Friday, 24 August 2012

Heybridge, Essex

The minute I set eyes on the tower of St Andrew I knew I was looking at something special and so it turned out. This is pretty much a Norman building with more retained features from the C11th century than anywhere else in Essex. There may be more beautiful buildings in Essex but few are so interesting.

ST ANDREW. A church almost completely Norman, with an impressive W tower, nave and chancel. The E end of the chancel alone (with its five-light Window) is Perp. The W tower, a little later than nave and chancel, is impressive for accidental reasons. It was laid out very broad, but stopped when it was hardly higher than the nave, and later covered with a big pyramid roof. Moreover, in the early C16 one very massive diagonal brick buttress was put up to prop it. Original NW stair turret, and original, though blocked, W doorway. In nave and chancel there are on the N side three original windows and one doorway, on the S side two doorways and two blocked but still noticeable windows. Inside the nave the splays of the Norman clerestory windows also still exist, not in line with the lower windows. The chancel roof has at the E end a hammer-beam truss, sign of its Perp origin, W of that tie-beams, with king-posts and four-way struts. The nave roof is similar, but one tiebeam carries queen-posts. - FONT. Square, of Purbeck marble with the usual blank arcading motif and some other motifs, almost entirely re-cut. - COMMUNION RAIL with twisted balusters, c. 1700. - DOOR with C12 ornamental iron hinges. - STAINED GLASS. Female Saint, late C13, N chancel window. - PLATE. Paten of 1617; Cup probably of 1705. - MONUMENT. Thomas Freshwater d. 1638 and wife. Big, with kneeling figures opposite each other. Corinthian columns l. and r.

South door

Priest's door

St Andrew (3)

HEYBRIDGE. A busy little spot by the River Blackwater, it has a narrow winding street with houses looking across the water to the spires of Maldon, and a plain church of its own that might be mistaken for a barn. It has seen changes in its 800 years, but remains one of the most remarkable churches of its size in Essex. It impresses us with strength and a touch of grandeur, and stirs us to think of the years that have gone since its Norman builders were putting Roman bricks in its walls and round its windows. It is without aisles or chapels, and its nave seems to be without a tower, for there is no arch. But from the outside we can see the lower part of a west tower, which has become part of the nave. It must have fallen centuries ago, for the timbers supporting its pyramid roof have been here 500 years. There are three Norman doorways, and even the 15th century one is under a Norman arch. Two of the doorways have ornament and are high and narrow; and in one is a door with hinges as old as the foundations, sturdy smithwork that has withstood eight centuries of wind and weather. There is a fragment of a panelled Norman font near the rood stairs, and a 15th century bell come down to rest.

One of the things that strike us here is the odd effect the medieval builders have given by changing their minds when they began to make a clerestory; there seems no other explanation of these windows suddenly cut off by the roof beams. But the roof is a fine one, enriched with 15th century carving of foliage and shields.

There is a gravestone with a cross boldly carved 700 years ago, a recess in the sanctuary, where Thomas Freshwater has been kneeling with his wife since William of Orange landed, and a tiny man and a delightful little lady; he is John Whitacres of 1627, a quaint figure in brass; she has been in the tracery of a chancel window since the 13th century, graceful and stately in spite of her small size.

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