If you drive along the A10 towards Royston then you may pass by a few signs for the turning towards Reed. You'll probably ignore those signs, but should you decide to follow them then you'll find a small village. Down a side road is the equally small church of St Mary. You'll probably think it's nothing special, but this church shows so much evidence of it's Anglo-Saxon origins that it's second only to the abbey at St Albans. No other church in Hertfordshire has this much original stonework remaining.
The most obvious Anglo-Saxon feature is a bricked up door, which is more visible on the outside of the church. The doorway itself it blocked with flint, but the Anglo-Saxon stone frame is still very visible, including the Ionic-column pattern carved in to the stone under the capitals (the horizontal stone at the start and end of the arch). More Anglo-Saxon stonework is visible on the corners of the outside walls, and while the tower dates from the 14th century it's believed that it may have been built on top of a smaller Anglo-Saxon base.
More recent additions include the porch, which was built in 19th century, although the door inside the porch is believed to date from the 15th century, as is the carved stone font. The church has very little stained glass as most of it was destroyed in previous centuries. There's a local rumour that one of the smashed medieval windows was buried. When it was eventually dug up it was installed in the church at neighbouring Barkway instead.
It may be a tiny, unimpressive church at first glance, but if you're interested in Anglo-Saxon stonework then Reed church is a must-see!
If you walk around near St Paul's Cathedral then chances are you'll stumble on the exposed ruins of the church of Christ Church Greyfriars. Today it's a public space, offering a space for workers in the surrounding offices to sit and have lunch among trailing vines and flowerbeds. But it used to be an important centre of worship in Medieval London, and the final resting place of several Queens of England.
The Medieval Priory
The church started life as a Franciscan monastery in the 13th century, which grew in popularity so quickly that a larger building was built in it's place in the early 14th century. The biggest sponsor of this new building was Queen Marguerite, a Princess of France and second wife of King Edward I of England. Marguerite and her niece, Queen Isabella (wife of Edward II), were both buried in this church. The earlier building had also received the heart of Eleanor of Provence, another former Queen of England, which was moved to the new building.
Despite their Royal patronage and support from the nobility (members of the Hastings, de Vere and Devereux families were all buried here), the church fell victim to Henry VIII's Reformation. The monastery was dissolved in November 1538. The monastery buildings were converted in to private houses, while the church was looted before spending several years as a Royal storage area. However the need for a church for the local Parish meant that the church building was cleared out and donated to the City of London, and reopened as a place of worship 1547, albeit stripped of many of its monuments (including, presumably, the Royal tombs).
Great Fire of London
Like St Paul's itself, Grey Friars church was completely destroyed by the Great Fire of London 1666. It was included in the list of churches to be rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, and merged with the nearby parish of St Leonard's, which was not replaced. Although the church was built on the foundations of the old building, it was smaller than the one it replaced. It was completed in 1687, with additions to the tower finished in 1704. Further work was carried out in the 18th century, including the installation of stained glass.
The congregation began to dwindle in the early 20th century as people moved out of central London and commercial buildings began to replace homes. The neighbouring institution of Christ's Hospital School was relocated to Sussex, leading to a further drop in numbers as the schoolboys were no longer brought to the church of services.
On 29 December 1940 the church once again burned down, along with seven other Wren churches in the area. The firebomb hit the roof, the ensuing fire led to the vaulting and roof collapsing in to the nave. An unknown postman reportedly ran in to the building and saved the carved wooden font, but everything else inside the church was destroyed.
After the war the Church of England reviewed all the Parishes in London, Greyfriars wasn't the only church to have been affected by dwindling congregations. In the following years the Parish was merged with St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, and while Greyfriars wasn't rebuilt, it was designated a Grade I Listed Building. The tower had to be dismantled and rebuilt in the 1960s to make it safe, and in 1989 the nave became a public garden. Today the tower is a private residence, but the nave is still public space, and has been complemented by carefully tended plants kept inside the remaining walls.
The first cathedral I ever set foot in was for my 28th birthday, the gentleman that I’d been dating for a few months (who’s now my fiancé) suggested that we visit somewhere as a birthday present. There was one place I’d wanted to visit for years, and happily he agreed to take me – Canterbury Cathedral!
Old Before the Normans
Canterbury was an old church even before the Normans arrived with a grand rebuilding plan. The first cathedral was founded in 597, after Augustine of Canterbury was sent to convert the Anglo Saxons by Pope Gregory I. The chronicler Bede recorded that the first cathedral was founded on the site of an earlier Roman church, but so far excavations haven’t found any evidence of this. Assuming the date of 597 is correct, a cathedral had still stood on that site for over 460 years before the Norman invasion.
The cathedral was damaged during a Viking raid in 1011, and burned down in 1067. The first Norman archbishop, Lanfranc, took the opportunity to rebuild in the style of his homeland. The new Canterbury Cathedral was designed along the same lines of Caen’s Abbey of St Etienne, Lanfranc’s former abbey and an institution founded by William the Conqueror in his pre-conquest years. Successive archbishops continued the building work, including a new crypt and choir, and several chapels.
Further expansion was needed after the murder of St Thomas Beckett. The veneration of the martyred archbishop led to a significant rise in pilgrim traffic, and income. The Trinity Chapel was built to house a shrine to St Thomas, his remains were relocated to the new shrine in 1220. Along with significant donations from wealthy nobles, both in England and abroad, smaller donations and purchases were made by pilgrims who travelled to the cathedral to pray at the shrine. As proof of their visit, they could buy little pilgrim badges made of cheap metal, which depicted the saint, or his shrine. It also became a Royal burial site, Prince Edward (The Black Prince) was buried in the Cathedral in 1376, although his wife Joan of Kent chose to be buried next to her first husband, Edward was her third. Henry IV, who died in 1413, chose to be buried in the Trinity Chapel raised to St Thomas, and his second wife Joan of Navarre was interred next to him in 1437.
It’s Still Standing! (Just About)
The abbey side of the cathedral was removed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but Canterbury’s tradition of being the seat of the main Archbishop in England remained. St Thomas’ shrine was also destroyed, and his remains were destroyed (possibly thrown in to the river). During Cromwell's time most of the stained glass windows were destroyed, and part of the building was used as a stable for horses.
In the following centuries more care was taken with the buildings. The north west tower was in a dangerous condition and had to be removed in the 1830s, but was replaced by a copy of the south west tower to keep the symmetry of the building. A fire in 1872 destroyed the roof of the Trinity Chapel, but the body of the chapel survived and the roof was quickly replaced. The Cathedral was was a target for German bombs during the Second World War, and although the cathedral's library was destroyed the Cathedral itself was relatively unscathed.
In recent years the Cathedral has been found in desperate need of repair, as the stained glass is corroding and the stonework is crumbling, while roof leaks were doing further damage. Work is currently being focused on the North West Transept, with a team of masons, conservators and carpenters, and several apprentices. Work is supported by donations to the Canterbury Cathedral Trust, and there's still lots to be done to ensure the cathedral can be kept openly safely for visitors. If you'd like to find out how to donate to the trust, click here!
Ford End is a village in Essex with a collection of pretty 15th century cottages, among other more recent houses. With such old buildings at their core, you'd be surprised to come round the corner and find an odd-sized red brick church, far from the traditional old churches you normally find in the area.
That's because the church of Ford End was only erected in 1870, and it's short life has already had a very patchy history. Designed by Frederic Chancellor, a local architect credited with over 700 buildings over the course of his career, the church was built on an osier bed, where willows were planted and then harvested for making baskets and fish traps. Unfortunately for the church, the old osier bed was unstable, leading to structural problems with the building. The church was originally bigger than it's current form, but the 1980s saw the the destruction of the chancel, reportedly after it became so weak that masonry was falling on the congregation.
The large tower was also, at one point, considered to be unsafe. Happily this was proved to be incorrect, and it's now used to train new bell ringers as the peal in the tower is quite light. The enormous "cat slide" roof over the main body of the church makes the walls look particularly tiny, but with the tall thin tower, it gives the church a unique appearance.
Due to the fairly recent construction of the church there isn't any particular set of memorials, except for the one dedicated to Reverend Arthur Cripps, and there's no medieval graffiti. But the building itself makes this church worth a visit, if only so you can gawp at the odd proportions of the roof!
The church of St Mary Magdalene at Barkway was the first church I went to, as my primary school hosted many nativity shows, Easter ceremonies and harvest festivals in this building over the years. As a child I mostly just remember it being a rather plain and very cold building (especially during the nativity show), but as an adult I have gone back repeatedly to remind myself of it's beautiful memorials and some nice stained glass.
The church in Barkway has stood on this spot since Norman times, and possibly may have been the site of an earlier Anglo-Saxon church. It was rebuilt in the 13th century, and extended in the 15th, but by the 19th century it was suffering from neglect. Two prominent locals, Mrs Harcourt from the Newsells Park estate(who also paid for the porch to the built) and Colonel Clinton from the Cockenach estate, paid for a major restoration of the building. During this work, the old church tower collapsed and was replaced, albeit a little larger than the original.
The restoration work means that if Barkway had any medieval graffiti then it was most likely plastered or painted over. However that doesn't mean that the church is short of historical things to look at. Memorials include a set of 16th century brasses depicting one Mr Poynard and his two wives, and several elaborate 18th century memorials in white marble, including one by noted Flemish sculptor John Michael Rysbrack. One window shows the fragmented remains of a 15th century stained glass window, which was smashed during the reformation. In some parishes the locals collected the glass and buried it, hoping it could be restored in the future. In this case the glass was too small to put together in a coherent picture (there's also a rumour that the glass was originally in a window in the church of neighbouring Reed).
In terms of more recent memorials, one large stained glass window was placed in the wall of the north aisle to commemorate those who fought in the Burma Campaign during the second world war. This corner in particular features multiple memorials to fallen soldiers. A small plague mirrors the main war memorial, a large stone cross placed at the top of the High Street, listing the names of Barkway men who died in the First World War. A larger memorial is dedicated to John Perkins Sworder and his brother Hubert Pelham Sworder, sons of William and Annie Sworder, who were living at Newsells. The younger brother, Hubert, joined the air force and died in April 1917 aged just 19, John died of wounds in France in 1918 aged 24, the memorial includes a quote from an officer of each young man. A second memorial is dedicated to Captain Wilfred Hubert Chapman, who was killed at Gallipoli.
Perhaps the most interesting story of Barkway church comes from 1980. The turret bell, which rings on the hour, was in need of a restoration. Due to it's size and weight, it was eventually decided that it should be removed by helicopter, and then returned in the same way!