Monday, August 31, 2009

Some Bucks churches

A Bank Holiday Monday, and a short trip out along the A418 between Aylesbury and Thame to see what I can find. Sadly pretty much a complete blank as far as the Green Man is concerned, but plenty of other stuff to keep my interest up!

Stone, St John

St John's lies on a man-made mound which some say was a pre-Roman burial ground. The church however, was not built until the Normans came. The church apparently has a very attractive Norman doorway, but it was locked on this visit, as it was on previous visits here. Maybe I'll have to time it to attend a service??

The tower is highly decorated with small stone heads, but I was unable to see any Green Man motif amongst them.

Dinton, SS Peter and Paul

Another Norman church which has been locked every time I've visited, this one at least allows the casual visitor to admire the wonderful carved Tympanum over the South Door. There is a grand manor house adjoining the church, in a similar architectural style, but I've no idea if the house is contemporary with the church.

Cuddington, St Nicholas

Another church on this run which I've visited previously, but that was back in the day before I was looking for the Green Man. On this occasion the church was open, but again I drew a blank. There is one 15C corbel head remaining, but no flora to be seen on it.

Nether Winchendon, St Nicholas

A very pleasant setting, with thatched cottages in evidence and an old Victorian brick pillar box on a patch of green by the junction.

This church is listed in Simon Jenkins' book England's Thousand Best Churches, and with good reason. There are fragments of Dutch glass in the windows, box pews, a musician's gallery and a most wonderful pulpit. Fragments of rough-hewn stone at the base of the tower suggest the church's Saxon origins.

Chearsley, St Nicholas

A simple A4 information sheet available in the church says all you need to know about this church:
"The building reflects the history of the village which, until recently, has always been small, and never wealthy."
The dedication to St Nicholas, patron saint of children, was borne out by the presence of a church banner, and by fragments of a 14C wall painting of the saint on the North wall.

Haddenham, St Mary

Haddenham is famous for several things: St Tiggywinkles animal hospital, Wychert (a form of wall building), it's ponds where Aylesbury Ducks were bred, and as the set for several episodes of the Midsomer Murders TV series. None of which has anything to do with the church, which was built in the 13C, and is situated by a pond, with a bit of green surrounded by cottages, all very 'typical English village'.

Internally, the font is of some interest, depicting two dragons. There are several poppy heads with faces on them on the pews too, but none which could be described as Green Man images.

Externally, I was unable to make out the corbel decorations on the tower, some of which looked as if they may have had faces on them.

Aston Sandford, St Michael

With a chancel of 18'6" by 12', and a nave of 38' by 14', this is supposedly one of the smallest churches in the country. It underwent extensive renovation and rebuilding in the 1878 and was locked on my visit, so I have very few details to hand.

Kingsey, St Nicholas

Another St Nicholas, and another locked church with no external features to assist in determining the likelihood of internal decoration.

Note: In preparing this entry, it occurred to me that many churches in an area tend to have the same dedication, e.g. today there were 4 St Nicholas churches out of 8 visited. In yesterday's trip, 6 out of 11 were St Mary's. I'll keep an eye open for this pattern in future trips.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hunting the Green Man - NE Herts

I recently checked out a couple of churches to the south of Royston, one of which had a rather splendid Green Man in it, but I had no camera on me on the day (it was a last minute decision to travel out).

So, being a Bank Holiday weekend, I decided to return to the area to get a picture, and to look at some other churches. The route took us up the A10, doubling back down to the A120 via several villages to the east. With a total of 11 churches visited, this turned into quite a long trip to write up!

Buckland, St Andrew

Buckland is a small hilltop settlement, just off the A10. It now comprises not much more than a dozen or so houses and a farm. The church is now tended by the Churches Conservation Trust, but still caters for around half a dozen services a year. The church is usually locked, but a (very large) key is available from a couple of the nearby houses.

Although the church underwent a major restoration in the late 1800's, there are still several stone corbel heads to be seen, both inside and outside, but sadly no Green Men that I could spot.

Reed, St Mary

St Mary's is described as an 'isolated Saxon Church', and is built on one of the highest points in Hertfordshire, slightly apart from the main village. It has been noted that apart from St Alban's Cathedral, no other Hertfordshire church has as much Saxon work visible.

Inside, the Rood stairs disappear into the wall, and the North Door appears only as a round headed recess. Externally however, the North Door is preserved almost intact in it's original form.

But again, no evidence of the elusive Green Man.

Barkway, St Mary Magdelene

This is the church that sparked this particular trip, as I'd been here a couple of weeks ago, without a camera. The main attraction of the church is the Burma Star window - a commemorative stained glass window in memory of the Burma Star Association. But my attention was drawn upwards in the nave and north aisle, where a succession of carved figures and heads appear. The finest of these is at the east end of the north aisle, where a fine Green Man foliate head looks down. Unfortunately, I found this difficult to photograph both with and without flash giving less than ideal results:

At the west end of the north aisle, was another foliate head, this time more leonine in nature and even more difficult to photograph due to the intrusion of a vestry room into the aisle, leaving only a very short space below the head to photograph from. Maybe I need yet another trip with the camera mounted on a pole to capture this one?

Anstey, St George

No Green men, but a couple of items that are worth mentioning here. The church is near the site of Anstey Castle, and it's thought that some of the stone from the castle was used in rebuilding the church - the chancel walls have some notable military-style 13th century graffiti, and it's possible that these were originally drawn on the castle walls.

Also in the chancel are 12 old stalls, which include a number of miserichords. One of these is a 'tongue-poker' image, possibly dating from the 1400s.

The design on the Norman font is described in the church information leaflet as being 'four mermen holding their split tails with both hands, making a symmetrical pattern along the four sides of the bowl...possibly symbolic of the Ark of Christ's Church. Such a motif is rare, occurring in only one other place in England - St Peter's, Castle Street, Cambridge'. Whilst I can understand this interpretation, my first impression was of four men in Viking Longships, possibly pointing to an even earlier origin for the church building. I guess it depends what you expect to see!

Wyddial, St Giles

A service was in full flow when I arrived, so I was unable/unwilling to enter the church. The exterior gave no real clues as to its possible contents.

Great Hormead, St Nicholas

The first of the two Hormead churches which lie some 300 yards apart, St Nicholas is the present church for the parish, and was first built in the 1200s. There are some quite remarkable carved heads both within and without the church.

In the south aisle is a most horrendous head, being both a mouth-puller and a nose picker at the same time! Flash photography sadly does not do it justice. There is also what can only be described as a 'Cheshire Cat' type face, grinning away like it's just stepped out of a Lewis Carrol story, although it predates the books by a few hundred years...

Externally, there are a series of grotesque heads, one of which resembles a Wild Wose with animal (donkey?) ears, and another with a single flower in it's mouth. Neither is really a Green Man, but the closest I found in this church. The latter head resembles another inside which has two similar flowers in its mouth.

Little Hormead, St Mary

Another church under the control of the Churches Conservation Trust, the sign in the porch states that 'the church is always kept open'. Oh no it isn't! The door was firmly locked on my visit, though I understand that services are still held here in the summer months. Still, this was only my second access failure of the day.

The brick-built porch tells a story of earlier times, as a scratched sundial can be seen on the wall by the door. On my visit, someone had been busy with the coloured chalk, as images of the Virgin Mary were very much in evidence.

Brent Pelham, St Mary

The church at Brent Pelham is extraordinarily 'cavernous' inside. There are a pair of old stocks just outside the church gate, but the main item of interest inside is the tomb in the north wall of one O Piers Shonks, Dragonslayer, who died in 1086!

The story goes that he killed a great serpent. This so enraged the Devil that he swore he would claim Shonks for his own, whether he was buried inside the church, or out. Shonks was buried in the fabric of the north wall, which was neither in nor out, thus frustrating the Devil.

I'm not sure the church wall is actually that old, but it's a wonderful story.

Furneux Pelham, St Mary

Having had very little luck (other than Barkway) on the Green Man front, I was starting to despair. That changed at Furneux Pelham, in a surprising way. No stone heads here.

Tucked away at the end of the south aisle was an enormous wooden cabinet, some eight feet tall. The parish chest? There was no guide book or leaflet to help me so I can only guess as to its origin or why it was there. But the cabinet was covered in all manner of grotesque carved heads.

Some had a distinct Japanese or Polynesian feel, but there were also several foliate heads in the mix, which seemed to be in a state of anguish.

The chest did not fit with the 'feel' of the rest of the church, which was quite light and airy with brightly painted angels in the rafters. It felt quite sinister, and I'd love to know the story behind it.

Albury, St Mary

There was no information leaflet here, and the only item I noted of interest was the tomb of Sir Walter de la Lee and his wife, Margaret'. Both seemed impossibly small - Sir Walter's armour is of a style from King Richard II's time. The only surviving inscription reads:


Little Hadham, St Cecilia

The final stop on what was a very long day, and once again, no substantive reward. There are several carved corbels inside, but none of a design that is of interest here. Externally, the tower also holds some carved corbels and gargoyles, but I was unable to get a clear view of any details with my small camera.

Eleven churches (a personal record for a single day), only one of which has a 'true' Green man, but which all have their own curiosities and stories to tell. I'm beginning to really enjoy this journey!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hunting the Green Man - West Hertfordshire and Beds

It's been some time since I've written here about my hunt for the Green Man. The fact is I have actually been out most weekends, and have been checking out churches on my travels, but have had very little to report. A plain list of negative sightings really wouldn't be that exciting to read... Maybe I should compile a list of blanks I've drawn though when I get the time.

Just as an aside, I've been trying to use the OnTheRoad service on the web to help plan my trips. I can add a trip description, select places on the map as 'stops' and add notes for these stops. The idea being that whilst out on the trip, I can then upload stories and geotagged photos for each place from my phone (Android and iPhone are currently supported). Unfortunately, having added the stops I wanted, and made notes on each of them (postcode for the GPS, points to look out for etc.) I could find no way to retrieve this information from the system again apart from re-editing each item individually on the PC. I couldn't see the information at all on the phone. It would be useful if I could have printed out a trip plan with all the stops and notes on it. Ah well, another request for the developers...

But this weekend, I've at last got something to report. Out of a total of seven churches visited today, two had evidence of the Green Man in different guises. And more importantly, I may have tentatively identified a Sheela figure which I've not seen listed previously elsewhere!

Aldbury St John the Baptist

The church in this picturesque village is just to the west of the village pond, which also features stocks and a whipping post.

The main attraction in the church is the spectacular Pendley Chapel in the south aisle screened from the rest of the church by a stonework screen. A wildman, or wild wose, clutching his club is reclined at the foot of Sir Robert Whittingham, builder of the nearby Pendley Manor. His wife lies alongside him, with a (battered) hind at her feet. The stonework apparently dates from the 1500's, and is particularly fine. The wildwose is of course a relative of the Green Man.

I have visited this church previously, but have yet to get a satisfactory picture of the wildwose, due to the lighting conditions and crampedness in the chapel.

There is also, on the north wall an old stone head corbel which provoked my interest. The head is quite damaged on one side, but the side remaining shows an arm looped under a leg. If this pattern were symmetrical on the other (damaged) side, then there's a possibility that this could be the remains of a sheela-na-gig type figure. The problem is that the figure would then be wider than the apparent width of the corbel itself. There is only brief mention of the corbel in the church guide, which suggests a 13th century date for the carving, but gives no other information.

So a mystery remains.

Little Gaddesdon, SS Peter and Paul

This pretty little church lies half a mile from its village, and contains several memorials to the Egerton family, who occupied the nearby Ashridge Estate in the 1700s. I'd arrived shortly after a service had concluded, and a couple of gentlemen were just locking up the vestry, but were happy for me to have a look around. When I mentioned my Green Man interest, they had little idea, and one of them stated as he was leaving that he knew of no such symbology in the church.

I was therefore pleased and surprised to find not one, but three foliated head images on a late stained glass window on the south wall, each similar but differing in very small ways from the others.

Sadly, the rest of the trip held no such finds, but I'll document the negative hits here anyway for completeness.

Nettleden St Lawrence

This church was locked when I arrived, though it has a magnificant avenue of 12 yew trees leading to from the road to the porch. The outside is rather plainly decorated, I've no idea if the inside will hold any treasures.

Great Gaddesdon St John the Baptist

A service was in progress when I arrived, but the church door was open, and I could see decorated capitals on the columns, so there may be some hope if I pass this way again in future. Externally the main points of interest here are the Norman gargoyles on the tower, and the proliferation of puddingstone, often used in prehistoric times to waymark paths and river crossings - the Gade flows nearby. There is a large lump of this stone in the churchyard to the south of the porch, and another on the north side. In addition, puddingstone has been used as a base for several of the buttress points on the north side. A similar practice of using such large stones has been interpreted in other areas as a 'stamping down' on previous pagan practices - see Pewsey church in Wiltshire as an example of this.

At this point, we crossed the border into Bedfordshire to check out the final three churches for the day:

Studham, St Mary

Preparations were underway for a service, and the place was full of some of the most fragrant flowers after a wedding the previous day. Sadly though, the stonework in the chancel is in dire need of repair work, which it is thought could take a few years to complete. After that, the tower will be in need of attention too.

The only item of any interest here, and the oldest item in the building, was the font. This contains a carving of some mythical beasts, a couple of which had florate tongues. Not quite a Green Man motif, but as close as I was able to get in this small church at the end of a countryside cul-de sac.

Whipsnade St Mary Magdelene

Quite simply, one of the plainest churches I've seen for quite some time. No south door, no porch, no stained glass. A service had just finished, so I poked my head in the door, having already looked through the plain windows. No decoration of any type. The church was built in the 1500s and updated by Hawksmoor in 1719. It could have been built by an anonymous 1960s council planner for all that I could see. Time to move on.

Kensworth St Mary

I didn't realise it at the time, but I was racing the vicar here from Whipsnade! Parishioners were arriving for the service as I got here. In my trip preparation, I'd noted that the main door has some interesting Norman carving, so I was hopeful. I tentatively entered the porch and took a couple of photos, but was spotted. A friendly gentleman invited me inside to take a look around before the service started. On mentioning my search, his response was 'Oh, that's a pub, isn't it?'

I explained briefly about the Green Man and he said he could show me a couple of heads which may be of interest in the tower, above what used to be the main west door. However, these were part of the original Norman stonework and not related to my search, sadly. He was quite friendly and interested though, even pointing out to me the scratch sundial inside the porch, a remnant from before the porch was built. He missed the more interesting fantasy beast carvings on the capital of the south door columns though...

The church also contained some decent memorial glasswork in the windows, and I took my leave just as the vicar was arriving. No point in becoming a captive audience, is there?

So a productive day's trip. A couple of decent hits and enough to keep my enthusiasm for the search up.

This post has definitely got me interested in writing these again, so look out for some 'catch-up' articles over the next couple of weeks, outlining the negative hits over the summer so far.