Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Roydon, Essex

I've said it before and I'll probably say it again but I really shouldn't go on visits with preconceptions. The first was that Roydon is in Hertfordshire, it isn't it's in Essex and the second was that St Peter wouldn't be up to much but it is.

The chancel has been changed to the Colte Chapel and the altar moved to the north wall of the nave which is a decidedly odd arrangement but one that works. There are several brasses to the Coltes (Thomas More married Jane Colte who is depicted in a group on her father's brass) and others but the brass for John Colte d. 1471 is hidden under carpeting.

Other items include six hatchments, assorted monuments and a rather good font dating from 1300 with four heads wearing what look like bowler hats.

ST PETER. C13 nave, see one renewed lancet window on the S side. Next to it one of Dec and one of Perp style. The N aisle dates from c. 1330, see the windows (E and W of three lights with ogee-reticulated tracery) and the arcade (short octagonal piers and double-chamfered arches). W tower with angle buttresses and battlements. - FONT. An interesting piece of c. 1300. Octagonal with, in the four diagonals, four heads, men who are neither saints nor clerics, but look like workmen. They wear hats with rolled-up brims. - SCREEN. The side parts of five lights each with plain broad ogee arches and no tracery above them - C14, no doubt. - PLATE. Cup and Paten of 1564. - BRASSES. Thomas Colte d. 1471 and wife, the figures 3 ft long. - John Colte d. 1521 and two wives, smaller figures (2 ft 3 in.). - John Swifte d. 1570, 21/2 ft figure. - In the churchyard a fine TOMBSTONE for R. Crowe d. 1779, with Rococo decoration (F. Burgess). 

John Colte, Elizabeth Elrington (r) & Mary de Lisle (l) 1521 (1)

Font (2)

Elizabeth Stanley nee Dinn 1589 (1)

ROYDON. It knew the first Englishman of his day 400 years ago, Sir Thomas More; he fell in love with one of the daughters of the moated house whose ruins are still an indication of the grandeur that has passed away. Its streets slope down to the River Stort, some of its shops and houses still looking medieval, the stocks and whipping-post on the green, with the little wooden lock-up close by, reminding us of the rough justice of not so very long ago.

It was to Nether Hall that Sir Thomas More came courting. The towers of its gatehouse still stand above the water of the moat; they were the first defence of a dwelling-house built when the houses of the red and white roses were fighting for the crown. There are still ancient corbels and trefoil arches round the towers.

The hall was the home of the Coltes. A Privy Councillor of Edward the Fourth, Thomas Colte was laid here to rest in 1471, and we see him in his splendid armour engraved in brass, his wife Joan beside him in a collar of suns and roses. In the sanctuary are the brass portraits of his son John with two wives, all in heraldic robes, their sons and daughters in groups below. It was one of these daughters Sir Thomas More came courting - two of them perhaps we should say, for there is a strange little story told of it.

Sir Thomas More’s affection was set on the second daughter, yet when he considered that it would be a grief and shame to the elder one to see her younger sister preferred before her in marriage, he turned with a certain pity to Jane the elder, and married her four years before Henry the Eighth came to the throne. The purity of their home life is one of the redeeming features of the pitiless reign of Henry the Eighth, and it is difficult to forget the little story of that dramatic day when Jane Colte sat in church at Chelsea and received a whisper from the Lord Chancellor. Sir Thomas used to carry the cross at the head of processions round Chelsea church and sing in the choir, wearing a surplice like other choristers, and when service was over, and More had left the vestry, a footman would go to his wife’s pew and say, "His Lordship is gone." Jane was ambitious and liked such attention, and it is said that after his fall from office the Englishman did not know how to tell his proud wife that he had resigned the Great Seal of England, but in the end he broke the news by going to the pew and saying: "May it please your ladyship, my lordship is gone."

There are two other Tudor brasses in the church, one with John Swift in a fur-lined cloak, and one with the portrait of Elizabeth Stanley who died just after the Armada. There are little panes of medieval glass round a fine figure of Peter gazing across the sanctuary; three elaborately carved chairs three centuries old; and a fine screen carved with the simple tracery of 14th century windows, so that its ten bays look like the windows of a cathedral. The screen is still held together by its original oak pins. The font has been here since the church was new 700 years ago; it is remarkable for having been fashioned out of a square into an octagon by clever sculptors who carved four portraits of their friends at the corners, all four wearing hats with rolled brims, their faces full of character.

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