Church architecture in Hertfordshire and elsewhere, art, books, and whatever crosses my path

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Arson at Royston church, Herts

View from the north. The tower, now mostly Victorian, was originally the central tower of the church of the monastery of Augustinian canons. The original nave was to the west, ie the right of the picture.
UPDATE: The fire is not now considered to be an arson attack, but was due to an electrical fault. Which doesn't lessen the damage caused, but does make me less despairing of humanity.

The church of St John the Baptist, Royston, Herts, was badly damaged by fire in the early hours of Sunday 9 December (local news report here). Apparently it was an arson attack, an act of ignorance and barbarity. It is currently unclear exactly how bad the damage is; it is said that the roof has partly collapsed, and the tower is smoke-blackened, but the walls are standing to their full height and the glass in the north windows seems to be intact. Nevertheless, judging from the flames in the news photographs, we should be prepared to learn that the interior is almost entirely lost.

The church has, or had, much to interest aficionados of architecture. It preserves the remains of a monastic church and dates mostly from the 13th century, though much altered in later eras. I haven't time to write a complete article about it now, but here are some not very adequate photos taken on my most recent visit, in 2015, with brief captions.

North aisle exterior; on the right an 18th cen memorial; the two windows in the centre with elaborate ogee canopies are c.1830

Two views of the remains of three 13th century Early English lancet windows, with dogtooth decoration, from the original monastic chancel, now on the south of the nave.
A complete lancet, very chic with its clustered shafts, from the original chancel, now on the north of the nave.
Three charming angels in the tracery lights of a 1890 window by German firm Mayer and Co, the only bearable part of an otherwise heavy and lurid window in the south chapel.

Two 14th century angels with an embarrassment of wings in the north aisle.

An ostentatiously fierce heraldic leopard.

Pulpit, now presumably ashes, made up from fragments of a late medieval screen.

Damaged 15th century alabaster figure of Mary and child, now perhaps dust.

Alabaster effigy of a knight, c.1415. According to Pevsner it's the only late medieval alabaster effigy in the county, so if it's been damaged or destroyed it's doubly tragic.
Handsome 13th century nave arcade.

Arch at the west of the nave. The details are consistent with a 13th century date, like some of the rest of the nave, but the arch is round, not pointed. Presumably this indicates a late 12th (or early 13th) century date.

South aisle roof, with probably 15th century angels, their details very fetchingly picked out in gold. It remains to be seen if they've survived the fire.

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