Monday, 14 January 2013

Ashingdon, Essex

St Andrew has a fascinating tower and an even more fascinating "open door" scheme which operates between 2 and 4pm, except Sundays when it's either open all day or shut - the notice doesn't explain, from Easter to the end of September and is thereafter locked. Presumably the opening hours reflect Ashingdon's tourist trade high points rather than any thought through "open door" scheme. This is a shame as I loved the exterior and felt there was possibly something special here but I'm not likely to go again unless it happens to be en route to somewhere else so I'm unlikely to find out if the interior lives up to expectations.

ST ANDREW. Nave and chancel with a small W tower only about half the width of the nave. The tower has diagonal buttresses and a pyramid roof. The brick S window in the nave is c18, but the brick E wall of the chancel, as shown by  the black diapering, is of c. 1500. This is also the date of the two-light brick window on the N side of the chancel, and may be the date of the timber S porch, a relatively plain specimen. The nave must be earlier, see the window on the N side which has Y-tracery. Such windows are usually of c. 1300. The chancel must belong to the same moment. Its arch has the original N respond left (trefoiled in plan with moulded capital). C15 to C16 roofs in nave and chancel. - PLATE. Cup of 1564 with band of ornament; Cup on baluster stem of 1640, Pattern of the late C17.

St Andrew (3)

ASHINGDON. A narrow lane climbs past an old barn to trees clustering on a hilltop, and brings us to the scene over the great valley in which the course of history was changed before the Conqueror came. In the shade of these trees stands a church with Roman tiles in its walls, probably the very walls built by King Canute in celebration of his victory. His church was pulled down and built up again 600 years ago; its tower is 50 years younger than the rest of it, very quaint with a tiny saddleback astride the red tiles of the low pyramid roof. We enter by the timbered porch, under a 400-year-old roof, noticing a stone cut with a rough sundial; it may have told the time to the 14th century builders. The church is small, the nave 25 feet long, and the chancel 21. The nave and chancel roofs are 15th and 16th century.

One of the most captivating possessions of Ashingdon is the smallest, a silver penny with portraits of Canute and Earl Godwin. A 14th  century window in the chancel has in modern glass a portrait of Stigand, the first priest on this hilltop, and the coin and the portrait recall the historic event in the valley of the Crouch below. This is what happened.

Where now flit the white-sailed yachts of the holiday-makers there lay 900 years ago the longships of the invading army of the Danish king. Canute had fought many losing battles up and down England and had been slowly driven back on his ships. Here he was at last with the King of England, Edmund Ironside, hot on his heels with all his host. To be able to embark in safety Canute had to stand and fight. As the decisive morning broke the Saxons drew up on the slopes of Ashingdon Hill. Canute marched his men to the level ground between this hill and the swampy plain by the Crouch; the Saxons charged down; and the Danes wavered and were about to turn; but at this critical moment the heart of the Saxon Ealdorman Eadric failed, and he fled with his men. So, in the words of the Saxon Chronicle, he betrayed his lord and king and all the people of English kin.

Then it was that fortune turned for the Danes, and Canute won his great victory. Instead of sailing home to Denmark, he followed Edmund Ironside into Gloucestershire where, close to the old Saxon village of Deerhurst, they divided the kingdom and arranged for Canute’s succession as King of all England. Canute did not forget the scene of his triumph, and four years after, in 1020, he built a minster here with Stigand as priest. Little could Stigand have foreseen, as he ministered in the little church on this hilltop, that as archbishop he was to crown the Conqueror, that five popes would excomrnunicate him, and that, deprived at last of his see by pope and king together, he would starve to death in a prison cell.

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