Thursday, 17 May 2018

Heneage chapel Hainton, Lincolnshire

Hainton, Lincolnshire

Hainton is one of those rare places, a manor that has been in the possession of a single family for much of its recorded the history.  The church of St Mary stands in the grounds of Hainton Hall, which was and still is the home of the Heneage family.  The chancel and north chapel contain an unparelleled and virtually unbroken sequence of family monuments dating from the fifteenth century.

Hainton, Lincolnshire

The earliest Heneage monument are the brasses to John Heneage (died 1435) a and his wife Alice on the chapel floor.  John, who is portrayed in civilian dress, was a yeoman and it was he that managed to acquire a share of the manor of Hainton that established the family in Hainton. The family fortunes were further bolstered in the early sixteenth century when the family profitted from the acquisition of former monastic lands.  It is interesting that although they benefitted from the monastic pillage of the 1530s, the family remained Recusants, resolutely devoted to the old faith. 

Hainton, Lincolnshire

The impressive later sixteenth century monuments at the west end of the chapel, to John Heneage (died 1559) and his sons William died (1610) and George (died 1595) are evidence of this new found wealth. William's monument, showing him and his wives kneeling at prayer has a two little panels on the top showing the Fall, with Adam and Eve standing next to the Tree of Knowledge and the resurrection of Christ.

Hainton, Lincolnshire

George Heneage is commemorated by a particularly lavish monument, a freestanding tomb chest with a painted alabaster effigy showing him an full armour lying on a rolled-up mat.

Hainton, Lincolnshire

The east end of the chapel has later monuments.  One is a tablet by William Stanton commemorating grandfather, son and grandson, all called George. It is topped by a flaming urn and incorporates garlands and skulls and crossbones.  Next to it is the wall monument to great grandson also called George Heneage (died 1731) by Bertucinni.  His his bust set under a canopy with swags and his wives (both of good recusant families) are commemorated by busts flanking his and separate little tablets. 

Hainton, Lincolnshire

With such an impressive array of monuments you almost forget about the church itself.  The bottom of the tower is early Norman, but the rest of church is essentially by E J Willson who made all things new sometime between 1847 and 1848.  Willson, who is buried in the churchyard, was a close friend of A W Pugin and the building is Puginian in its archaeological correctness. 

For more images from Hainton, have a look in my Flickr set

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Landscapes and townscapes

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Hillesden church in north Buckinghamshire is an impressive church, a pure, Perpendicular glass house, a coherent whole, all built in a single campaign.

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We know that in 1493 the previous church was somewhat ruinous and that provides a terminus post quem for the structure, which appears to have been built in stages up to c.1510. For such an à la mode late medieval church, you would expect there to be an obvious patron.  There is no precise evidence whatsoever of who the patron of this great work was, though it has been suggested that it might have been the wealthy Augustinian Abbey of Notley, who were the impropriators of the living.

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In my view I would be surprised if Notley Abbey rebuilt the whole thing and would suggest that they only rebuilt the chancel, with it's delightful internal frieze of angels holding musical instruments and scrolls. 

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The building work appears to have been completed by c.1510 and was then glazed.  There are significant remains of the original glazing surviving and some of it is still in situ.  In the south transept are a series of narrative panels recounting episodes from the life of St Nicholas of Myra as recorded in the Golden Legend.  This glass is as aesthetically cutting edge as the building itself and is of the highest quality.  English made glass around this time was having something of a revival after a generation or two of declining in quality.  Both Henry VII and Henry VIII in their major glazing schemes brought over continental glaziers from the Low Countries and settled them in Southwark and that injection of new skill and new ideas, transformed the quality and characteristics of English glass.  The work here at Hillesden, is either by one of these continental craftsman, or was by an English craftsman who was very conversant with the latest Flemish fashions.

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The east windows of the chancel and the north chapel still retain fragments of glazing, which were also by an Anglo Flemish glazier too.  The main figurative glazing has gone, but what has been left behind are the tops of the lights and that's what I want to showcase for you here.  Each light top has a little landscape or townscape, with hills, cliffs, trees, church towers and castle turrets and the odd Dutch stepped gable.  The scenes are all painted on blue glass and highlighted with touches of yellow stain and the odd inclusion of a white turret here and there.   In many cases birds swirl around the turrets and in one panel an angel carries a scroll bearing a clear line of plainsong.   In their feel, they are reminiscent of the smoky landscapes produced by such masters as the Flemish manuscript miniaturist Simon Bening.  Although conceived as a subsidiary part of a now lost composition and although in some cases broken, each panel is a delightful work of art in it's own right. I do hope you enjoy them.

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Thursday, 10 May 2018

‘Here I am, given to the worms'


Oddington, Oxfordshire

In the centre of the chancel at Oddington in Otmoor, in eastern Oxfordshire, is a large purbeck marble slab into which is set one of the most unusual monumental brasses from late medieval England.  The brass consists of an effigy, a corpse in a tied shroud, with it's hands in the attitude of prayer.  The corpse is skeletal and well through the process of putrefaction and issuing out of the body cavity, from between the ribs, leg bones and from the sockets of the eyes, are wriggling maggots or worms.  Such memento mori were not unusual in late medieval England, both shroud brasses and transi tombs were common from the middle of the fifteenth century and survive in some quantity, but this example is particularly grisly and intense.

Oddington, Oxfordshire

Below the effigy is an inscription that identifies the persons commemorated, it asks for prayers for Master Ralph Hamsterley, a fellow of Merton College Oxford and Rector of Oddington.  Issuing from the mouth of the Hamsterley's cadaverous effigy, is a scroll, a Tudor speech bubble, with the following Latin rhyme:
Vermibus hic donor et sic ostendere conor
quod sicut hic ponor: ponitor omnis honor.
This can be translated as:
Here I am, given to the worms, and thus I try to show
That as I am laid aside here so is all honour laid aside.
Here laid before us is in brass is Hamsterley 'given to the worms'.  The brass must have been erected within Hamsterley's lifetime.  He died in 1518, but he actually ceased to be Rector of Oddington in 1508 and it is likely that the brass was erected before that time.  As we will see, Hamsterley wasn't actually buried here.  Space has been left for the inclusion of Hamsterley's date of death in the inscription, but this still remains blank, because he was buried elsewhere and ceased to have a connection with the place, nobody bothered to come and add his date of death. 

So here ten years before his death, Hamsterley was clearly contemplating his own mortality and if this brass is anything to go by, seemingly thinking on the sheer futility of human vanity and honour.  If you think that indicates that Hamsterley was a humble man, think again, people are always much more complex than that, aren't they?  In life Master Ralph Hamsterley was a man of great ambition.  Although he held a number of parochial livings, he was primarily career scholar in Oxford.  At the time the Oddington monument was being laid down, with all it's self-deprecating imagery, Hamsterley was in the process of contemplating the latest move in his progression up the Tudor academic career ladder. 

Merton Tower west

Born in the 1450s, he was a native of Durham, but by the late 1470s was a fellow of Merton college Oxford. He was a proctor on 1481 and served as principal of St Alban's hall,  next door to Merton and since incorporated into it.   He spent the next twenty years in Oxford as a fellow at Merton and in both 1507 and 1508, he came very close to being elected Warden of Merton, but was defeated and the post went to others.  Not to be downhearted, he then started looking elsewhere in Oxford for a similar position.  In May of 1509 he decided to give a gift, of some sort, to University College.  Although we don't know precisely what the gift was, it was generous enough for the Master and fellows of University College to consider Hamsterley as a benefactor of the college and add his name to the obit roll of the college, so that his gift would be remembered for perpetuity.  This gift, presumably financial, seems to have been part of calculated campaign to secure the Mastership at University College.  It worked, very soon the Master of the college died and in September 1509, Hamsterley was duly elected as Master.  His election was not without controversy, the college statutes stated that only fellows of the college could be elected Master and as fellow of another college, he was an outsider, and some of the fellowship resented his presence.  His election was contested and he had to seek recourse to Archbishop Warham to be confirmed in the role and thereon in had trouble controlling the fellows.  Nevertheless the ambitious Hamsterley remained as Master of University College, until his death in 1518.

After laying the brass at Oddington, Hamsterley began what can only be described as a campaign of a memorialisation across Oxford.  The brass at Oddington was to be the first of a series of four brasses that Hamsterley would lay down in his own memory in his lifetime. The other brasses at Durham, University and Merton colleges are all now lost, but Anthony Wood the Oxford antiquarian, saw the University and Merton brasses in the 1650s and transcribed their inscriptions.

At University College, Hamsterley had a brass laid down right smack the middle of the college chapel.  Wood tells us that 'on a small marble stone, was the effigies of a man in a gown', below was an inscription invoking prayers for Hamsterley's soul and stating that he was fellow of Merton and Master of University college.  He wasn't going to have his great benefaction of May 1509 forgotten and unusually the inscription on the brass records the obit, stating that his obit should be kept on the second feria after the feast of the Holy Trinity - forever!

The brass he laid at Merton college, his alma mater, was also rather unusual.  It was in the south transept of Merton and was not just a memorial to Hamsterley but also commemorated a friend, colleague and rival.  Wood tells that that on the same stone, there were two brass effigies of men side by side and below them a double inscription.  The first portion of the inscription invoked prayers for the repose of the soul of Thomas Harper, who was Warden of Merton between 1507-1508, the man Hamsterley had lost out to in the 1507 election.  The second portion of the inscription asks for prayers for Hamsterley himself, who is referred to here as Master of University college, as well as a fellow of Merton, indicating that the brass was erected after September 1509, well over a year after Harper's death.  Were Harper and Hamsterley friends, or was erecting this double monument to a former Warden and rival, an attempt by Hamsterley to ingratiate himself with the Merton fellowship and further his career?  Although Harper was buried in his living in Bristol and not here, when Hamsterley died he appears to have been buried underneath this brass at Merton.  He was determined he would not be forgotten in his old college and he endowed a chantry priest 'Hamsterley's chaplain', to sing masses for his soul at the altar of St Catherine in the chapel at Merton.  It was probably before that altar that the brass was placed.

These three brasses laid down by one man, reveal an awful lot about his personality, his piety and his ambition.  Ralph Hamsterley was a man of clear contradictions, well aware of his own mortality and prepared to invest in his memorialisation well before his own demise; he was clearly a man of significant ability too, an ambitious man who was determined to make his mark and to be remembered in Oxford. 

Sources
Details of the brasses in Merton and University Colleges are found in: J. Gutch (ed.), The History and Antiquities of the Colleges and Halls in the University of Oxford: by Anthony Wood (Oxford, 1886), pp. 26-27 & 62. 

Sources on the life of Hamsterley and his career:
G. C. Brodrick, Memorials of Merton College (Oxford, 1885), pp. 162 and 240.
J. M. Fletcher and C. A. Upton, 'Destruction, Repair and Removal: An Oxford College Chapel during the Reformation' in Oxoniensia 48 (1983), p. 122
R. Darwall-Smith, Early Records of University College, Oxford (Oxford, 2015), p. xvi

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

The Fritton screen donor images.

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On the day I came to Fritton it was already mid afternoon and I had that morning visited some Norfolk heavy-weights.  I had begun the day at East Harling, before moving on to Attelborough and Wymondham and was heading now to Shelton, which I was keen to get to before I went on to Norwich.  As I passed towards Shelton, I came through Fritton and as I saw the village sign and in the back of my mind I remembered that there was something significant here.  I couldn't remember what it was, but decided to stop at the church anyway.

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I'm glad I did, Fritton is a beautiful Norfolk round-tower church, set in a secluded churchyard away from the village it serves.  When I was there in mid April the churchyard was full of daffodils. Inside there is a painted rood screen and it's the screen that I had remembered.  It's not one of the better examples and is rather battered and bruised by the centuries, but is important as incorporated into its decoration are kneeling figures of the donors who paid for the screen to be decorated in the early sixteenth century.  There are quite a few screens that have inscriptions referring to donors, but only two or three that have donor images incorporated into them in this way.

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The donor panels on this screen are on the far left of the dado, up against the wall and are obscured by the modern pulpit.  The left hand part of the dado is divided into three divisions, each in turn divided into two panels.  There are two panels of donors: a man and his twelve sons and a woman and her three daughters. The inscription above the panel reads 'Orate pro animabus Johannes Bac...' indicating that these images are of the family of a man who was perhaps called John Bacon?

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The family are all fashionably dressed and were clearly people of substance in this place, John Bacon himself is clad in a fur-lined coat over his doublet.  In his hands is a string of paternoster beads, rock crystal strung on a vibrant red cord.  One of the sons behind him also has a set of beads.  His mode of dress suggests a date of c.1510-20.

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The image of Bacon's wife and daughters similarly shows them to be people of substance and devotion.  Bacon's wife is also dressed in fur, over a scarlet gown and in her hands is a set of paternoster beads of red coral.  Behind her daughters kneel in the attitude of the prayer, the eldest one also with beads of coral.  The pedimented headdresses worn by all four, confirm a date of c.1510-20 too. 

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The two groups of figures are at prayer and their eyes focused on something outside their panels, presumably the images of the four Doctors of the Church in the neighbouring panels.

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These four figures stand dressed in full pontificals and neatly labelled: St Augustine, St Jerome, St Gregory and St Ambrose.  As we move along the screen these figures display a lovely counter-change of red-robed figure against green ground and green-robed figure against red.  Above is a dark blue star-studded sky.  Although the faces of Bacon and his family have been entirely spared, the faces of these four figures, the focus of their devotion, have been ruthlessly scratched away - emblematic as they were of the power of the Roman Church.

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Crossing to the other side of the screen and there are only two figures painted on the dado here, the blank area of the screen may indicate the former presence of a side altar.  The figures are of the Apostles St Simon and St Jude, St Simon labelled and holding his emblem a large green fish, with big red eyes.  St Simon's face has been rather more half-heartedly scratched away.  He is set against a red ground with a robe of red and gold tissue.

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I must not forget to mention the supporting images in this fabulous late medieval scene.  It is common in screens of the early sixteenth century in East Anglia, for the tracery above the panels of the screen dado to elaborately carved and inhabited with interesting subsidiary images.  Above the heads of St Gregory and St Ambrose are a pair of unicorns, their heads tilted as though they are about to go into battle with one another.

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Above St Augustine and St Jerome, a man with a spear sets out to do battle with a dragon.  Altogether this is a delightful screen, giving a fascinating glimpse into the world of late medieval lay piety - Bacon and his family, after five hundred years, are still declaring their substance, their faith and their devotion.   It was a joy to come across this treasure, as if by chance and for a time I just sat down in the church on the steps of the pulpit and drank in both the silence of this secluded church as I gazed on these rather wonderful images.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

The Stanton Harcourt Rood Screen

Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire

St Michael's, Stanton Harcourt in Oxfordshire, is a treasure house, a fine cruciform church of Norman origin, containing a wonderful array of monuments and important fittings.  The Early English chancel, built around 1250, is a space of breathtaking purity and beauty.  It's triple lancets are divided by clusters of slender shafts, topped with stiff leaf capitals all still retaining significant traces of their medieval polychromy in rich earth colours. 

Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire

Between the thirteenth century chancel and the fourteenth century crossing tower, is the rood screen.  It's not just any old, bog standard, rood screen as it's form suggests that it also dates from c.1250.  It is therefore among the earliest, if not the earliest, surviving timber screen in a parish church.  There are a couple of other thirteenth century screens. There's one at Gilston in Hertfordshire, but it has been heavily restored in the nineteenth century and there is little left now that is old.   There is a second one in Thurcaston in Leicestershire, but it too has been altered and is no longer in situ - in any case it's crude and is not a great work of art.  The screen at Stanton Harcourt in contrast is not only very early, but it has been very little altered, is still in it's original position and visually is in perfect harmony with its architectural setting.

Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire

I'm quite used to seeing East Anglian screens of the later fifteenth century and what strikes me immediately with this screen is the relative height of the dado (the portion below the middle rail) to the upper openwork.  The dado takes up perhaps 60% of the height of the screen.   

       Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire

Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire

The openwork consists of three divisions, each containing four openings, the middle division being the doors. The openings are topped with moulded trefoils that are supported by delicate banded shafts, the shafts echo the architectural forms of the Early English chancel itself.   

Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire

The dado of the screen was clearly updated in the later Middle Ages, with a painted decorative scheme, but all that survives of that painted decoration is a solitary image of St Etheldreda, seated on a seat with her Book of Hours in it's chemise open on her lap.

  Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire

Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire

When this screen was first installed in the middle of the thirteenth century the ceremony of the Elevation of the Host, that would become to be touchstone of late medieval parochial religion, had yet to be introduced. The high dado of this early screen would not have been much of a nuisance or an issue for another hundred years or so after it was constructed.  By the end of the fifteenth century, however, it had become problematic. Here the solution was a pragmatic one and the whole of the bottom of the dado is pierced with an array of different openings or squints or different shapes and sizes, cut through to allow those kneeling before the screen an uninterrupted view of the Elevation of the Host in the chancel beyond.  Many of these are crude openings and were no doubt roughly worked by someone cutting away with a knife.  One of them takes the form of a Perpendicular window with panel tracery, which conveniently dates them to the fifteenth century.