Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Mountnessing, Essex

With St Giles I was back on the downward spiral of locked churches which was a shame as architecturally this is a most peculiar building and I'd have liked to get a sense of it from the inside.

ST GILES. The church makes a handsome picture with the neat Georgian MOUNTNESSING HALL, a seven-bay brick building, with older parts at the back. The main interest of the church is its belfry standing as an independent timber structure in the W bay of the nave. It has six posts, cross-beams supported by impressively tall arched braces and trellis-strutting higher up. The E pair of braces rest on polygonal responds with concave sides. Big buttressing struts in the aisles of the church. The church itself is C13 except for the S aisle which is C19, the chancel which is C18 (of brick) and the brick W front with a date-plate of 1653 and heavy S-cramps for the securing of the belfry timbers. The N and S arcades have circular piers and double-chamfered arches. The capitals are moulded except for one and one respond on the N side which are enriched by stiff-leaf. Lancet windows in the N wall. - REREDOS. Probably c. 1730. Wood, with paintings of Moses and Aaron to the l. and r. - COMMUNION RAIL. Of the same time, with fine twisted balusters. - CHEST. Of dug-out type; perhaps C13. - PLATE. Cup of 1564 with band of ornament; Paten on foot of 1704.

St Giles (4)

MOUNTNESSING. Its houses run along the Roman road to Chelmsford, but the timber spire of its church is a mile away over the fields. The church has been refashioned from the one the Normans built, and the Roman tiles and Roman masonry they used are visible in the walls. We found the church in a garden of roses; it stands on a knoll above a 17th century hall and is renowned for the wonderful timbering set up in its nave in the 15th century. Its massive wooden turret is a wonder, for it is puzzling outside to see what holds it up. The secret is revealed within, where we find enormous beams cut from giants of the forest, supporting trellis work mounting to the roof. Shafts of wood with moulded capitals stand by the stone piers of the arcade, and wooden struts sweep over to rest against the walls of the aisles; it is a mass of woodwork that must weigh tons, yet is so ordered that it wastes no space. It is probably the work of the carpenters who carried the roof of the nave in one majestic sweep across the aisles.

The piers of the nave are strong and dignified, and from the deep-cut foliage of one of their capitals peeps out a woman’s head with a  band across the mouth - some local scold, perhaps, pilloried by a 13th century mason for all time. An angel smiles in pleasant contrast across the nave. There is a 15th century font and two old chests, one with lovely carving of the 17th century, one 700 years old with half a tree trunk for a lid, the original hinges, and rings at the ends for lifting. But the oddest thing we have seen in a church for a long long time is in a glass case here, a fossil rib of a whale.

The village has a windmill whose sails have spun round about 300 years, and a solitary arch 600 years old in the fields beyond it. The arch is part of Thoby Priory, which has medieval walls.

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