Hertford. church : all saints

  A day churchcrawling in the Huntingdon area, starting off with a visit to Godmanchester, before moving on to Hartford, ending this mini crawl with a visit to both of the two parish churches in the centre of Huntingdon.    

   There are probably not many churches to be found within the catchment area of this site, which have such an idyllic setting. The church of All Saints sits on the north bank of the river Great Ouse. It was beautiful and sunny, ducks and geese were being fed and boats were going to and from Hartford Marina. A very pleasant place to be.

  The present church here dates from 1180, although there was mention of a church here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086. This would have been a basic wooden structure of which nothing remains. Today, All Saints consists of chancel, nave, north and south aisles, south porch and west tower. There is no clerestory. The church is built of dressed rubble.

   The chancel, nave, north and south arcades all date from the 12th century. The tower was re-built during the late 15th century, and is a four stage affair, with stair turret at the south west corner. Coming towards the church from the west, there is a beautiful view of the tower, standing out above some lovely old cottages. A glorious sight, especially on a day like this with the sun beating down.

 There was much Victorian restoration here in the 1860's and the 1890's and as recently as 2003 further work was completed, adding a reception area and heating to the church. The restoration of the 1860's was undertaken by Robert Hutchinson, who worked on several churches in the Huntingdon area.

  Owen's late Victorian look at the church bells of Huntingdonshire shows that there were six bells hanging there, and still are today. All six were cast by Robert Taylor who worked out of his premesis at St Neots. Taylor was a bell founder for an impressive 44 years, The first three bells of the ring are inscribed 'Robt Taylor St Neots Fecit'. The first bell is dated 1799, with the second and third dated 1796.

   The fourth bell has the same inscription as the second and third bells, but also has the inscription 'Whilst thus we join in cheerful sound let love and loyalty abound. Taylor fecit 1796' The fifth bell of the ring is inscribed 'The C Wardens the over seers Cauthorn Bleak and John Randal the principal partitioners when we was cast 1796'.

  The sixth bell cheerfully reminds the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die, proclaiming 'I to the church the living call and to the grave do summon all'. A quick check at the National Church Bell Database shows that the second in the ring was re-cast by Mears and Stainbanl in 1950.

   Legend has it that one of these bells was forfeited to Hartford by nearby Kings Ripton due to the latter failing to bury a man who was found dead within their parish.

   The church is normally to be found locked I believe but I fell lucky here. An event was just finishing and I was able to pop in for a few minutes as the church was closing. Interior photographs are rushed as a result but better than nothing.

   The interior of the church was very much remodelled during the 1860's restoration. The chancel arch was rebuilt at that time, as was the east wall. Furnishing mostly date from this period as well. During this period of restoration a total of twenty broken stone coffin lids were found. Eight of these had saxon designs, with the remainder being after that period.

   The east window depicts the ascension, with Jesus being raised, hand raised in blessing, with wounds visible on hands and feet, worshiping disciples to left and right.  Interestingly, there are just ten disciples depicted, five on each side of Jesus. Would have expected there to have been eleven. Each disciple is depicted with nimbus.

    A memorial window in the south wall of the chancel, is in memory of the Rev. Cockburn-Dickinson's son,  Francis, who was drowned in 1885, aged ten. In this window Francis appears as a chiorboy. One twentieth century memorial is to one RC Coleridge, who died in the Titanic disaster of April 1912.  Walls are whitewashed and it was bright and welcoming inside. It was good to be able to see inside, albeit just briefly.

   Out in the well maintained church grounds is a triangular obelisk which has the inscription MORS META VIARUM, which translates as 'Death is the turning point of the ways'. It has been suggested that this might have been the date of a complete graveyard clearance. For this reason, there is nothing of great importance to be seen here.

   This is a delightful village church in a beautiful setting. I sat for a while just enjoying the countryside and the peace and quiet. Beautiful green meadows headed out towards Kings Ripton a few miles distant. A boat went past, occupants waving, a dog barking as it enjoyed the ride. Life is good.

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