Monday, 18 November 2013

Hornchurch

122 CWGC headstones pretty much stop you in your tracks and then to find that St Andrew is open should be a show stopper and, up to a point, it is but...

An open church this far south in Essex is a rarity and for that it is fully appreciated but over the years it's been reordered, refurbished, thoroughly rebrushed and has lost it's soul in the process. Bits remain - the bull head on the chancel (a feature that is exceptional and possibly unique), a couple of good monuments and the modern pulpit and the windows are worthy of note - I liked it but I think more because it was open than for itself.

ST ANDREW. A large, townish church, although Hornchurch was a village, until London got hold of it and made it into a dormitory with more than 100,000 inhabitants. The church has a C13 chancel and a C13 arcade between nave and aisles (circular piers with moulded capitals; double-chamfered arches). Perp N and S aisles, clerestory, N and S chancel-chapels, N porch and W tower. The church is light, thanks to three-light aisle and clerestory windows (the E window is new). The chancel chapels have octagonal piers and double-hollow-chamfered arches. The W tower is big and prominent, with diagonal buttresses, higher SW stair-turret and recessed spire. - STAINED GLASS. Tall late C13 arches, five-cusped on slim shafts. A squint in the back wall of the westernmost seat. - DOORS. N and W doorways, C15 or early C16. - STAINED GLASS. Bits (e.g. Crucifixus, headless) in the E window of the N chapel; C15. - PLATE. Cup and Paten of 1563; Paten of c. 1690, Flagon of 1690; Almsdish of 1716; Paten of 1719; Cup and Paten of 1733, all good pieces. - MONUMENTS. Several Brasses in chancel and N chapel *, e.g. five boys of c. 1500. - Tomb-chest with quatrefoil decoration, to William Ayloffe d. 1517. - Francis Rame d. 1617, monument with kneeling figures; alabaster. - Richard Blakstone d. 1638, with two kneelers and two standing angels pulling away a curtain; alabaster. - Richard Spencer d. 1784, by Flaxman. Two standing angels and medallion with double portrait. - Outside the churchyard gate the WAR MEMORIAL by Sir Charles Nicholson, 1921.

* These are now covered by a fitted carpet.

Gerald Smith E window (5)

Thomas Withrings 1651 (7)

NE Nave window (4)

HORNCHURCH. William of Wykeham sitting in his robes looks down from a turret in its splendid tower. He found here a 13th century church and is believed to have designed this tower for it himself; he sits on it with his arms extended in blessing. Above him a copper-covered spire rises 120 feet, sheltering a peal of eight musical bells.

The village has lost the brass with the portrait of a famous man who came here long before William of Wykeham - Sir Boniface de Hart, a canon of Aosta, lying in this English soil so far from his home. He is here because our powerful King Henry the Second, courting the favour of Frederic Barbarossa, the greatest of the Holy Roman Emperors, sent envoys to speak with him, and they passed over the Great St Bernard Pass. There they were cared for by the monks of the Hospice, and in return for the kindness of the monks Henry founded the only religious house in England attached to this famous Hospice of Savoy. The church of the hospice was served by foreign priests and their London house gave its name to the little Savoy Hill that runs down from the Strand to the Thames. In course of time Sir Boniface came from Aosta at the foot of the pass to reign as prior at Hornchurch by the Thames, now on the borders of Greater London, and here he died and was buried in 1330.

The church stands on the highest ground between the River Rom and the Ingrebourne; it has the stone head of a bull with copper-sheathed horns gazing out from its gable. There is still here a 13th century coffin lid with a cross for one of the first men buried here.

Coming through a porch as old as the tower, we swing open a door that is older still; William of Wykeham himself may have opened it. It brings us into a church with fine carving in stone, flowers in a panel above a graceful pier, and roses carved 500 years ago on the piscina. The chapel is lighted by glass 500 years old with a portrait of Edward the Confessor, the head of Our Lord in glory, and a head of Mary which has been wrongly set on the figure by a restorer.

Under the arch dividing this chapel from the chancel is a tomb of great beauty in which William Ayloffe has lain 400 years, and high on the chancel wall is a group by Flaxman, in which two women are mourning for Richard Spencer and his wife, whose faces are delicately carved. Kneeling under marble curtains are Richard Bealestone and his wife, buried here on the eve of the Civil War. Lying here also is  a man linked by his scholarship with one of our kings, Humphrey Pye, letter-writer for King James; he is with his wife, carved in alabaster on the wall. In the tower is a quaint group of people in black, the 16th century family of Francis Rame with his wife and their ten children. There are portraits in brass of the two wives of William Drywood in quaint Elizabethan hats, and a portrait of their kinsman Thomas Drywood with his wife. Two brass tablets nearer our time awaken deep memories, for one is to Joseph Fry, whose mother was the angel of our prisons, and the other is to 769 members of the Sportsman’s Battalion who offered their lives for their country in the war, were trained as soldiers at Hornchurch, and left this place to see England no more.

Here, as we have seen, lies a letter-writer for King James; but here lies one of the great pioneers of letters, a man who started the distribution of letters for King James’s son on a scale King James never dreamed of. He was Thomas Witherings, who started the Post Office. We read of him on a black tablet with a tiny carving of a skeleton, which tells us that he organised the delivery of letters for Charles Stuart and that he died on his way to this church one Sunday in 1651.

In 1633 he was granted a patent as postmaster for foreign letters. There were already regulations for the carriage of Government letters, and in the reign of King James Lord Stanhope was Master of the Posts and Messengers, receiving 100 marks a year and all “avails and profits” in addition. In postal affairs generally, however, there was hopeless confusion, because merchants were allowed to use messengers of their own. Witherings soon proved himself a far-sighted organiser. He speeded up the mail between London and the  Continent so that he was able to point out to the king that his subjects could receive a quicker and surer reply to a letter from Madrid than ordinarily from Scotland.

Thomas Witherings accordingly drew up a new scheme which was embodied in a Proclamation, and after that a letter to Edinburgh took three days instead of nearly a month. Witherings made it a rule that the speed of the letter post should be seven miles an hour in summer and five in winter, and he also introduced registration and postmarks; in his own words:

Every postmaster is to keep a faire paper book to enter the packets in, and shall write upon the labell fastened to every or any of the packets the time of receit thereoff.

Even with royal support it was impossible to carry out great reforms without hostility, and in 1640 this energetic organiser was accused of misdemeanours and his office given to a London merchant. A long wrangle ensued in Parliament and the courts, during which the mails were often seized, and the postal revenue fell to £5000 in 1643. Witherings was worried almost to death, and he actually died on his way to a service at Hornchurch in 1651. In the church we may still read what his friends thought of him, the

Chief Postmaster of Greate Britaine and foreign parts, second to none for unfathomed policy, unparalleled, sagacious, and divining genius; witness his great correspondence in all parts of the Christian World.

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