Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Theydon Mount, Essex

St Michael is locked with no keyholder listed. The church really does sit on a mount above the Roding valley and has commanding views. It is brick built and dates to 1611/14. I thought it was a fine building but would have loved to have gained access (but then whatever the merits of a church I always want to gain access).

ST MICHAEL. Small brick church of 1611-14, built in the grounds of Hill Hall by the Smith family, owners of the mansion. The W tower is not high. It has diagonal buttresses and battlements and a (later?) recessed shingled spire. The W window has intersected tracery. So has  the E window. The other windows are of two lights under straight hood-moulds. The details do not seem to differ between W parts and chancel. Yet the bricks and the building are too different to allow for the same date. The stair turret adjoins the tower on the S and ends in a segmental gable. The windows are double slits of very odd forms. The S porch has a more elaborately shaped gable and a four-centred doorway and above it an uneasily balanced aedicule of Tuscan pilasters with pediment. The nave roof  has collar-beams on arched braces which form semicircles. - FONT. Unusually small, of stone, attached to the wall like a stoup; it stands on a pillar, and the bowl is as elegant as a hand-washing fountain in a Hall. - REREDOS. Late C17, with coupled Corinthian pilasters l. and r. of the E window. - BENCHES. Plain, late C16. - HELMS. One, C17, in the chancel, probably belonging to the monument of 1631. - PLATE. Cup and Paten of 1587; Cup with bands of ornament and Paten of 1614; large Dish on foot inscribed 1698. - MONUMENTS. All to the Smith family, an impressive series, crowding the small chancel. Sir Thomas, d. 1577. Standing wall monument. Figure stiffly reclining, head propped up on elbow. Shallow coffered arch behind the figure, flanked by two black Ionic columns with an entablature carrying two obelisks and a large achievement. Fine inscription plate with bold strapwork and fruit surround under the arch. - Sir William d. 1626 and wife. Standing wall monument with the two effigies both stiffly reclining with head on elbow; he a little higher and behind her. The background more or less as before and very little stylistic change. Kneeling figures of children against the front of the tomb-chest. - Sir William d. 1631 and two wives. Standing wall monument with recumbent effigy. Three big kneeling figures behind and above. - Sir Thomas d. 1668. Standing wall monument, of black and white marble, with no superstructure. The effigy again semi-reclining, head propped up on elbow. Thick angle volutes ending in cherubs’ heads. - Sir Edward d. 1713, simple white marble tablet, with a cherub’s head at the foot. By Edward Stanton. - The Rev. Sir Edward Bowyer Smith d. 1850. Large Perp Gothic tablet by ‘Osmond, Sarum’.

St Michael (2)

THEYDON MOUNT. It has a park on a hill, one of the most delightful hilltop parks that could be imagined, with a great house coming down from the age of the Tudors and a church from the days of Shakespeare.

The glory of the church is in the splendid tombs of those people who lived in the great house, two Thomas Smiths and two Williams. The first Thomas was the great Protestant Secretary of Queen Elizabeth, and we see him a stately bearded man in the mantle of the Garter, looking the scholar he was, lying on his side under an arch round which we read that "What the earth or seas or sky contain, what creatures in them be, his mind did seek to know." His nephew William lies on another tomb with his wife, two sons in armour, three daughters in veils, and two babies kneeling at a prayer desk as high as themselves. This man’s son William is gazing upward with his hands on a book and his two wives dominating the tomb. They are kneeling with a plump child in a grown-up dress between them. On the fourth tomb is his brother Thomas, his head on his hand, and cherubs guarding his altar tomb. On the wall above hangs a helmet.

The old house, built by the first Sir Thomas, has changed much down the centuries, but has on both fronts the original windows and the soft red bricks of Elizabethan days. Three gabled dormers looking down on the lawn are original, but the north front has an 18th century portico with four columns. In the windows are many heraldic devices of Tudor times, one glass panel showing a sea fight with ships of Drake’s day, and the oldest glass of all having on it the head of a girl of the 14th century.

Sir Thomas Smith was born at Saffron Walden in 1513, his family tracing its descent from the Black Prince. He went to Cambridge at 11, establishing there a reputation as a staunch Protestant. So brilliant was his scholarship that he became Provost of Eton, and reformed the pronunciation of Greek. His scholarship helped Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer in their reforms, while his tact and judgment were used by Protector Somerset who sent him as ambassador to foreign courts.

When Mary Tudor came to the throne he surrendered all his posts and went into retirement, settling down in marriage and rebuilding the hall here. Elizabeth, who knew his sterling worth, sent him as ambassador to Paris and afterwards made him Secretary. He died in 1577, leaving his lovely home to his nephew, and leaving behind his great work on The English State, an authoritative exposition on government which was not given to the world till six years after his death. The book ran through ten editions in a century and was translated into Latin, Dutch, and German, so that it must be regarded as one of the best-sellers of its time.

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