Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Denny Priory, Cambridgeshire

Denny Priory was closed for the season so I only got externals, but if I'm honest those were what I was mainly interested in. Having looked on Flickr at Whipper_snapper's album I might return in season for internals but probably only if I'm incidentally passing.

It's an extraordinary hodge-podge of architectural styles and ages and is well worth a visit even if it's not technically a church any more.

The only case of substantial architectural remains surviving in England of a house of the Order of St Clare, that is of Franciscan nuns, and also the only case of an older monastic establishment being converted for the use of Franciscans. Denny had been founded as a cell of Ely in 1160, but about twenty years later the site or buildings had been handed on to the Templars. After the suppression of that order, the nuns of St Clare who, from 1293, had had a house at Waterbeach nearby moved in c. 1340-50. There are two buildings still in existence at Denny, the refectory on the N side of the former cloister, easily recognizable and in a fairly good state of preservation, and fragments of the church, incorporated in an C18 house and very hard to decipher. The refectory is 94 ft long and of mid C14 style. Of the six N windows five survive. They are quite large, depressed-headed and of two lights. The E window is larger. The S window must be later. Of the C14 also, however, the very small S doorway and on the N side the blocked doorway to the pulpit and the remains of the pulpit which is built out. The parts of the church now to be traced inside and around the house represent the short nave, crossing, and transepts of a Norman church with no more than an indication of an aisled chancel. This was replaced in the C14 by a large square aisled Nuns’ Church. At the same time the former nave was converted and given over to other purposes. Of Norman remains all four crossing arches are clear (with inserted C14 doorways), the first arch of a S arcade and the beginning of a second and also the W wall with its doorway. The C14 alterations are due to the Countess of Pembroke, widow of Aymer de Vallence and foundress of Pembroke College.

Denny Priory (1)

Mee includes Denny under his Waterbeach entry and is unusually reticent [for him]: A fragment of ancient sculpture in the church, on which is one cherub blowing a trumpet and another keeping him company, is from the monastery which stood 800 years ago on the farm of Denny Priory, two miles away. The farmhouse has risen from the ruins and the farmyard is on the site of the cloister court. The house has parts of the chapel with a fine arch built by the monks in Norman days, and a great barn which was their dining hall. There is a legend of a lilac bush still growing here which says that somewhere under it sleeps Agnes Countess of Pembroke, who took the old priory and turned it into a home for nuns of St Clare. Monks, Knights Templars, Nuns of St Clare, and the pious Countess of Pembroke passed by these fields, heard the murmur of the river, and have gone.

Wicken, Cambridgeshire

St Lawrence, open, was my church of the day. Architecturally and physically it is all over the place but in a positively delightful and inside it is full of interest. Truly lovely.

ST LAURENCE. A secluded church, much smaller than the trees surrounding it. The inside more impressive than the outside: broad nave of three bays with arcade of octagonal piers and arches with two wave mouldings, probably C14. Chancel arch and tower arch of the same design. The clerestory poses a problem. It is not in Cole’s drawing at the British Museum, but on the other hand one of the tiebeams of the roof above the clerestory has the date 1695 carved on it. The chancel holds some evidence of the C13 - one lancet window. Most other windows Perp. The small W tower seems also Perp. - BRASSES. Margaret Peyton d 1414 (15in. figure) and John Peyton d 1520 (10in. figure).

Misericord (5)

Margaret Peyton 1414 (3)

Font (2)

WICKEN. We are in the presence of mighty names, and the thrill of history here, where all may see the fen as Hereward the Wake saw it, as the Saxon monks of Thorney Abbey knew it when they cut their reeds from it, as the first Bishops of Ely encountered it when laying a causeway from isle to isle across it. Black dykes flow between the acres of thick impassable rushes, the reed warblers trill among them from dawn to dusk in spring, the late cuckoo flits over them when autumn approaches, and Montagu’s Harriers, the eagles of the marsh, flap heavily from bog to dyke in search of prey. Rare bird visitants are finding in Wicken and in Burwell Fen a sanctuary the National Trust preserves for them and us, and here we may see one of the rare expanses of a vanished or vanishing England.

A mile from the village is Spinney farmhouse, built from the stones of the ancient priory, and once the home of one who can only narrowly have missed a great page in history, for he was the best of all Oliver Cromwell’s sons, Henry. Here when the Stuarts came back and he had lost his lands he came to settle down, and the story is told that Charles the Second, returning from Newmarket, took it into his mind to visit Henry Cromwell at this farmhouse. He found him farming contentedly, and a lord who was with the king thought it a merry jest to seize a pitchfork and carry it before Farmer Cromwell, explaining that he had been mace-bearer when Henry was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

Henry Cromwell lies in the little church standing lonely by the wayside, and a brass plate tells us that the oak chancel screen was given in this century in memory of him and his wife Elizabeth. A floor stone under the altar is to Oliver Cromwell’s sister Elizabeth, buried here in 1672, and another stone in the chancel floor has the name of Oliver Cromwell the Protector’s grandson, who was brought here in 1685. Here also were born two other grandsons of Oliver, Richard who died in London in 1687 and William who died in the East Indies in 1662.

There are two dainty treasures in brass, portraits of Margaret Peyton of 1414 in a graceful gown and mantle with a dog at her feet with bells round its neck, and John Peyton of 1520, a slim figure with long hair wearing a simple mantle with loose sleeves.

The church has little to see except its memorials. It is chiefly 15th century with something of the 13th, and is a simple structure with a tower crowned by battlements and pinnacles. It was the first church known to Isaac Barrow, whose nephew taught Isaac Newton and is in Poets Corner, and to Andrew Fuller, first secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society, both of whom were born here.

The Best of Cromwell’s Sons

HENRY CROMWELL was laid to rest here on March 22, 1674, He has been overshadowed in history by his renowned father, by his brother Richard, who failed to hold the position of Lord Protector to which their father had nominated him, and by the earlier Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex; but Henry Cromwell was decidedly a man of mark who deserved lasting respect. Holding high office, in situations of great difficulty, he invariably showed himself to be a man of strong character, sound judgment, breadth of outlook, fitted for fine national service, and, as Carlyle calls him, “really an honourable figure.”

He was 14 years old when the Civil War began. When he was 19 he was serving as a captain under Fairfax and later under his father. When he was 22 he was sent as a colonel with reinforcements to Ireland, and took part in the final movements of his father’s campaign there. Three years later he was nominated as a representative of Ireland in the Barebones parliament, and next year was sent to Ireland again to report on the new Government there.

It was a delicate piece of work, for the Lord Deputy at the head of the Government was his own brother-in-law, Lord Fleetwood, who had married Bridget Cromwell, Henry’s sister, and Henry came to the conclusion that the army was playing too big a part in the government of the country and that it would be an advantage to have Fleetwood recalled to England. He suggested this course to his father who was now the Lord Protector, and Oliver, in one of the most charming of his letters, responded by explaining to Fleetwood that he needed his assistance in England. Fleetwood accordingly left Ireland, though for some time he retained his appointment nominally as Lord Deputy in Ireland. Henry Cromwell became Commander-in-Chief of the Army in Ireland and a member of the Council. He believed in Ireland having a more constitutional form of government and was much hampered by the Parliamentary generals who favoured domination by the Army. More than once he offered his resignation, but spontaneous protests from Ireland reached the Protector, who eventually agreed that his son should be the Lord Deputy there. The fact is that Henry was a popular Englishman in Ireland. He was voted land worth £1500 a year, but declined to receive it on the ground that Ireland was poor.

When a movement was started to make Oliver king, Henry urged his father not to accept that “gaudy feather in the hat of authority.” He resisted attempts to tax exhorbitantly those who had Royalist sympathies. When the Protector died Henry welcomed the succession of his brother Richard. He was himself appointed Governor-General of Ireland, but wished to resign and return to England to express his views on Irish affairs. He was openly opposed to the restoration of the Stuarts. When his brother was deposed he resigned his office in Ireland, reported himself to the Council of State in England, and retired into private life, as Carlyle says, “in a very manful, simple, and noble way.” He lost his share of his father’s forfeited estates in England, worth £2000 a year, but was allowed to keep Irish estates worth £600 to £700 a year, which he had purchased.

A number of Royalists, including Clarendon, used their influence to check those who sought vengeance on all who bore the name of Cromwell, and Henry lived quietly for the remaining 14 years of his life at Spinney Abbey, where he died at the age of 46, “a man of real insight, veracity, and resolution (said Carlyle), very fit for such service” as he had undertaken. He entered the war, as he himself said, “by natural duty to his father.” While he was quite young he found himself bearing heavy responsibilities in a land where few men have won untarnished honour, and with sound public spirit and independence of judgment he curbed the spirit of military despotism, developed no personal ambition, and almost single-handed became a welcomed ruler. It is a rare sight from those troublous times, and betokens a rare man.

Stretham, Cambridgeshire

St James, open, is a large and rather gloomy building with the largest tower of the day and some good glass and a brass. Another one I liked.

ST JAMES. The W tower dates from the C14. It has angle buttresses and is in its lower parts ashlar-faced. Dec W window with reticulated tracery. Dec bell-openings. Stone spire with two tiers of dormer windows. Tower arch with wave-mouldings and no capitals. C14 also the N arcade (the S arcade is C19) with short octagonal piers and double-hollow-chamfered arches. Hood-moulds on head-corbels. C14 again the chancel, see the side windows (the E window is C19). The S view of the church from outside is entirely Victorian. So are the N transept and the vestry. Even what is old extemally is so thoroughly restored that it looks new. - ROOD SCREEN. Perp ; good. Single-light divisions with cusped crocketed ogee arches and panel tracery above. - SCULPTURE. Norman fragments in the N transept. - PLATE. Chalice and Paten of 1656 ; Paten given in 1712. - MONUMENTS. Recess in the chancel N wall, low, with an inscribed tomb-lid in it. The inscription refers to Nicholas de Kyngestone, rector in the late C13. - Brass to Joan Swan d 1497; the figure nearly 4 ft tall; the tripartite canopy above gone. - Black marble slab commemorating Anne Brunsell d 1667, wife of a rector, and sister of Sir Christopher Wren.

Joan Swan 1497 (1)

S transept Ninian Comper Pilgrim's Progress 1933 (19)

Anna Brunsell nee Wren 1667

STRETHAM. We see its spire and the white sails of its centenarian windmill from afar, and in the middle of its highway, which the Romans called Akeman Street, its splendid cross stands 20 feet high (on a newer pedestal). On a wall in the village hangs one of the old fire-hooks used for dragging thatch from burning roofs.

A noble cedar stands in the rectory garden, and in the churchyard a mighty yew grows with other trees said to have been planted when the church was made new in the 14th and 15th centuries. Much has been altered since, but in the south porch are fragments of a still older church, stones carved by Saxons and Normans, and part of a coffin lid with a maltese cross. Inside are two ancient coffin stones. Women wearing wimples look down from between the arches of the medieval north arcade; women would be wearing wimples when the 15th century chancel screen was made, with its projecting arches. There is also an old chest shaped like a travelling trunk.

The lancet tower arch makes an effective frame for the graceful west window, and the glass in another window is a modern masterpiece in memory of two women, showing two souls entering into heaven between Prudence, Piety, and Charity, and a knight fighting a flaming demon. A stone under a canopy in the chancel tells of Nicholas de Kyngestone, a rector of 600 years ago, whose brass portrait has been stolen; but Joan Swan’s remains, a fine big picture of this woman who died in 1497 and whose two sons, John and Richard Riplingham, followed each other as rectors here.

Barway, Cambridgeshire

St Nicholas, redundant, is now a private residence and you'd be hard pressed to tell it was ever a church.

ST NICHOLAS. C14 with a broken reticulated five-light W window and above a two-light bell opening in the gable. S Doorway double-chamfered without capitals. Poor yellow brick chancel, probably early C19. - PULPIT. Elementary, rough two-decker. - COMMUNION RAILS. Turned balusters; later C17.

St Nicholas

Mee missed it.

Little Thetford, Cambridgeshire

St George, open, is charming in its simplicity [and its open status] but in truth contains little of interest.

ST GEORGE. Nave and lower chancel; C14, but mostly rebuilt in the C19. Dec windows in the nave, Perp in the chancel. The two parts were originally separated by a solid wall with a doorway, two squints, and three brackets for images. The E gable of the nave was rebuilt in brick in 1665 and carries that date. - FONT. Octagonal, C14, with heads looking out from the four diagonal panels. Badly preserved.

Font

Lectern

Frederick Preedy East window (9)

THETFORD. A tiny hamlet near Grunty Fen, it has little for us to see except a few thatched cottages, and a little lowly church with a roof like a mantle of moss. Although it is 600 years old the church has lost much of its antiquity, but it keeps its old font, the heads on it worn by time, and it is interesting that it should be here, for it has been in the river and was rescued last century. There are angel corbels supporting the roof of the chancel, and in the bell turret hangs a bell which tolled for the little chapel at Ely Place, Holborn, the chapel of the bishops in the garden which grew the strawberries King Richard calls for in Shakespeare.

Stuntney, Cambridgeshire

I made an error of judgement at Holy Cross, locked, keyholder listed, in not going looking for the key having judged it from the exterior and assuming it would contain nothing of interest. Whereas, in fact, it has some good glass and Norman remnants - when will I learn the lesson to never judge a book by its cover?

HOLY CROSS. From outside the church seems just a particularly unhappy Victorian conceit. Flint, Neo-Norman, with a SE tower with saddleback roof. The trimmings of the flint are red brick. In fact the church is genuinely Norman, though cruelly rebuilt (1876, 1900-2). What survives is only the S doorway with one order of colonnettes and three-dimensional zigzag mouldings, i.e. one on the extrados, and one on the intrados. The former N doorway now appears inside as a recess at the E end of the S aisle. It is of the same time. And the chancel arch is now an opening from the chancel into the organ chamber. This also has one order of columns and the same kind of zigzag arrangement. - FONT. Circular. Called C12 by the VCH. But is it not C18 or at least completely re-tooled in the C18? It has a heavy thick fluting which may be a rustic version of a familiar Wrenian and Georgian motif. C17 Font Cover. - PLATE. Chalice of 1700.

Holy Cross (2)

STUNTNEY. It was the first Bishop of Ely who gave it its name. He conceived the idea of making a road across the fens and found a monk named John to plan it.for him. Monk John hit on a steep island rising sharply from the fens and used it as a stepping-stone for his road to Ely, and Stuntney Causeway it has been for eight centuries and more. The old legends tell us that the place for the road was disclosed by St Edmund in a dream, the saint wishing to travel by it to visit St Etheldreda at Ely’s Saxon abbey. So it was that many pilgrims came this way, and as the centuries rolled on there came this way a man of sterner dreams, for the old hall, which is now a gabled house in a cluster of farm buildings, was the home of Cromwell’s mother, and Oliver inherited it from his uncle. Here he spent much time before he became MP for Cambridge, and we think of him looking across the fens to Ely.

The last two generations have turned a fine little Norman church into a plain place with a saddleback tower and a timber arcade. The few remnants of Norman days are in two zigzag doorways, the fine font with a bowl like a water-lily, the walling of the chancel, and the disused chancel arch with its beauty hidden by the organ. There is fine wood carving on the stalls and at the altar, with tiny heads of animals and grotesques.

St Peter, Ely, Cambridgeshire

St Peter, locked, no keyholder, is an 1890 St Aubyn build and is not really anything to write home about.

ST PETER, Broad Street. Simple, not unpleasant Victorian church of 1890. By St Aubyn. - Painted Screen.

St Peter (3)

Mee doesn't mention it.