be seen externally on the Westem quoins of the nave.

As one enters the church the jambs of the South door show more long-and-short work, though the top of the arch is now pointed. The door itself and the original key, which still works, is circa 1500. Much of the pleasing aspect of the interior is due to the length and width of the nave being in golden ratio(1.618::1) to each other. Study of some fifty other sites in East Anglia suggests that it was due to happenstance as much as to the mathematical perspicacity of our forebears. Inside the chancel arch is "one of the finest examples of Anglo-Saxon workmanship in smaller parish churches." See HM Taylor’s Anglo-Saxon Architecture. In the West wall of the nave are an arched window, nineteen feet above the floor, which now opens into the tower, and a small circular window six feet higher still. Both are double-splayed, a sign of late Anglo-Saxon work. The present nave roof is probably early Cl5th, trussed with cambered tie-beams and arch-braces. The corbels are: to the North kneeling three-quarter figures of a man and a woman, to the South an angel with a shield, and against the West two angels. Two pews of c 1475 Midland style (HLK Mabbitt, Pre-conservation report, 1995) survive at the back of the nave, that in the corner still occupying its original position, were conserved by Roy Kitchen, a parishioner who has conserved the roof boxes at St George's Chapel, Windsor. The font is C12th and its size is a reminder that up to the time of the Reformation an infant at baptism was totally immersed three times. The plain oak chest is 16th century. The funeral hatchment is that of Major General William  Raymond.

The chancel was rebuilt in the C15th and heavily restored, or ‘improved’ in 1861 and 1876. On the North wall is a handsome canopied memorial whose inscription, cut in relief and terminating with a skull and crossed bones, reads:

"Pray for the soules of John gardyner gentilman here buryed sometyme lord of this manour + patron of this Churche + of Johane sometyme his wife daughter of henry Wodecok of London gentilman + of henry gardyner their son whiche Johane lyethe buryed in the Church of seint mary Wolnoth/ i lumbard street of London + the seid henry their son lyethe buryed in the Churche of sevenok in kent/ + seid John died at this manour at midnight between the xxx day + xxxi day of august/ the yere of our lord god mvc and viii to all which Soules Jhu be marcyfull amen."

Brasses cut in relief are rare. In his will dictated on his deathbed Gardyner asked to be buried 'in the chancel, on the north side between the altar and the wall under the foote of our blissed lady of Stretehall'. The footing for such an image still projects from the East wall. Henry Gardyner who was 17 at the time of his father's death died a few months later at Sevenoaks where he was at school. His will describes his father, John, as having been born in Saffron Walden. His mother died in London within two years. This brass and that of Thomas Abbott (see below) use English months and Roman numerals.

The brass in the floor is composite. The figure of a priest in academic dress dates from c 1480, and is attributed stylistically to a London workshop. The name-plate was inscribed first to Margaret Siday c 1460, and only later to 'Maister Thomas Abbott, late pson here'. Abbott was inducted as Rector by John Gardyner in 1504. His inscription reads:

"Here lieth maister Thomas Abbott/ late pson here which decessed ye viii day/ of Octobr the yere of our lord mccccc /xxxix on whose soulw Jehu have marcy"

On the reverse side the inscription reads:

"me margaretam Siday modo vermibus esam/ Quondam formosam mulierem relligiosam/ Hic con templantes quales eritas memorantes/ Poscite posco deum celis donet michi mansum"

which, being freely translated, becomes:

"Whoe'er ye be who think on Margaret Siday's fame, food now for worms, though once a buxom and religious dame/Pray to God as I pray thee, that he may give me sanctuary"

Both sides are attributed to a Cambridge workshop known to have been working from 1460 onwards. The inscription contains two spelling errors. Expert opinion is that the plate is probably a ‘workshop waster’ which was never used for its original purpose because, for whatever reason, it was not paid for. The piscina in the South wall is c. 1310. The lowside window near it retains its original sill. The purpose of these windows, common in medieval churches, is obscure, though a possible explanation is that the original windows were little more than slits, with the exception of the lowside window which provided light for a reader.  

The absence of a war memorial is noteworthy, just 33 parishes in the whole country being so spared. Two brothers from Graves Farm in Catmere End died on active service during the First World War, and are commemorated on the Littlebury War memorial.

ST MARY. C11 chancel arch, Saxon in most details, but with a few which indicate a post-Conquest date (decoration of the capitals). The arch is similar in composition to that of St Benet’s at Cambridge, that is with three strips of different sections running up the sides and round the arch, but though they look like pilaster and arch mouldings, they are quite illogically kept away from the imposts and the arch proper - a sign of lacking appreciation of what mouldings really mean. The nave is also Saxon; see the long-and-short work at the W quoins. C15 chancel and W  tower. - PLATE. Cup of 1561; Paten of 1567. - MONUMENTS. Brass to a Priest, C15, the figure over 2 ft long. - Tomb-chest with quatrefoil decoration in a recess in the chancel N wall, four-centred arch, and cresting. 

St Mary the Virgin

John Gardyner 1508

Thomas Abbott 1539

STRETHALL. Here stands one of the oldest buildings in Essex, a perfect little piece of Saxon architecture. It is the nave of the church, less than nine yards long, but with the typical long and short masonry of the Saxon builders, and with two of their windows to be seen inside, one a little round opening about eight inches across. The doorway has kept its Saxon jambs and arch, but more interesting still is the low Saxon chancel arch, decorated with the mouldings of Edward the Confessor’s day. Through it men and women have been coming to the altar for 900 years. The tower is 15th century, with two bells older than itself; the chancel was partly refashioned when the tower was built. The nave roof is also 15th century, its corbels including heads of angels, an angel with a shield, and a curious carving of a man and a woman kneeling at prayer. Medieval also are two plain seats in the nave; and a door with a huge lock has been swinging to and fro nearly all the time. The bowl of the font is Norman. A canopied altar tomb in the sanctuary is the sleeping-place of a Tudor lord of the manor; and there are two brasses engraved on both sides, one a portrait of a 15th century priest in his robes, on the back being the figure of a lady; the other an inscription to a parson of 1539, the back of this telling of a lady who died in 1450.

Flickr set.

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