Thursday, 2 August 2012

Holy Trinity, Colchester, Essex

Holy Trinity boasts a Saxon tower and arch both of which are really rather special. The church is now a cafe and as such is open.

HOLY TRINITY, Trinity Street. The W tower is the only Anglo-Saxon monument of Colchester. Built with plenty of Roman bricks, and crowned by a recent low pyramid roof. Small W doorway with triangular head, a wholly Saxon feature. E arch, into the nave with odd capitals of the responds in three steps of brick, without any mouldings. Saxon upper windows, the bell-openings developed as twin windows, but not separated by a turned shaft or colonnette as usual. On the sides below that stage traces of a blank arcade. The rest of the church is of 1886, except for the E end of the chancel with an early C14 three-light window with flowing tracery, and the outside of the S aisle and the S porch which are of the C15. - FONT. Perp, octagonal, with shields and nobbly foliage in the panels. - PLATE. Fine Mazer, C15.

Holy Trinity (2)

Saxon tower arch

St Botolph’s has been the noblest of all Colchester’s churches, for though the town has many they have little to attract us. We may run round them all very quickly. No traveller will miss the best church tower still standing in the town, with the fine triangular doorway looking on to a quaint narrow street leading to the town hall at one end and the abbey gate at the other, and in the middle of it, opposite the little Saxon tower, the old home of Queen Elizabeth’s electrical wizard, William Gilbert.

This tower of Holy Trinity is one of the finest possessions of the town, and it has still hanging in it on its old hinges a door which may have been opened for Queen Elizabeth. The tower is built of Roman bricks and stands as the Saxons left it. The door by which we come in at the south porch has also been opening and shutting for 500 years, and has a fine rose for its knocker. Looking down into the nave is a fox carrying off a goose and a lion having a meal, and there are 15th century glass roundels in the windows. The font is also 15th century, and the church has one of the rare medieval mazer bowls, with a silver rim.

Here, in an unknown grave, lies the most renowned composer of those madrigals for which Elizabethan music was famous, William Wilbye. He lived in a house near the church for the last ten years of his life, and was buried here in 1638. Hardly any manuscripts of his are preserved, but his madrigals have been sung by every generation since his own. They are very beautiful and some of the best known are Stay, Corydon; Adieu Sweet Amaryllis; and Flora gave me fairest flowers.

But the chief interest in the church is the alabaster carving which tells us that here lies William Gilbert, the wonder man of Queen Elizabeth’s court, her physician, who used to amuse her with electrical experiments. He was the first man who used the word Electricity, and perhaps the first man to have any practical knowledge of it. He lived across the street, where Queen Elizabeth is said to have visited him in 1579, and we may be sure he would point out this Saxon tower, and probably he opened one of these very doors for her. We may go through the archway facing the church and see the delightful white house in which Gilbert lived, with a bay window perched under its overhanging storey and three dormers in the roof. It is Tymperleys, a lovely little place.

Gilbert was one of the giants of learning in Elizabethan England. It was he who coined the word electricity. The ancient Greeks had discovered that amber could be made to attract other bodies; and Gilbert thought of extending friction to other things and found that what was true of amber was true of such substances as sulphur, resin, sealing-wax. He investigated magnetism and declared that the whole earth was one vast magnet, setting forth the truth, unproved until the advent of Michael Faraday two centuries later, that electricity and magnetism are two emanations of the same fundamental force pervading Nature. Francis Bacon, unfit to hold a candle to him in mathematical and physical knowledge, attacked the great discovery, but Gilbert was nobly vindicated by Galileo, who loved his book for the daring with which it traversed dogmatic and untested principles. "I extremely praise, admire, and envy this author," Galileo wrote; "I think him, moreover, worthy of the greatest praise for the many new and true observations he has made, to the disgrace of so many vain and fabling authors who repeat everything they hear from the foolish vulgar, without attempting to satisfy themselves by experiment." Gilbert, who grasped the relations between the earth and the moon, and realised that the moon is responsible for the tides, invented two appliances for finding the latitude by astronomical observation.

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