Thursday, 25 July 2013

Hertingfordbury church, Hertfordshire

                                           St. Mary's church, Hertingfordbury, Hertfordshire.

The extensive graveyard lies beside the lodge at the gate of Hertingfordbury Park, though the church has long been the place of sepulchre for the owners of Panshanger park to the north west. The area before the church has unfortunately been cleared of memorials, many of which have been lined up along the churchyard wall. One Georgian gravestone has the rare feature of a relief carved portrait of the deceased upon it, a fashion more often seen in Scotland than here.
 Close to the south porch stand three high backed stone seats, an inspection reveals them to be the battered remains of the C15th sedilia, thrown out of the church when it was rebuilt in the 1890s. A big neo-classical memorial to Rebecca Poor of 1829 towers over a multitude of Georgian and Victorian tombstones, with several later graves bearing Art Nouveau designs. Lady Sarah Cowper’s slick slate sarcophagus of 1719 lies to the east of the chancel, and the big angel turning its winged back on the church from the tree line is to Lady Katrina Cowper, who died in 1913 after overseeing the rebuilding of the church. 
The graveyard has been extended far beyond these trees, and at the far corner a massive memorial to Standard Oil heiress Pauline Whitney Paget faces the boundary hedge. This Art Deco temple shelters a statue of a woman and two children, with “Pro patria” written above as if this was a war memorial. The forecourt has incised designs filled with leadwork, showing silhouetted soldiers smoking cigarettes, with the epitaphs written on low side walls, the whole more suited to a municipal cemetery than the corner of a country churchyard.

The church itself suffered from two restorations, and although parts of the tower may still be C15th, the spike was replaced with a modern spire. Now only the eastern triple of lancets and a solitary head on the piscina remain from the C13th, most of the fittings being replaced with expensive Edwardian equivalents, with font, reredos and sedilia in shiny alabaster and rococo bench ends from Oberammergau.

The new north east chapel was built to take the many Cowper memorials, with over ornate heraldic ironwork screens on two sides. Two older tombs were removed from the chancel and now stand under the tower, both better than the later Cowper cuckoos. That to Lady Calvert carries her 1622 effigy dressed in starched ruff and soft lace, with the embroidery on her sleeves matched by her pillow, whilst opposite the two figures of Sir William and Lady Harrington lie cocooned in shrouds on a chest tomb under an early C17th arch, with a young daughter praying at their feet. Lady Calvert’s in in the style of Nicholas Stone, whilst the Harringtons show the hand of Epiphanius Evesham in the characterisation of their faces.

The Cowper chapel has a recumbent Earl of 1905 in white alabaster in the centre, looked down upon by an oversize winged Fame, part of a 1764 memorial to a William Cowper that has cherubs holding up a relief portrait and the clouds of glory above. Both memorials are expensive failures, but amongst the epitaphs poorly sited on a window reveal a smaller memorial by Roubiliac to Spencer Cowper of 1727 is beautifully carved, with the judge seated between Wisdom and Justice like some latter day Paris. Nothing else here comes close, not even one by Laurence Whistler, and the Cowpers are no more

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