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

Monday 6 April 2020

Wheathampstead church, Herts: furnishings

This is the second part of two. The first, which is about the architecture of the church, can be found here.

In my previous post I looked at the architecture of Wheathampstead church. I now turn to  a selection of the furnishings and fittings, which I'll discuss in their chronological order (so far as is possible). As we've seen, the church was built, except for the Victorian spire, in just a little more than a century, starting in about 1230; however, the contents span a much longer period.

The early 14th century font has seen better days. It looks as if it's been outside for some of its existence, a fairly common fate for fonts. The fleurons that appear in the stonework of several windows reappears between the columns of the base. There are some contemporary tiles on the ground around it, laid higgledy-piggledy.

This piscina must be of about the same date. Note the two little square floriate heads cheekily peering out from the top.

In the chancel is another piscina, with an amazingly elaborate canopy. It's probably 15th century, though it has some Decorated features that would be more often found in the previous century, in particular the nodding ogee arches at the top of the tall, skinny 'windows'. The underside of the canopy has a miniature vault (which I failed to photograph), and there are also flying buttresses. This seems to have been the only major addition to the church from the late Middle Ages; let's be grateful that they resisted the temptation to modernise the earlier work, in particular the windows, which is what happened in so many other places. 

There are several brasses in the church, and it's probably perverse to single out just this one. Brasses do tend to be stereotypical, so unless there's something especially noteworthy about them I often overlook them. This one isn't even a brass, as all the brass has long gone, leaving just the marble matrix; so it's more an unbrass. It once showed a lady kneeling at a lectern, and three coats of arms. It must date from the mid 16th century, and what interests me about it is that it shows the slow transition from Gothic to Renaissance classicism. At the top is a line of quatrefoils, which could have been made at any time in the previous three and a half centuries or so, and as such is a very conservative piece of design. However, beneath them are semi-circular classical arches (they're framed by what look like a provincial artisan's idea of Tuscan columns too), which were still a new-fangled foreign import at the time. Old and new are mixed together. 



Old and new are also mixed in the south transept, in the large alabaster monument to Sir John Brockett, who died in 1558, and his wife Margaret. Tomb-chests with recumbent effigies had been in fashion for several hundred years, and would remain so for another century, but some of the details show the influence of the Renaissance, in particular the twisted colonnettes at the four corners of the chest (and on the sides). Also, the three small male figures on the south of the chest, and the three females on the north, aren't quite as stiff and stereotypical as the equivalent weepers on medieval tombs. (As the inscription tells us, John and Margaret actually had ten sons and three daughters.) The west side of the chest (seen in the final photo above) has two miniature effigies of Sir John, dressed as he is in the recumbent figure above, which show some signs of animation.

The main effigies are much damaged; he's lost his beard, she her arms, and her face is a battered wreck. But there are still plenty of well-preserved details to enjoy, for example the knots with which her skirt is decorated. As usual, she rests her head on cushions, whereas he has to spend eternity with his on a helmet. Ouch.

This memorial to John (who also died in 1558) and Joan Heyworth is very like a brass though it's engraved on marble. They had only three children, all of whom died in infancy (though they're shown as much older than that in the picture). They adopted a daughter, Margaret, so the story has a sort of happy ending.

Distributed around the church - at the west end of the nave, and in the transepts - is plenty of Jacobean and/or Carolean woodwork (in fact, there's so much of it that no one seems quite sure what to do with it, and some of it lies ignominiously neglected in dusty corners). One bench end is dated 1631, though the pieces are probably of several different dates, and some aren't indigenous to the church but came from the chapel of Lamer House when it was demolished after a fire in 1751. (The house itself was about a mile north of the church and was demolished in 1949.) 

The grandest monument in the church is in the north transept; it commemorates Sir John and Elizabeth Garrard. She predeceased him, in 1632, and Pevsner suggests that it was erected before his death five years later. Its format is mostly standard for its date, but the abundance of the motifs and the quality of the carving make it stand out. One unusual feature is that instead of their both looking straight ahead, she twists around as if to catch a glimpse of her husband behind her. Perhaps, if indeed the monument was made before Sir John died, the conceit is that she is looking around to see if he is following her into the afterlife, a very touchingly human gesture amidst so much pomp.

I especially like the leopards (the crest of the Garrards) and the odd emblem of a pair of arms holding a bundle of arrows (the crest of the Barkhams, presumably Elizabeth's family), and the putto on the left at the top, who has an aggrieved expression on his face as if we've just caught him getting out of the bath. Best of all, I think, are the figures in the spandrels: a relaxed-looking angel on the left, and on the right a skeletal, terrifying Time as Death, holding an hourglass and brandishing an arrow. The ribs must be carved from the same block of alabaster as the rest of the figure.

The monument has been attributed to Maximilian Colt, who was a Dutch sculptor. He arrived in England in 1596 (possibly as a Protestant refugee), and rose to become the King's Master Carver by 1608. One of his masterpieces, far more original in conception than the Garrard memorial, is the Cecil monument in Hatfield, Herts.

View from north aisle into north transept

Monument to Sir Samuel Garrard, who died in 1724. He was the Lord Mayor of London in 1710 and the Deputy Lieutenant of the county. Note the sword and mace at the bottom, symbols of his office.

Sir Bennet Garrard, died 1767. 
Splendid carved (not just painted) royal arms of George III, 1805. They cost £5 (about £435 today).

Charles Drake Garrard, died 1817, and his wife Ann, died 1827. It's by the Dane Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844), an internationally famous neo-classical sculptor. It cost £100 (about £8,600 today).

Chancel ceiling, 1865-6, painted by C J Lea of Lutterworth, Leicestershire
The nave corbels all show rural labours, and also date from the Victorian restoration. This one shows binding corn.

East window by Henry Hughes, 1866. Christ preaching.

The Agony in the Garden


South transept, south window, by Ward and Hughes, 1867, with Old Testament scenes, including the life of Joseph

One of my favourite objects in the church is this window of 1908 by the Scottish Arts and Crafts artist Douglas Strachan (pronounced 'strawn') (1875-1950).* It depicts the Annunciation. It's not big (but it's at eye height), and the colours are mostly not particularly bright, but this makes the flashes of strong colour - Gabriel's pale gold sandals, the red of the cloth hanging from the lectern on the bottom left, Mary's yellow-gold skirt and pale purple cloak - all the more striking. Every pane of glass is beautifully textured and crammed with appealing detail. The little glimpse of the spires of a city just below the dove of the Holy Spirit; Mary's basket and hanging lamp; the Gothic carving at the top of her loom; the garden with daisies to the right of Gabriel; the glass shaped like a decanter at his feet.

Twentieth century memorial statuary in English churches isn't common, so it's a particular pleasure to find this in the south transept. It dates from 1962, and is by Ivor Roberts-Jones (1913-96). He didn't receive his first major commission until he was fifty; his most famous work must be the statue of Churchill in Parliament Square.

This small bronze is of Apsley Cherry-Garrard (1886-1959), the Antarctic explorer. He is shown in his clumsy, and very obviously utterly inadequate, polar gear. He was a member of Scott's 1910-13 team; it's worth reading the Wikipedia entries on both him and the Terra Nova expedition. It was never intended that he should be a member of the party that aimed to reach the Pole, being in a supporting role, but nevertheless his experiences were horrific enough. He was among those who found the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers in November 1912. 

He was seriously damaged, both mentally and physically, and never really fully recovered. His teeth had been shattered by incessant violent chattering, and he suffered from clinical depression and PTSD. He wrote The Worst Journey in the World (1922) partly for therapeutic reasons; it's since become a classic of travel literature. He's buried in the churchyard.

The Adoration of the Magi in the east window of the south transept is from 1937 and is by Christopher Webb (1886-1966). (There are some medieval fragments in the tracery above.) I like some of Webb's windows (see for example Welwyn, Herts, and Finchampstead, Berks), but I'm afraid this one doesn't do much for me, especially in comparison to Strachan's.

There's a window by Henry Holiday in the church; however, it's in the west window and is now completely obscured by the organ. A great shame, as Holiday at his best is one of my favourite designers (see Buckland, Berks/Oxon, for example).

My final choice of objects worth more than a glance are these two label stops from the exterior of the same window. I can't date them exactly, but they're obviously recent; 1970s or 80s, perhaps? They show every sign of being affectionate portraits of real people (there are similar carved label stops on the west door of Cottered church, Herts); I suspect that they depict the then vicar and churchwarden, or similar. They're a very engaging addition to the church. I think the mason who made my first object, the font, (and perhaps even Maximilian Colt) would have nodded approvingly. 

I've visited Wheathampstead church many times over the last thirty years, and always found it open and welcoming, at the heart of the town as churches should be. It's one of my Ten Best Herts churches.

* There's another window by Strachan in a church in Herts in Waterford. There are also no fewer than eleven more by him in Lockers Park School in Hemel Hempstead (I assume in the chapel). However, I can find nothing about these, either pictures or information, on the web in general or their website in particular. Nor are they mentioned in Peter Cormack's Arts and Crafts Stained Glass.

Further reading:
The Statutory Listing
The Royal Commission on Historical Monuments
The Victoria County History
Heritage Gateway

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