John E. Vigar MA, FSA Scot., FRSA

Wimbotsham Church, Norfolk

As I write this post the timbers are still smouldering at Wimbotsham church in west Norfolk. This is the most recent of what seems to have been a rash of fires in medieval churches.

 

Wimbotsham church is essentially Norman in date with fine Romanesque doorways to north and south and built of the local Carrstone. The walls are characteristically thick. The tower was remodelled in the fifteenth century and contains two medieval bells. The chancel was substantially rebuilt in the 19th century, in keeping with the Romanesque character of the original. It carries a wonderful corbel table.

 

There were a wonderful set of bench ends in the church. A few were medieval but most were outstanding work by James Ratlee (born 1820) who is best known for his woodwork in Ely Cathedral. 

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Historic Churches of Norfolk

Historic Churches of Norfolk

A 3 week course led by

Ecclesiastical Historian John E Vigar

To be held 1.30 – 3.30 on

Mondays 14th  21st 28th October 2019

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2020 Church Tours Announced


 

John Vigar`s  Church Tours 2020 (all churches subject to availability)

DAY TOURS To book / enquiries  07962 368062 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Tuesday 17th  March              THANET Ramsgate x 2, Margate and St Lawrence

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Lead Fonts of England

 

As we travel around England, we occasionally come across fonts made of metal. In own time an amazing stainless-steel font has been placed in Salisbury Cathedral and many churches use a metal bowl at the front of the church. However, metal fonts have been used for centuries and over 30 medieval examples survive in our parish churches, dating from the 11th to the 17th centuries.

There must have been many more, but lead is easily damaged and can be reused for other purposes.

There are a group of 6 identical fonts in Gloucestershire that must have been cast from the same mould.

A characteristic of the early fonts is the arcading around the bowl, which can be plain or contain figures. One at Walton on the Hill in Surrey has both arcading, figures and foliage decoration.

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A visit to Brightlingsea

Bright 1

Yesterday I paid a return visit to Brightlingsea church after a gap of about 30 years. I remembered it as being special but had no idea it contained so much of interest.

It is best known for its memorial plaques whch run around the walls of nave and aisles. They remember people who have died at sea, and were the idea of a nineteenth century incumbent. In most cases, as well as the name of the deceased, they also give the name of the boat they were in, and in some instances details of the accident. I`m sure a whole book could be written about these unfortunate people.

The east end of the church contains four wonderful fifteenth century image niches, the back walls of which retain their original colouring. In any other church these would be the highlight of a visit but here the north chapel contains a group of family brasses the envy of Essex (which as a county contains some of the best in England).

These are to the Beriff family, and date between 1496 and 1578. They were a prominent family in this Cinque Port and two of their brasses depict their merchant marks. They were all produced in London, but evidently not at the same workshop as the styles are very different.

Brightlingsea Church is open on summer afternoons and is very well worth the journey.

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A Norfolk Churchcrawl

Yesterday I spent a day with my old friend Simon Knott www.norfolkchurches.co.uk on an exploration of a circle of churches around Norwich. Here`s how we got on:

Trowse Newton - a village church immediately outside the inner ring road. A charming spot where we were given a warm welcome by the keyholder. The architecture is important - the east window being dateable to the 1280s but what struck us was the group of musicians around the pulpit. Almost life size they must have come from a continental church organ.

Earlham was locked with no keyholder notice. One for pre-arrangements another day.

Colney - a round towered church just inside the outer ring road. It contains one of the 30 or so chalice brasses for which Norwich is known and a fine East Anglian Type font which depicts the martyrdom of St Edmund.

Bawburgh is another round towered gem which is now open daily. Famous for its own saint, St Walstan, we were taken by the variety of monumental brasses and by the screen, loft and rood beam. We met the churchwarden who was very proud of her well cared for church.

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Guestwick Church, Norfolk

 

 

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Book Review: Simon Bradley, Churches: An Architectural Guide (Pevsner Architectural Guides)

Simon Bradley, Churches: An Architectural Guide (Pevsner Architectural Guides)

Yale University Press, 2016. Hardcover, 192 pp., 90 col. and 50 b/w ills. ISBN 978 0 30021 553 3, £12.99.

The majority of books about English parish churches take the form of architectural guides and I found it a little difficult to determine who this guide was written for. Those with a specialist interest will already have at least one Pevsner county guide with its much loved Glossary. Those with an embryonic interest in architecture would almost certainly find this guide too dry, trying as it does to set all the terms found in a standard Pevsner Glossary into their historical context. At times it feels like too much has been squeezed in; at others that something one knows really needs a full explanation has been reduced to just two sentences. Not that this is a bad thing. It challenges the reader in the same way it must have challenged the author and Dr Bradley has produced a book that is densely packed with facts and which offers exceptional value for money.

The book takes a comprehensive and chronological look at the architectural development of churches and their furnishings. I loved the fact that parish churches that are rarely illustrated in books pop up throughout the volume – for example Crondall, Hampshire and St George, Stockport, Cheshire. The illustrations throughout are of good quality, though I would have preferred less black and white images, especially where they are juxtaposed with colour. It was also frustrating when Dr Bradley used a particular church in his text and then accompanied it by an illustration from somewhere else. For example he mentions the Romanesque lead font at Brookland, Kent and illustrates the example at Ashover, Derbyshire. Occasionally I found that an illustration didn’t work at all. However important St Matthias Poplar is in art history terms (being built during the Commonwealth) the photograph of it showing modern infilling of the aisles, fitted carpet and potted palms in stainless steel pots seemed surplus to requirement.

As one might expect in such a densely packed volume, stained glass takes up just a few pages, appearing first in a section on medieval imagery, illustrated by 14th-century glass at Cockayne Hatley, Bedfordshire and a 15th-century detail from Greystoke, Cumbria. Post-medieval glass is covered in six pages of illustrations beginning with 17th-century armorial glass and moving through Pugin, Burne-Jones and Whall to Reyntiens at Marden in Kent, which seems to have been included as an example of mid-20th-century glass without being referenced in the text at all.

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Historic Churches of Norfolk - A 3 session course

To be held on

Mondays 14, 21, 28 October 2019

At King`s Lynn, Thoresby College 1000-1200 and

Fakenham Community Centre 1330-1530

Course Fee £30.00

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John Vigar visits Buckland Church, Oxfordshire

Oxfordshire has many important churches and this Vlog visits Buckland Church near Faringdon.

 

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Norfolk Churches Study Day, April 26th 2019

Join John Vigar and Ian Groves for a tour of four medieval churches on the edge of the Halvergate Marshes in Norfolk and a discussion of the local villages and landscape.

The churches include many fascinating features such as two fine Norfolk fonts, surviving graffiti, an impressive rood screen and a remarkable set of 20th century stained glass windows. Two of the churches stand in the same churchyard - a phenomenon that can be seen in several locations around the county.

These magnificent buildings should provide stimulating conversation among attendees and the tour leaders. The day is particularly aimed at those who would like to improve their knowledge of Norfolk's churches. During the tour you will also discover how the use of churches changed over time and the importance of patronage to the way churches looked, the church in relation to its village and wider landscape, and the historic background to the extensive grazing land between Acle and Great Yarmouth.

AGENDA:

Please arrive at Acle St Edmund church (on-street parking only) for 10:45

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Norfolks Chalice Brasses

I first became interested in these unique memorials when I found the indent of one in a ledgerstone at Oulton. An indent is where the brass has gone but the shape remains. I have now recorded over 20 of these memorials in Norfolk, and realise they cover just a 30 year period.  The image above is of one in St Giles Church, Norwich which is the oldest I`ve yet discovered, 1499.

Each one is to a priest, and usually their names are quite readable. Even when the brass has disappeared the shape gives it away. They must have been made by one workshop - presumably in Norwich - and they are distributed across the eastern half of the county. They are all very similar, with minor variations of the style of chalice. 

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2019 Church Tour

Churches of the Kennet Valley. 23/07/2019 5pm to 26/07/2019 1pm

This 3-night course is based at Denman College near Abingdon. Transport is included for two full day outings and selected trains are met at Didcot or Oxford stations for those coming without their own transport.

Discover a new selection of churches in the wonderful Kennet and Lambourn Valleys. We will learn about the architecture of the churches, their building materials, furnishings, memorials and stained glass. There will be two full day outings to enable hands-on exploration so a degree of walking will be involved.

Includes visits to Savernake, East Shefford and Lambourne.

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John Vigar`s Church Tours 2019

DAY TOURS To book / enquiries  07962 368062 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Thursday 14th March       SUSSEX Brede, Udimore, Icklesham, Westfield

                                                Pick up Rochester, Maidstone, Tonbridge £35

Friday 28th June                SURREY Godstone, Woldingham, Farleigh, Chelsham

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Ledgerstones

LEDGERSTONES are a familiar sight in our churches but are frequently dismissed as boring or less important than other features. However I want to tell you why I feel they are so exciting and what clues they give us.

In these days of church reordering ledgerstones are frequently lost under carpet or find themselves inside toilets and kitchens and it is important that we should record them before they are lost forever.

For several years I was Secretary of the LSEW and we estimated that there are 250,00 surviving examples.
Whilst there are engraved grave markers going back to about 1200, ledgerstones as we recognise them today really start appearing in the early 17th century, when black Marble started to be imported from the continent.

They each cover an individual burial vault and may be likened to the lid of a rectangular biscuit tin.
The vault itself may be up to 12 feet deep, enough for 6 coffins, and brick lined. The ledgerstone sits on top of the brick walls and lies flush with the church floor. More often that not the slab is then engraved with an inscription to the deceased. At a later date if more family burials are to be made into the vault the lid is prised open and relaid, often with a further inscription added on the slab.

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Easter Sepulchres

What was an Easter Sepulchre? It was the tomb of an individual erected on the north side of the chancel which over each Easter weekend would be used as a focus for devotion, representing the entombment and resurrection of Christ. It always had a flat surface on which the sepulchre itself would be placed.

In fact, we have erroneously been using the name Easter Sepulchre for many years. What we see today is the stone structure onto which the Sepulchre, a temporary structure, was placed. Only one medieval Easter Sepulchre survives at Cowthorpe in Yorkshire, but it’s of a different type altogether, not for placing on a tomb. It is now commonly accepted that the sepulchre itself was a wooden chest containing either the cross from the main altar or a Consecrated host. It may have depended on the size of the sepulchre as some are so small as to only be able to house a Host.

These monuments were installed in churches from the 13th century until the Reformation, with a peak of popularity in the 15th century. The ordinary church would only ever have one, so it was the first person to the post as it were. The early ones are rarely inscribed with the name of the donor, the later ones usually known.

Forty years ago, Dr Pamela Sheingorn went through medieval wills to list all those mentioned in England and discovered several hundred. There were undoubtedly more that have gone unrecorded.

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A Chip off Queen Victoria`s Block

Queen Victoria is one of our best loved monarchs. Almost within touching distance of our own time her story is so familiar to us it seems unlikely that there is much new to discover.

Victoria`s mother, the Duchess of Kent had already been married and widowed before her wedding to a son of George III. By her first husband she had a daughter, Feodora, who came to live in London when her mother remarried. At Kensington Palace she married the Prince of Hohenloe Langenberg. Their son, and Queen Victoria`s nephew, was Prince Victor Gleichen. After distinguished service in the British Navy he took up a career as a sculptor, working from his apartments in St James` Palace.

Quickly becoming the Victorian sculptor of choice his work may be found in collections throughout Britain, and especially in the Royal Collection.

Two of his children followed in their father’s footsteps.

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Latest Blogs from John

As I write this post the timbers are still smouldering at Wimbotsham church in west Norfolk. This is the most recent of what seems to have been a rash of fires in medieval churches. Wimbotsham church is essentially Norman in date with fine Roman...
Historic Churches of NorfolkA 3 week course led byEcclesiastical Historian John E VigarTo be held 1.30 – 3.30 onMondays 14th  21st 28th October 2019atFakenham Community CentreCost £30Norfolk has more medieval churches per acre than anywhere else...
 John Vigar`s  Church Tours 2020 (all churches subject to availability)DAY TOURS To book / enquiries  07962 368062 or john@johnevigar.comTuesday 17th  March              THANET Ramsgate x 2, Marg...
 As we travel around England, we occasionally come across fonts made of metal. In own time an amazing stainless-steel font has been placed in Salisbury Cathedral and many churches use a metal bowl at the front of the church. However, metal fonts...

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