Sunday, 23 August 2015
Time For Surprises
While pedalling through the Hertfordshire Countryside recently I came across three unusual churches in the villages of Ayot St Peter and Ayot St Lawrence. I'll show you them in the order I came across them. The clock at the top of this post is to be found on the tower of the church at Ayot St Peter.
It's not particularly old but I think it's one of the prettiest little churches I've ever seen. It was built in just six months in 1875 and designed by the architect J P Seddon in the style of the day. A stone set into the wall tells that it replaces a previous church, built only a few years previously, which had been struck by lightning and burned to the ground. The architect of the earlier church, J L Pearson, still very much alive and at the height of his powers, was understandably rather irked not to be asked to design the replacement.
The church was locked which was a pity since, as well as having an attractive arts and crafts interior, it contains a lump of metal from the old church bells which was melted by the lightning strike - I would have liked to have seen that.
But onwards to Ayot St Lawrence.....
Now what on earth is that rising up over the pastoral meadows of Hertfordshire?
That, my friends, is St Lawrence's Church. Unexpected as it is in this location, it's actually a very important building in the history of architecture. It was designed by Nicholas Revett, who had recently returned from a trip, which he organised for himself and three friends, to Athens where they studied the architecture of Ancient Greece. Although Revett himself is largely forgotten these days, his observations went on to have a major influence on many famous buildings, from the Brandenburg Gate to The British Museum to The US Capitol Building.
The interior of the church is very stylish if not exactly warm and intimate. It just never really caught on as a style for parish churches in the countryside of Olde England. In New England it's a different matter, I believe.
The building was completed in 1778 at the request of Sir Lionel Lyde of Ayot House. Sir Lionel's final resting place is beneath the portico on the right hand side of the church as you see it in the photo below. He apparently did not get on particularly well with his wife and declared "What the church has joined together in life, may it keep apart in death"! His wife is accordingly buried on the other side of the church.
Just a little way across the fields you can find this....
This is the earlier church which is now semi-ruinous. It's reported that Sir Lionel Lyde did not like this rustic old building spoiling the view from his house and started to have it demolished. However the Bishop intervened and insisted that the remains were preserved, hence the romantic ruin we see today.
It may also be, of course, that Sir Lionel actually wanted a romantic ruin in his view as such things were quite fashionable at the time.
What we see today is a wonderful mix of building materials: brick, stone and that uniquely East Anglian ingredient, field stones and knapped flint, which can be seen in this blocked doorway above.
So just remember: when you see that little church symbol on your map, you can never be exactly sure what you're going to find.