Back in August 2015 I was pedalling my bicycle down one of Hertfordshire's minor backroads when I spotted "one of the prettiest little churches I've ever seen". That's what I said then and another viewing hasn't changed my opinion. Yesterday though the door of the church in Ayot St Peter was unlocked for the national Heritage Open Days weekend.
As English churches go it has no great age, it was built as recently as 1875, the previous church having been struck by lightning and burned down the previous year. The architect was J P Seddon who also oversaw most of the internal fittings and decoration too. There have been a few additions since but all in keeping with the original concept and carried out to the highest standard.
What we see today is one of the most complete small churches built in the Arts and Crafts style of the Victorian era.
As a special bonus this weekend it's been skilfully and colourfully adorned in readiness for Harvest Festival.
The Arts and Crafts movement grew up in England in response to the rapid industrialisation of the country. Many artists and intellectuals despaired at what they saw as a decline in craftsmanship in the face of mass production and sought a return to traditional values.
There was also a movement within the Church of England to return to what they saw as a golden age of church building before the Reformation. Churches then had been much more colourful and elaborate.
Although the buildings constructed in this style are undoubtedly dazzling, the insistence on craftsmanship and materials of the highest order made them unbelievably expensive. Many a landowner was reduced to poverty by building in this style. Here there must have been several wealthy backers to finance the building of such a fine church. The ongoing cost of maintaining it must also place a heavy burden on the parish.
I've refrained from giving you too much detail about the individual items in the church, but if you want to find out more the village has an excellent website which will provide you with the full details about their beautiful church.
There was just one more thing I wanted to see......
….. a small glass case displays this lump of misshapen metal which comes from the bells of the previous church, melted by that fateful lightning strike in 1874.
Ayot St Peter is in a pleasant bit of countryside just west of Welwyn Garden City. I'll show you a few shots of the walk I took to get there in the next post. What I won't be sharing is the jar of home-made jam made by a local resident and on sale in the church; I'm having that all myself!