I've been here before. I passed along this road on my way to Hertford. I may even have glanced out of the bus window and spied the little church of St Michael And All Angels at the roadside. But I'm not really sure because, you see, there are lots of small, Victorian churches in this part of the country.
This particular one was designed by Henry Woodyer, the flamboyant and eccentric architect responsible for the extraordinary church at Highnam in Gloucestershire. Here though, he's working on a much more modest scale. The church was paid for by the local lord of the manor, R A Smith, and all the timber was obtained from his estate. He wasn't short of funds though; he just had other priorities.
Despite the understated exterior, the inside is exquisitely and extravagantly decorated by some of the leading artists of the day. I rather warm to Mr Smith for being so unlike the typical Victorian gent; most would have gone for a large building to display their wealth and power to everyone who passed by, but instead this magnificent show of beauty was reserved for just his family and workers, who came here to pray.
These are not wall-paintings but mosaics designed by J P Hutchinson for J Powell and Sons. They completely cover the walls of the chancel.
The area around the altar is paved with colourful Minton tiles, the finest available in the Victorian era. But the church's real treasure is its collection of stained glass windows.
Most of the windows date from soon after the church was built (1872) and are the work of William Morris and his associates. Morris was a complex man with a huge array of talents - poet, writer, interior designer, stained-glass artist, businessman, Marxist and even translator of Icelandic sagas into English. The window above is his interpretation of the Annunciation, with Mary looking uncannily like Jane Morris, his wife. In fact most of the women in Pre-Raphaelite art, and a good many men, look like her.
The rather stern-looking gentleman holding the big key is St Peter, but it's said to be based on Morris himself and is the work of his close friend Edward Burne Jones. I like the idea that Morris is gazing down upon all these beautiful windows with the sun blazing down behind him as it was yesterday morning.
Burne Jones is responsible for several of the works here. Above is his lively portrayal King David and Miriam. Apparently this pair of windows is highly rated by Lady Lucinda Lambton, for those of you who might remember her off-beat-and-slightly-bonkers documentaries for the BBC (she once did a remarkable programme about the history of toilets!).
There's something eccentric about Miriam too as she swirls and twists amongst the usual formal and staid representations of Biblical characters.
Christ and The Angels is a later work by Burne Jones, dating from 1896. There's that Pre-Raphaelite face once again, but I'm also attracted by the depictions of leaves above and below them.
The swirling patterns echo the sort of thing that is commonly found in William Morris's famous wallpaper designs and may, I suggest, even be a deliberate tribute to him from his old associate, as 1896 was also the year of Morris's death.
Some of these later windows were commissioned as memorials to members of the Smith family, like the Mary and Jesus above which commemorates the wife of the man who had the church built. It was designed by Burne Jones but was actually made by J H Dearle, for the very good reason that it dates from 1917, at which time Burne Jones had been dead for nearly twenty years.
I hope you're not becoming overloaded with all these beautiful windows as I've still got a few more up my sleeve - and I'm not even showing you them all. This set of three windows are to be found in the west wall of the church and depict Noah, St Phillip and John the Baptist. The last is another work by Burne Jones while the first two are by Ford Madox Brown.
The parable of the wise virgins meeting the bridegroom is interpreted by Selwyn Image, another designer greatly influenced by William Morris and his circle.
Image (what a great name for an artist!) strove for beauty and simplicity of line - and there's that distinctive profile once more.
The great Scottish stained-glass designer, Douglas Strachan, contributed the window above in 1928 very much in his own style. By this time he was a much sought-after artist designing huge windows for cathedrals.
So what do you do if you're Karl Parsons and asked to design the last window to complete the church?
It might have been easier to slink into the corner and hope nobody noticed: Parsons decided to outshine them all. He was an accomplished worker in stained glass with several important commissions to his name, but he spent a lot of his life assisting other artists and teaching students. His St Cecilia is a tour-de-force of artistry and technique and seems to me to tell the whole tale of the young saint.
I'm certain my photographs don't do his work justice, though it was actually the easiest to photograph as the translucence of the colours used has been balanced to perfection. I find this a very moving work, not only extremely beautiful but full of deeper meaning and emotion, like the finest symphonies; very apt for Cecilia, the patron saint of music.
The church is open every day and is situated in Waterford, just north of the town of Hertford; I recommend it to anyone who has the chance to visit. I certainly won't be able to hurry by again without popping in to pay my regards to St Cecilia and all the angels.