Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Strange And Wonderful Diversions

So there we were last time, wandering through the lovely Hertfordshire countryside. Most people don't even realise that it's a beautiful place as they sit in traffic near Watford or search for bargains in the Hatfield Galleria. It's hard to glimpse the rich history when you're in Welwyn or Stevenage new town. But there are some secret places....

On a forgotten lane between Thundridge and Cold Christmas stands this rather spooky ruined church. It used to be much vandalised and was reputedly a meeting place of witches. It's often erroneously called Cold Christmas church but it actually belonged to Thundridge, the village having gradually migrated down towards the main road. The church continued to be used for a time before a new one was built down where the congregation lived.

There are lots of gravestones of children, many of whom died around the same time. People have put that together with the name of the nearby hamlet of Cold Christmas and have come up with the story that the children all died at Christmas and the rest of the population then moved away. Probably not true - or could it just be?

Lets move on to Standon, with its tower beckoning from over the roofs of an old barn.

Once you've worked out which of the three doors is open and got inside the first thing you notice is that the chancel stands high above the nave. In fact the whole building is built on a steep slope with steps leading up inside. Such churches are known as "Processional Churches" and are usually associated with the Knights of St John.

One feature of our English churches that I'm sometimes uncomfortable with are the pompous and arrogant memorials to the wealthiest Lords of the Manor. Some of them seem to have done little to warrant such a memorial, while others are undoubted scoundrels. The one seen here to Sir Ralph Sadler (also spelt Sadlier or Sadleir) and his wife at least commemorates a full and interesting life.

Sadler served in the courts of four English monarchs and made several trips to Scotland on royal business. This included such important matters as arranging a marriage between the future King Edward VI and the infant Mary, Queen of Scots. Although his negotiations were successful the marriage did not eventually take place. He served as the local MP and became one of the richest commoners in England. He is one of the main characters in Hilary Mantel's book "Wolf Hall" and its sequel "Bring Up The Bodies". (I haven't read either).

There's also a fine memorial brass to one John Field who died in 1477. I include it here mainly because I don't think I've ever shown a picture of a brass before. The figure on the right is thought to be his son, also a John.

A little way away stands this curious thing. It's called a "puddingstone" and is a conglomerate rock dumped here by an ice sheet during the last Ice Age. As you can see in the photo below it consists of rounded pebbles set in a sandy matrix and looks a bit like a plum-pudding. A good deal of New Age nonsense has been written about these rocks which are sometimes found in the foundations of churches in the area. This has led to speculation about their religious significance. More likely they are just good hard rocks that were handy for the task.

The next church at Braughing is also a very fine building with many interesting features....

.....including an attractive painted ceiling.

But out in the churchyard is the small, simple grave of one Matthew Wall. Although he died long ago he is remembered every year in the village....

On October 2nd 1571 the coffin of the young farmer was being carried along the narrow Fleece Lane towards the church. 

The day must have been much like the day I was there, wet Autumn leaves were covering the little track. One of the pall-bearers slipped on the wet leaves which caused the coffin to fall to the floor. The jolt seems to have wakened young Matthew from some sort of coma and he began banging on the lid of the coffin. A year later he was married to his beautiful fiancee and enjoyed a long,happy marriage.

When Matthew died, many years later, he left instructions in his will that the day of his "non-funeral" should be commemorated each year. Children from the local school, accompanied by the vicar, sweep the leaves from the lane and a short service is held by the graveside. Yes, I know it's illogical to sweep the leaves since it was the wet leaves that saved his life. It also doesn't make much sense that the day is known as Old Man's Day when it actually commemorates a young man's lucky escape.

Finally I called in at the pretty little eleventh-century church at Little Hormead. It is home to a very old door which has been undergoing restoration. Having restored the door they are now faced with the problem, and the considerable expense, of how to hang the delicate structure without causing its disintegration. A sign on the outside door told me that the church was closed during the restoration work but it would be open again by 2012! It's still closed.

Take care.


  1. I love the very old history you find in England, and you manage to come up with such interesting stories to make it even more interesting! Just not quite the same here.

  2. Always impressed by your tours, tales and photography. I love visiting parish churches; there's invariably some interesting stories, memorials and architecture. All part of our tiny island's history.

  3. I like the story of Mathew. I've read of several such instances which lead to various phrases we know today that stem from such close encounters of being buried alive. "Saved by the bell" is one that comes to mind for they began running a cord from the coffin up to a bell on a post at ground level. Should you come around, pull the cord and whoever had the "graveyard watch" could come to your rescue.I like the last two lines of your post too. Funny.

  4. Your secret places are fascinating -- "strange and wonderful". What a fright for poor young Matthew! Interesting that the event is commemorated all these years later.

  5. I hope I'm good and dead when I get put in my coffin. Yikes!
    I love the pathways that are so old that they are much lower than the surrounding land.
    Very nice church at Braughing.

  6. I love that first photo with the tree in the foreground and church in the distance and I enjoyed the tale of the young farmer, Matthew, too. You always have such interesting posts for us!

  7. I love that painted ceiling John. Is there really a village called Cold Christmas?

  8. Wonderful photos and so interesting. Life - and death - was hazardous in the olden days!

  9. John I've just had time to go back and catch up on missed posts, something I enjoy very much, your walks are always a delight visually and informatively. The story of Cold Christmas made the hairs on my arm prickle a bit :) and how wonderful to be saved from an unfortunate burial while still alive, I have heard similar stories, makes you wonder if some poor unfortunates aren't so lucky, chilling! I've always loved the English country side and old churches with their quirky names :) J'adore the addition of the 'walkers log' at the end of last post, a brilliant idea, I think you should do it each time now..

  10. Great details, as always. Maybe the puddingstone is the Cold Christmas Pudding after all?

  11. John -- When I lived in the state of Michigan in the midwest part of the U.S.I collected puddingstones. They could be found near rock quarries especially. They came in large and small rocks. People where I lived loved to put them in their gardens as accent pieces. Can you imagine my surprise when you featured them in your country -- I guess they are international! Nice post -- barbara

  12. What a wonderful "forgotten lane" John - the perfect place for a country walk with your camera in tow but I should imagine not so nice walking by that deserted church in the dark of night.

  13. I am behind in your blog but am determined to get caught back up...just wish I had the time and see what I have missed in the past...cause I surely do enjoy the posts I have read. A person wonders how many people have been buried alive by mistake...

    Love the puddingstones...loved all your pictures and the narrative to go along with it.


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