Friday, 24 August 2012

Maldon, Essex

You've got to love Maldon for no other reason than both of its churches are open.

The Assumption of Our Lady is, unusually for a RC church, locked; not a very good advert for the local church hierarchy.

All Saints and St Peter and has been so thoroughly restored that I mistook it for new build which turns out to be far from the truth.

St Mary the Virgin sits overlooking the Blackwater Estuary with a massive tower and is another shabby maiden aunt church. It's not without interest including rood screen figures, originally from Plaistow, of Christ, Mary and St John.

All that remains of St Peter is the tower, the body of the church collapsed in the 1650's and wasn't re-built.

St Giles' Leper Hospital is a picturesque ruin, presumably a victim of the Reformation.

ALL SAINTS. Long S side without a break between S aisle and S chancel chapel. The W tower lies back a little. It is unique in England in that it is triangular. It dates from the C13 and has lancet windows (also towards the nave), a hexagonal shingled spire and three spirelets. The rest is externally somewhat confusing; the nave of 1728, of brick, but gothicized, the N chancel chapel late C15 and the chancel and S chapel earlier C15. The architectural interest of the church lies in its S aisle, exceptionally lavishly executed inside. The exterior does not betray that. Of its windows all but one are C19. The easternmost is C14, but clearly later than the interior. It is of three lights, with ogee reticulation above, i.e. a Dec motif, but a band of Perp panelling below this. Inside it cuts into the arcading which distinguishes the aisle. This arcading is in two tiers. On the S wall there is first a tier of blank ogee arches with renewed capitals and renewed head label-stops and above this a rich framing of the windows by arches alternating with blank arches to fill the wall between the windows. The jambs and voussoirs of all these arches are decorated by trails of roses. On the W side of the aisle the lower tier of arches is higher, but the style is the same. The later C14 window mentioned above cuts into the Sedilia which are another unusual feature of this unusual aisle. A third is the Crypt below it, reached by a spiral stair in the outer wall. It is vaulted and has depressed-pointed transverse arches - also C14. Nothing is known that would explain the splendour of this aisle, reminiscent, though with a good many reductions, of the Ely Lady Chapel. The date of this is c. 1340, and that seems a convincing date for the S aisle of All Saints as well. Additional proof is the arcade towards the nave with its filletted quatrefoil piers of Purbeck marble and its finely moulded arches. The nave is wide and bare and has little atmosphere. A N arcade must have been ripped out in 1728, as the two C18 arches into the chancel and the N chapel now stand incongruously side by side. The S chapel has a three-bay arcade to the chancel with piers of the not unusual four-shafts-four-hollows section and moulded arches, the N arcade, also of three bays, has simply octagonal piers and double-hollow-chamfered arches. - MONUMENTS. Monument to Thomas Cammocke d.  1602, two wives and children; with kneeling figures, the man frontal, the wives in profile, the children in the ‘predella ’. - Mary Vernon d. 1647, with cherubs on an urn between columns, a conceit unusual before the c 18.

ST PETER (cf. below). Only the W tower remains, with angle buttresses, battlements and a higher stair-turret.

PLUME LIBRARY, founded by Dr Plume before he died in 1704. He made use of the site of the ruined church of St Peter, just E of the tower still standing and built there a two-storey house of red brick with quoins and keystones to the windows. The windows are of wood, of the mullion-and-transome-cross type. The library started with 6,000 volumes; on the ground floor is now a branch of the Essex County Library. Some of the original fittings are still inside. That an archdeacon of Rochester should have felt a library to be of more use to his native town than the rebuilding of a parish church is a noteworthy sign of the period about 1700.

ST MARY THE VIRGIN. The E end quite near the Blackwater. Big, heavy W tower with uncommonly massive buttresses. Top brick with stepped battlements. Shingled spire on an octagonal weatherboarded base. The nave N wall revealed as Early Norman by a small window close to the porch. The S aisle all of 1886. The interior shows that the Norman nave was as wide as the present nave, quite a remarkable fact, proved by the responds of the Norman chancel arch which are wider than the present chancel arch, restored with C14 bits. - FONT.  Perp stem with bowl of c. 1700. - COMMUNION RAIL. With twisted balusters, c. 1700.

ST GILES HOSPITAL. A leper hospital founded, it is said, by Henry II. All that survives is part of the transepts and of the chancel of a chapel on quite an ambitious scale. The scanty details point to the end of the C12: shafts attached to the angles of the crossing piers and a W window in the N transept. Both transepts seem originally to have had E chapels. The three lancets of the S transept S wall are an  EE alteration.

Rood figures (1)

 Glass (15)

St Peter (4)

The Moot Hall, built in the 15th century and now used as the town hall, has 17th century panelling on its wall, and in the Council Chamber are portraits of Queen Elizabeth, Queen Anne, George the Third, and the town’s great benefactor Thomas Plume, who set up a library on the site of the lost St Peter’s church. The library is a fine little place with the atmosphere of Queen Anne’s day, solid old tables, photographs of kings and queens, panelled walls, and a Jacobean fireplace, and on the shelves some of the rarest productions of the booksellers of two or three centuries ago. The medieval tower of St Peter’s church is all that remains and the library is attached to it with 6000 volumes and a precious register in which are two entries, one of the burial of George Washington’s last English ancestor, the other of the christening of the captain of the Mayflower. It is remarkable, surely, that there should remain in this old library a book with these two entries. Lawrence Washington had been ejected from his living at the neighbouring rectory at Purleigh and finally came to Maldon, where he died; he lies in the churchyard. Both his sons emigrated to America, and John became the great-grandfather of George Washington. The boy christened in this church who was to grow up and become the captain of the Mayflower was Christopher Jones; he captained the ship which carried across the Atlantic the little company that was to grow into the United States under the leadership of the great-great-grandson of the man who died at Maldon. One more historic name brought to mind in, the church where Lawrence Washington lies is that of the Protector, for here lies the great-grandson of Cromwell’s sister Jane.

Among Maldon’s ancient buildings are three inns with delightful ironwork in their signs, the White Horse, the Bell, and the Blue Boar. Behind the modern front of the Blue Boar lies an old timber house, which was once the home of the Earls of Oxford; the oldest part of the house is the black and white overhanging storey from the 14th and 15th centuries. We may look down on the three churches of Maldon from the turret of the medieval town hall. St Peter’s is only a tower. The second is St Mary’s, with a Norman nave and a Norman stringcourse round the tower, and a porch of the 15th century. Norman work remains in the lower stages of the tower, but the rest was rebuilt in the 17th century, and the tower is now crowned by a small wooden spire. The other is the splendid church of All Saints, with the remarkable churchyard in which George Washington’s ancestor lies.

The church has an extraordinary triangular tower with Norman stones in its walls, and a group of huge traceried windows looking down on the street. Its buttresses have canopied niches in which stand six men Maldon is pleased to honour: Archbishop Mellitus, Bishop Cedd, the Saxon Brihtnoth, Robert Mantell who founded the priory, Sir Robert Darcy, and Thomas Plume. On the inside wall thus handsomely buttressed most beautiful arcading runs round windows and between them, while below the windows is a masterpiece of 14th century carving, a series of arches in which finely sculptured heads hide the point of meeting.

This is one of the most attractive walls in Essex. Five of these arches form canopies for stone seats, and one is a doorway leading to a crypt. This splendour of decoration, probably unequalled in the county, continues beyond the crypt entrance to another doorway with a door which has been on its hinges 600 years. There is a window in this wall with three 17th century medallions of the Good Shepherd, the woman of Samaria, and the martyrdom of Stephen, and another window by it is of interest because it comes from Maldon’s American namesake, a town founded by Essex emigrants about 300 years ago. It is a memorial to Lawrence Washington and it glows with colour and fine figures. St Nicholas is here as the patron of voyagers, St George is wearing a jewelled girdle, Joan of Arc is beautiful in blue and silver carrying a banner, and there are scenes showing the landing of Columbus, the arrival of the Pilgrim Fathers, and George Washington signing the Declaration of Independence.

On a wall-monument with three bays from Tudor days kneels Thomas Cammocke in a central arch with his two wives kneeling,both looking towards him, their 22 children of all ages and sizes being represented in panels below their mothers. Thomas himself is here not unlike Mr Punch, but he was in truth a young adventurer who eloped with his second wife Frances Rich, whom he carried off on horseback. It was one of the romances of the day. Thomas was in the service of Lord Rich, and loved his daughter Frances, and in eloping they found themselves pursued by the irate father and driven to leap into the estuary and to swim half a mile against a strong tide. They reached the boat the other side of the river at Fambridge Ferry, and the father, seeing such an exhibition of courage, relented and allowed them to be married in All Saints, saying "Seeing she had ventured her life for him, God bless them." Thomas lived to be a prosperous citizen of Maldon, and gave the town its first public water supply.

Under the floor of the nave, somewhere near the font, lies a man whose greatcoat might have covered half of Thomas Cammocke’s great family, for he was reputed to be the biggest man alive in England, weighing 44 stones. He was Edward Bright, and it is said that when they laid him to rest in 1750 a special apparatus had to be fixed in the church for his burial. It was he who was descended from Cromwell’s sister Jane.

Maldon has on its roll of honour not only Thomas Plume, founder of a free school here and a chair of astronomy at Cambridge, but two men who went out to Massachusetts, joined the Parliament there, and helped to found a Maldon on the other side of the Atlantic; they were Samuel Wayte and Joseph Hills, each of whom became Speaker of the Massachusetts Parliament. Here there was born also John Rogers Herbert, who lived for 80 years of last century, became a Royal Academician, and did some of the frescoes for the Houses of Parliament. In the 17th century Stephen Knight, a butcher of the town, was burned alive in the persecution of Mary Tudor, and in the 17th century there came to the town its first Nonconformist minister, a man of great energy and enthusiasm of whom we may truly say that he did things like billio, for he actually was Billio - Joseph Billio, from whose ceaseless activity sprang the phrase that has now become so familiar.

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