Wednesday, 24 November 2010

White Notley, Essex

St Etheldreda was locked with no sign of a keyholder, a fate shared with a string of churches in this combined parish, which is a shame as Mee makes it sound interesting. I have to admit though that the exterior left me cold.

St Etheldreda

St Etheldreda (2)

WHITE NOTLEY. It has lost the great water mill which stood by the lovely Tudor hall, but there is still its big pond, with a deep ditch beside it. The brick and timber house has a delightful aspect with irregular gables, fine windows, and Tudor chimneys.Yet the village has something more remarkable than anything it has lost, for its church has come from three of our historic ages; it is Roman and Saxon and Norman. We come into it through a 14th century porch and a pointed wooden arch fronted with a decorated bargeboard, and the aisles, the nave arcades, and the end of the chancel are by the first English builders of the 13th century; but the Normans had made so eifective a chancel arch with Roman tiles that the rebuilders left it for us, though they did demolish the tiny apse of which traces have been discovered.

The Norman masons shaped a Saxon headstone into one of their window-frames, and it has been made into a window-frame now in the vestry, with one of the rarest glass portraits in the county set in it. The portrait is of a crowned saint holding a book, a gem of colour preserved for 700 years; it has yellow fleur-de-lys as a background. The villagers are also very proud of two 16th century roimdels in a modern dormer window, one showing a lovely child. The 14th century tracery in some windows is of elaborate design, and the stone faces are perhaps of local celebrities. The font is by a craftsman of the 15th century, who panelled its stem and set bearded faces, foliage, and shields on the bowl.

The oldest woodwork is a dug-out chest with a heavy lid older than Magna Carta. The door, with a traceried top, is 14th century, and so are the rafter roof of the chancel and the pent roofs of the aisles. Both aisles have traceried screens of great beauty, one 15th century and the other 16th, each only eight feet wide but with five bays. The end of the nave is filled with the massive beams set up in the 16th century to support the bell-turret, which rises without a break into a short shingled spire.

From White Notley in the persecuting days of Mary Tudor went forth its great hero George Searles, to die in the fires of martyrdom at Stratford-le-Bow. There had just been laid in the churchyard when we called a parish clerk aged 92, who was believed to be the oldest parish clerk in England, having served White Notley as clerk and sexton for 70 years. He was Joseph Challis.

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