Thursday, 25 October 2012

Havering atte Bower, Essex

The setting for St John the Evangelist is stunning; it sits on the green with an unusual semi detached tower but was, sadly, locked. Entirely Victorian but for all that this is pleasing building.

ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST. By Basil Champneys, 1875-8, that is an early work of his. Flint, with Dec windows and an arcade in the Essex tradition. A little freer only the S tower with an open E-W passage through, a higher stair turret, and openwork battlements. - FONT. C12, of Purbeck marble, octagonal, with two shallow blank arches on each side.

St John the Evangelist (3)

Corbel (4)

Havering Palace

HAVERING-ATTE-BOWER. Kings and queens have walked here, and wherever we turn we come upon their memory. Here came Edward the Confessor seeking solitude, praying even that the nightingales might be silent. Here Edward the Third invested little Richard as his successor, and from here Richard as king set out for Pleshey with a band of men to trap his uncle Gloucester. Here, too, lived and died Henry the Fourth’s queen, Joan of Navarre, who sleeps at Canterbury.

The portrait of Joan on her tomb at Canterbury shows her as a woman of outstanding beauty, yet she was regarded as a witch, having been accused by her confessor of plotting the death of her stepson Henry the Fifth. Duchess of Brittany when her husband died, she became Regent for theeldest of her eight children. In 1403 she married Henry the Fourth, was crowned at Westminster, and was voted a dowry of 10,000 marks a year. When the king died Henry the Fifth seems to have continued to love his stepmother, though at Agincourt her son Arthur fought against him and was brought captive to her door. Four years later, however, came this horrible accusation and the Council deprived the Dowager Queen of all she possessed, taking her from Havering-atte-Bower to the security of Leeds Castle in Kent and Pevensey in Sussex. The charge appears now to have been a gross piece of injustice and corruption. Henry the Fifth on his deathbed wrote a letter setting his conscience free from blame for having taken the queen’s dowry, and so Joan was set free and what remained of her dowry was returned to her. For the remaining 15 years of her life she was held in high honour by Henry the Sixth.

Historians have always wondered why, in those days when witchcraft was a dread reality, the queen was never brought to trial. An examination of her household accounts (preserved at the Record Office and at John Rylands Library) reveals that Joan was exceedingly well furnished with food, luxuries, and servants during her three years of restraint; and it is now believed that the charge of witchcraft was trumped up so that the Exchequer, almost emptied by the wars in France, should receive the benefit of her dowry, which was a very substantial sum in those days.

The oldest site identifiable on which these royal homes stood is at Havering Park, where an 18th century house with a tower hides in a splendid group of trees. It was the place for the queens when their kings were hunting in Hainault Forest, and the last king to come was Charles Stuart, who was here to meet his wife’s mother, the notorious Marie de Medici. She hoped to settle in England, and Parliament could only be rid of her by a gift of ten thousand pounds.

It is possible still to make out the terraced walks of the royal gardens, and there stands in Pyrgo Park an oak 20 feet round which, if its story were true, would be one of the most famous trees in England, for the story is that under this tree Queen Elizabeth sat when they brought news that the Great Armada had gone down. We cannot vouch for it.

The big village green is on high ground from which the hills of Kent are sometimes seen. Beside the oldest of its elms are two relics of village life long ago, the stocks and whipping-post of about 1700. The church by the green is a handsome 19th century building, with heads of lions in the porch roof under the tower. The chancel is enriched with panelling, the font is Norman, and there is a memorial showing a sorrowing woman and a scene in a harvest field. The oldest gravestone is that of Thomas Cheek, who was Lieutenant of the Tower and died in 1688, the year of the Revolution which doomed the Stuart dynasty for ever.

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