Thursday, 26 January 2012

Little Tey, Essex

St James the Less is a conspicuous example of early Norman architecture and shares many similar features with Great Tey and Wakes Colne which are of like date. The Church comprises a single cell nave and chancel with apsidal end, with a south porch of 19th century construction and a north vestry, probably early 20th century in date. The Church is simply furnished with pews, font, pulpit and Holy Table. Its principal feature is the extensive, and extensively damaged, wall paintings.

The Church has early Norman features and the roof is thought to be of 13th century origin. The bell tower at the west end appears to have 15th century framing. The Church was probably built in the second quarter of the 12th century, c. 1130. It consists of rubble with ashlar and there is dark brown puddingstone used in the quoins of the west wall and as a double ornamental course around the exterior of the apse. Caen stone has been used for the tympanum above the south door and has Norman lozenge diapering.

The apse contains an original north east window and there are also original windows on both sides of the nave.

There are two main schemes of wall paintings, one dating to the 13th century and the other to the 14th century. Until May 1996, large areas of the paintings were still covered in limewash, distemper and synthetic modem paint. Since this latter coating was applied, in the 1960s, extensive and serious flaking had occurred on all areas of the painted wall surface, and it was as a result of the flaking paint that the wall paintings were discovered.

During the late 1980’s and early 90’s two areas of painting on the north wall were uncovered. However, it was not until the summer of 1996 that the main scheme of paintings was uncovered and conserved by Tobit Curteis Associates.

It was discovered that a scheme of paintings dating to circa 1280 originally ran around all the walls of the church. Of this scheme, only the paintings in the apse are now readable. These depict a Passion cycle, starting with the Last Supper and ending with the scene of Noli Me Tangere. Although they are badly damaged, the detail is extremely fine, particularly on some of the faces, such as that of the dead Christ in the Crucifixion. Around the top of the paintings is a band of fleur de lys decoration, which is particularly characteristic of this period.

On top of these paintings, there was a second scheme, painted in circa 1320. Painting over earlier paintings was extremely common as styles and fashions changed and this case is no exception. From the fragments that survive in the apse, it appears that there was a second Passion cycle painted over the first. Although the subjects seem to have been the same, the layout of the individual scenes was different and in some areas the remains of the later paintings appear to clash with the figures in the earlier scene. This is particularly evident in the Washing of Feet and the Three Marys at the Tomb.

In addition to the scenes from the Passion, a number of other 14th century paintings were found. On the north wall is the morality scene of the Three Living and the Three Dead, of which only the figures of the Three Living survive. Also on the north wall, in its traditional position above the north door is the fragmentary scene of St Christopher. On the South wall is a very fine depiction of the Virgin and Child with the Virgin holding the Christ Child on her hip.

Although identification of the scenes might appear difficult, the iconography that was used in a particular period tends to be standard. Therefore a small fragment of painting can be matched with a more complete painting or manuscript of the same period, and the subject of the damaged wall painting will become clear.

The reason for the severe losses seen throughout the church are twofold; the first is what may be termed ‘natural deterioration’, which includes causes linked with the environmental conditions within the building; the second, and by far the most serious is the deliberate scraping down of the walls in preparation for later decorative paint schemes. In order to provide a sound surface for such redecoration, all loose limewash, including any which contained wall paintings, was scraped off.  The way that layers of paint had built up in some areas indicated that this process must have occurred on a number of occasions, from perhaps as early as the 18th century.

ST JAMES THE LESS. Nave and chancel without a break, and belfry with a pyramid roof. Several small Norman windows. S doorway with a tympanum decorated with Norman lozenge diapering.

St James the Less (2)

Wallpainting (1)

Wallpainting (2)

LITTLE TEY. The walls of its church remain as the Normans built them, with their diaper work still in the tympanum of their door, and the round apse continuing on the walls of nave and chancel without a break, for there is no chancel arch. The church is so small that 50 paces would complete the round of it, and so low are the windows that a child can peep through them. There is a tiny 16th century turret with a bell dated 1701. Indoors is a hutch-shaped chest of Tudor workmanship, and in the windows are a few fragments of flowers in glass of the 15th century.

In the reign of Charles Stuart the rector was Erasmus Laud and it is said here that some of the wrath felt by the people of Colchester for his famous namesake, the Archbishop, was poured on his unhappy head.


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