Tewin church is a little way from the village, and is approached up a long straight avenue from the north. To the south there are only pleasantly green Hertfordshire meadows running gently down to the River Mimram and Tewin Bury Farm (and, less picturesquely, the B1000).
The driveway terminates in a paved area the central feature of which is the war memorial. This was created by Sir Herbert Baker (1862-1946), who designed (among many other important buildings) South Africa House in Trafalgar Square, the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, the old Grand Stand and Grace Gates of Lord's Cricket Ground,* and (with Lutyens) much of the imperial architecture of New Delhi. He was also one of the four principal architects of the post First World War Imperial War Graves Commission, which was responsible for the design of the beautiful yet monumentally sobering war cemeteries in France and Belgium. Tewin's war memorial depicts what the statutory listing describes as 'the sword of sacrifice' and 'a crusader ship' (the latter looks much more like one built several hundred years after the last Crusade, however). A century ago such symbolism was presumably uncontroversial, but to anyone who's read Wilfred Owen it's rather toe-curling.
The church has a north door, and it would be logical for this to be the main entrance, yet the south door is and apparently always has been the usual entry. This door is sheltered by a pleasingly rustic black-and-white half-timbered porch, probably built in the 16th century. Porches nearly always have their doors on the north and south, yet Tewin's external door is on the west. Go through this door and encounter the church's big surprise.
As you can see, I really wasn't exaggerating when I said 'big'. It only just fits onto the south wall (its presence there explains the absence of a south door). The pyramidal obelisk scrapes the ceiling, and there's only a very little empty space on either side. This monument, commemorating a 1739 death, was first placed in the churchyard (over a family vault) but was moved into the chancel in 1759, then later to the west end of the church, and later still, in 1864, ignominiously crammed into the porch.
|General Joseph Sabine, after Sir Godfrey Kneller|
It commemorates General Joseph Sabine (c.1661-1739) who had a long military career, including leading his regiment at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. Later in life he became a Whig politician and eventually the Governor of Gibraltar, where he died. In 1715 he had bought and rebuilt Tewin House, which no longer exists (the wall at the east end of the churchyard is a remnant of it). He donated the land on which the long drive leading from the road to the church was built; very public spirited of him. However, at the same time he apparently closed the road leading south from the village down to the Mimram so he could enlarge his gardens, which we can imagine didn't make him very popular locally.
|Late 13th cen piscina with a credence shelf|
* He gave the famous figure of Father Time to Lord's, though it's unclear whether he was responsible for designing it.
** It certainly doesn't date from c.604, as this webpage claims. This is an extreme example of something seen quite often, even in official or semi-official sources: someone finds an early date allegedly associated with the church and jumps to the conclusion that the existing church must have been built then, or at least started building then. (1086 is very often mentioned as that's the date of the Domesday book, frequently the earliest written record of a settlement. However, only a small proportion of all the churches claiming to date from 1086 have any actual structure that old.) Where the date c.604 comes from I don't know, but I do know that nothing of that date is incorporated in the present building, though it's not impossible that there was a church on the site in the 7th century. St Martin's in Canterbury is the only English church with a plausible claim to have any standing structure as early as that.
*** The best online source for Lady Cathcart's story seems to be here, though it quotes no sources. Here you will find an old page from the BBC website with some extra background, though it relates the self-inflicted wound story as if it were fact; we expect better of the Beeb. Tempo Manor's website narrates the story in the style of a bodice-ripping novel, complete with corny dialogue, which is amusing or annoying according to your taste. The story was used as a source for Maria Edgeworth's 1800 novel Castle Rackrent.