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

Sunday 28 February 2021

Little Eversden church, Cambs: where the greengages grow


A couple of days ago I happened to have half an hour to kill in Little Eversden, a few miles south west of Cambridge. Naturally my first thought was to indagate the church, without having much expectation of its being open during the current lockdown. 

Happily, it was open, and welcoming. In truth it's not a church that will detain the explorer very long, but as I'm fond of saying it's a rare church that offers nothing to its visitors, and at the moment it's a distinct pleasure to find one open at all.

Entry is by the very charming early 15th century but restored north porch with delicate filigree wooden tracery; the tower is of similar date.

The body of the church however is a century or so older, from the 14th century Decorated period. This is most clearly seen in the east window with its reticulated, net-like tracery; the soufflets* are original, while the mullions are modern replacements.

The tranquil interior has a very sturdy 17th century queen strut nave roof.

The stairs leading up to the long-gone rood loft start at about chest height; presumably there were once  wooden steps to assist entry.

There are no stained glass windows at all - rather a rarity - which means that the church is flushed with light. The only tiny exception is at the top of one of the south nave windows, these very fragmentary remains. I think I can make out two figures at the bottom, the one on the right headless, but maybe my imagination is playing tricks.

The thing that really makes the church stand out are the chancel stalls. They're by G F Bodley (1827-1907) and were originally made, in 1858, for the old chapel in Queens' College.** (His major building in the county is All Saints' church, Jesus Lane, Cambridge, famous for its Pre-Raphaelite decoration and fittings.) In 1924 the chapel was converted into a lecture room, and they were brought to Little Eversden.***

I wouldn't say that they're especially beautiful; in fact they're rather dark and ponderous, even overpowering, but they do add greatly to the interest of the church. I like the numerous little roundels in the spandrels, each with its own individual painted design.

The pulpit is also by Bodley, though it was constructed by bits and pieces of his woodwork rather than originally designed as such.

Another object that makes the church perhaps unique is a painting hanging in the nave. It's by Anthony Green RA (b.1939), who lives in the county. (There's plenty of information about him on the web; Professor Wikipedia is a good place to start.) The only information I can find about this specific painting, however, is in Bradley/Pevsner, which tells me that it dates from 1965 and features multiple images of the artist and his wife, together with a young child who died. In the centre Christ - with the same features as Green - is being deposed from the cross, perhaps by angels, while behind him St Veronica - with the same features as his wife - has his face imprinted on her veil. The baby appears twice, once on the left in Green's arms, and once at the bottom in his wife's. At the bottom the adults are dressed in their underwear, making them look very vulnerable. At the very bottom Green appears to be tumbling out of the picture. The background is a deep black. The grief is overwhelming.

On the north side of the chancel is an aumbry (Bodley's panelling has had to be altered to fit, as it has to fit the piscina and windows). Here once were kept the chalice and other sacred vessels for the celebration of mass, but I was amused to find the aumbry currently occupied by what might be thought of as a modern equivalent - if not quite holy, certainly wholly necessary - a bottle of hand-sanitiser.

The 1930 edition of the Little Guide: Cambridgeshire tells us that 'Greengages are largely grown in this parish.' Whether this is still true or not I'm afraid I don't know. But Little Eversden certainly feels like the sort of place where plump, sweet, juicy fruits ought to be grown.

* I've just noticed that the OED doesn't include the word 'soufflet', though it does the similar 'mouchette'.

** There are photographs of them in situ here.

*** At that time there was also a scheme to bring some of the chapel's stained glass to the church, but a faculty was refused. Various other pieces of furniture went to Sandon, Oakington, and St Mark's, Barton Road, Cambridge.

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