St, Bartholomew, Layston

THE Church of Layston was a part of the estate granted by Hugh Triket about the year 1100 to the Prior and Convent of Holy Trinity, Aldgate. In the ecclesiastical taxation made in 1291 the temporalities in Lefstancherche, consisting of lands and a mill belonging to the Prior and Convent of Holy Trinity, were set down at £19 10s. 7 1/2d., and lands belonging to the Prior of Blakemore at 20s. per annum.

In 1534, at the survey made on the dissolution of the monasteries, the vicarage was valued at £14 6s. 3d. per annum, and it was granted by Henry VIII to Sir T. Audley, Knight, whose sole surviving daughter and heiress, Margaret, married Thomas, Duke of Norfolk, whose son, Thomas, Lord Howard de Walden, sold the manor of Corney, together with the advowson of Layston, to John Crouch, citizen of London, since which time the advowson has remained with the owner of the manor of Comey (though at the present time others besides the owner of Corneybury are interested .in the advowson).

The church is dedicated to St. Bartholomew, and consists of chancel, nave, tower, and south porch. The tower is of three storeys, surmounted by a battlement and Hertfordshire spike. The belfry stairway at the south-east corner and two lower storeys are apparently of earlier date than the nave, but owing to the patching the tower has received it is difficult to say with certainty. There are two good gargoyles on the north and south sides, the large flat stone facing the tower entrance is probably the one described by Salmon as being then at the south entrance and having part of cross fleury upon a serpent, with the upper part of the figure worn off.

There is a dado of flint and stone panels round the base of the tower. On the south side of the west doorway is a holy water stoup (as at Thorley); this is an unusual position, and suggests that it may have been the principal entrance to the church. The belfry contains five bells; in 1552 Edward VI’s commissioners found four in the steeple; these were recast in 1633, probably into the five mentioned by Chauncy; the tenor has been recast since his time, and is dated 1776. The founder of the first four bells is unknown, and the lettering on them is said to be unique; one bell only is now in ringing order, the fittings of the others being in a very bad condition.

The nave, which dates from about 1350, is very lofty for a village church, and is lighted on the south side by three windows, the westernmost being an elegant one of 2-lights, the other two of 3-lights. The windows on the north are similar in design, except that the stone tracery has been removed from the two 3-light windows and wooden carpenter’s gothic substituted ; in the north¬west corner a bad crack has made its appearance, and on each side of the chancel arch is another ominous fissure. The roof, formerly covered with lead, is now slated and in a very bad state. The north door has been long blocked up, but traces of the exterior stonework can still be seen. The nave is about 28 feet wide and (with the tower) 72 feet long.

The chancel arch, which dates from about 1300, has had its pilaster and the stonework behind it cut away, on the north side, at a point about 4 feet from the ground for a height of about 8 feet, and subsequently a wooden pilaster substituted ; about a foot above the capital of this arch on the same side is an iron ring which may have been used for the Lenten veil; the south side of this arch deviates from the perpendicular southwards. There are the remains of a plain string course beneath the two 3-light windows on the south side. Behind the pulpit is the entrance to the rood-loft staircase; the steps have nearly disappeared, and the upper doorway opening has been blocked up ; a small window lights the staircase from the east. Over the blocked-up north door are the Royal Arms of George I.

“No ancient monuments are now visible, except the curious stone in the north-west corner of the nave with two matrices upon it, a full description of which appeared in the Hertfordshire Mercury of June 7th, 1902. Salmon states that many old stones here were robbed of their inscriptions at the time of the Reforming Rebellion (Civil War); of the modern memorials those of Crouch in the chancel and Slatholme in the nave are the most interesting.

The font is octagonal, a plain base supporting the shaft, which is ornamented with two tiers of recessed panels, sixteen in each tier. No trace of ornamentation appears in the lower series of panels, but in nine of the upper are remains of shields, each bearing an emblem of the Passion; one bearing the Crown of Thorns and another the three nails are the best preserved. This shaft supports a bowl ornamented with eight large open quatrefoils; its date is probably about 1450.

The south porch, which is rapidly falling into ruin, retains its original roof timbers, but the masonry has received similar treatment to that of the slype at St. Albans Abbey, the Georgian red brick walls being ornamented with remains of the fifteenth century work. There is an elegant decorated niche over the centre of the porch entrance, possibly intended for the figure of St. Bartholomew; in the west spandrel of the arch is the Tudor Rose, and in the head of the east window some unusual ornamentation. The entrance to the nave is by a plain pointed arch; the tiles or lead with which the porch was roofed have disappeared, and its only protection from the weather is a thin boarding, which serves to direct the rain on to the walls.

The chancel, which is about 34 feet long and 18 feet wide, dates from not later than 1240. In the north wall are two Early English lancet windows, at present blocked up ; in the east, three, which present a most elegant appearance when viewed from the tower; and in the south wall two lancets, a priest’s door, and a late decorated window at the south-west corner; the position of this window and the lowness of its sill from the ground lead to the supposition that it may have fulfilled at least some of the purposes of a low-side window. The colouring on the splays of the east windows is recent, but doubtless follows the lines of previous colour-work ; the centre window, which is a little higher than the others, has a floriated ornament on either side at the head; this appears to be original; the grotesque head, forming a bracket in the centre of the south wall, retains its original red colouring. Apparently this bracket supported the Sanctus bell, as there is a hole nearly an inch in diameter sloping upwards from near the right ear of the grotesque head to the centre of the bracket above it; the lower edge of the hole has been much worn away by the action of a small rope.

At the east end of the south wall is a shoulder-headed recess, which may have been a piscina ; the opening only covers about half its width, as it extends westward in the thickness of the wall for over a foot and contains part of a shelf. In the east wall, north of the altar, is a similar shoulder-headed recess; from this unusual position for a recess it is evident that it was used for some special purpose, and Mr. Anderson, to whom I am indebted for the suggestion, considers it may have been used for the chrism; the exterior stonework of the aperture does not give the appearance of ancient work.

The Rev. Alexander Strange, who was instituted to this vicarage on the 16th April, 1604, and died in 1650, kept his position as vicar here under James I, Charles I, and the Commonwealth, a rather unusual experience. He collected the sum of £418 13s. 8d., and erected the chapel of St. Peter, Buntingford, between 1614 and 1626, at a cost of £418 10s. 1d., placing the altar in the south transept, although the building is east and west. He appears to have been a very broad-minded man, for in the early part of the reign of Charles I he recast the bells and gave an acre of land in Layston to the vicar for service and sermon on the Monday after the feast of St. Michael; then, in 1642, 8 1/2 acres in Great Hormead and Layston to the repairs of the chapel. He is represented on his brass as preaching in the chapel in a loose gown to a congregation of men wearing hats and women with Mary Stuart caps ; the brass also informs us that he was of small bodily strength, but eminently great in spirit.

The other ecclesiastical edifice connected with the parish, the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalen, Alswick, which stood on the south side of Alswick Hall, was returned as decayed on the Dissolution Survey in 1534, and Edward VI’s commissioners reported under the head of things done by men dead:—” Item Sir Henry Parkar layt of Pellam Knight in the said county of Herts haithe Clearlie desolved and puld down the chappell of Allswike in the said Shiar and haithe sold the Belles lead Tymbre and Stone to Willyam hammonde and Henry Grave of Buntingford in the said Countye for the sum of xlli and the said Sr Henrye Durynge his Lyff did hold the Chappell yard of Alswike aforsaid as parcell of his inheritaunce Sainge he boughte the said Chappell wyth thapptennc of the Kinges maiestie. Allso the said Sr henry haith in his handes mor of the Gooddes of the said chappell and ij challisses of Sylluer the verrie contentes therof we knowe not but estimate to the value of vju.”

The Church of Layston appears to have been well supplied with the things necessary for use in the services, for the commissioners of Edward VI found “ a challeice of Sylver and gylt and a sylver challeice, a cope of blewe veluet, a Cope of whyte satten of brudges [Bruges], a vestment of crymsone veluet with an alb theru belongynge and iiij bells in the steple.” Also under the head of “ Goodes solde by common assentes of the inhabitauntes of the parrishes in the countie aforsaid” is this entry: “Itm the par-rysshioners of Layston say that thei haue .... Belles gooddes plait Juells “ This was unlike Kelshall, where the commissioners reported that the “ Churchwardens of Kelshull say that abowte vj yearres past thier was a challise embesyllede owte of the church aforesaid and thei say thei suspect Mr. Todde who was then parsone their and now chapplyne to the kinges Maiestie and one Bobbarte ffordhowss Then clarke their the vallue therof we the said Commyssioners know not.”

From an article in the 1902 Vol II Part I edition of the East Herts Archaeological Society Transactions by H. P. Pollard.


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