1936 2nd Excursion

From the excursions section of the 1936 Vol IV Part III edition of the East Herts Archaeological Society Transactions.

Our member, Miss D. Butt, had made excellent arrangements on Tuesday afternoon, 21st July, when Layston and Buntingford were selected for the excursion.

The party of sixty-five assembled in Layston Church about 3 o’clock, and a paper prepared by Miss Butt was read.

The foundation of old St. Bartholomew’s church goes back so far that we cannot point to any year and say that it was then ready and consecrated for its first parishioners. So I propose that we start from the present day and retrace the steps of its history until we come to the time when an expert guide would be necessary to show us the way.

To-day we parishioners are glad to welcome you to our parish church, restored to use, not very elaborately or artistically perhaps, funds being limited, but yet our parish church, not the ruin of a dear old church, as it was becoming when last you visited it in 1902. (As an example of a loyal parishioner, I would mention the name of Mr. Nevett, the builder, of Buntingford, whose restoration of the porch was a personal gift.)

We still have no electric light, no heating, and, to modern ideas, some very uncomfortable pews, with the heavy moulding which is not easy to lean against especially, I am told, if a small child has to be nursed during the sermon. But on summer evenings it is a lovely walk away from the little town of Buntingford with its stream of holiday traffic along the old Ermine Street, while here across the often almost dry River Rib, up the Causeway, partly alongside the moat of some long forgotten home, we find peace at the church on the crest of the hill.

In the last century we still had an old carved pulpit with a tall panelled back, and over it the sounding board, which was attached to the ring still visible on the north side of the chancel arch. When this was taken down a pillar which had been cut away to get the panelled back into position was replaced by one of wood. The present stone pillar was substituted at the last restoration. The present pulpit is the gift of Sir Charles Heaton Ellis, of Wyddial Hall.

The old altar table is now in the vestry but the communion rails which enclosed it, against the east wall, and not across the chancel as was the usual arrangement, have disappeared.

Then, too, the old reading desk stood here, with a small one in front as you see it in the sketch on the lectern. These have long since been removed, and the desk, at present being cleaned of its many coatings of paint, is all that can be found, and has been brought here for your inspection. It is composed of a number of panels, and was evidently put together to form this desk when the wood was already old.

That there was a rood screen once is evident from the rood stairway, but we have no record of it. Perhaps the desk panels once formed a part of it. The pomegranate design on the carved band round it, which motif became popular through the marriage of Henry VIII with Catherine of Aragon, dates that part to the time after the Dissolution of the monasteries, when the church, which, with the manor of Corneybury, had passed from the ownership of the Prior and Canons of Holy Trinity, London, by royal gift (or rather sale) to Sir Thomas Audley.

Most of the smaller memorials date from the early part of the nineteenth century ; Saunders of Little Court at the west end of the nave ; Bunyon of Royston by the blocked up north doorway. In the chancel those of Goodes, Macklin (still a name in the town until a few weeks ago), the Butts of Corneybury, then patrons of the living and still lay rectors, and the Wogdens, related to the Butts, and whose house became the vicarage when the Rev. J. H. Butt came to the living in 1853. The old vicarage was then at the foot of Hare Street Road, near the town bridge, and part of it still stands.

The eighteenth century parishioners left little mark on their parish church ; a churchwarden William Seamer left his name on a bell dated 1776. A memorial records the death, after a stroke, of a well-beloved curate Richard Codrey, whose vicar Jonathan Gilder, instituted in 1762, was also rector of Aspenden from 1770 until his death in 1779.

Another vicar Thomas Heaton, instituted in 1703, held the living for forty-five years and was rector of Wydial also for thirty years, from 1718 until he died in 1748. There is a memorial to him, his wife, and their son, who was also vicar here. They left a bequest which helps to keep the chapel-of-ease in repair, in the town.

An owner of Alswick Hall, Pike Crouch, lies in the chancel. In early days Alswick had its own little church, of which Layston was the mother church, but apparently no burials took place there. For a long time Alswick has been a part of the manor of Corneybury, but one of the Crouches left Corneybury to his second son and only Alswick to his eldest son who owed him money.

The parishioners had a busy time here in the seventeenth century. Buntingford had become a town with the needs of a town, grammar school, almshouses, sessions, and a new chapel-of-ease in the midst of it all. An energetic young vicar had come to the living to find his people discontented ; the little old chapel of St. John had got into such a ruinous condition that it had to be pulled down, in spite of such bequests as that of Leonard Hide, of Throcking, who left 40s. if “ the parson of Throcking, by whome it was served or other well disposed mann would edify it “. The townspeople rightly thought the parish church a long way off, quite out of reach if the river, then really a river, was in flood. So Alexander Strange, vicar for forty-six years, collected, giving generously himself, the sum of £418 13s. 8d., and built the chapel for £418 10s. 1d. How many new churches now building in the diocese will show a balance of even 3s. 7d. ? Strange recast the four bells of the parish church which now bear his name (spelt Strayng), with those of his churchwardens, Sennocke and Garrett, and left a small bequest, among others, for future vicars to hold a service on the Monday after the Feast of St. Michael, with a sermon on good works. In a book of his kept with our church registers is a long address to his parishioners apparently on the same subject, but it is very difficult to decipher.

The big Crouch memorial on the north wall of the chancel must have been very imposing when first erected about 1605, to John Crouch, of Corneybury, with the arms of Crouch impaling Scott above, and down each side Crouch and those of his various sons-in-law, for his five daughters between them had twelve husbands, all with money and position.

The Slatholme memorial on the south wall of the nave is a quaintly worded record of the Doctor of Physics who died in 1655 “ of whose expert skill his book De Febribus is no small witness “ ; and his three children, John Sennock (was the churchwarden named on the bells a relative or godfather I wonder) ; Susanna, an infant; and Sarah, “ a virgin beautiful of countenance but of a more beautiful soul.”

The Communion plate which the vicar will show you later dates from the end of this century.

In the sixteenth century came the Dissolution when Sir Thomas Audley acquired Corneybury and the living of Layston from the king in 1525. Holy Trinity, Aldgate, had been our patrons and lords of the manor for a long very time, and we have no reason to believe that they were not good and just landlords, though the fact that the manors were occupied by tenants, not owners, probably accounts for the lack of much local history or monuments in the preceding years ; but we have them to thank for our earliest Market Charter, in 1252.

The church porch was probably built in this century, but modern restoration has almost entirely covered up the old work, excepting a few little bits of stonework.

Among the parishioners of the period, whose wills give us any church news, was John Sawyer who gave directions that he was to be buried in the church and left enough money to build a buttress to the north wall. Both James Pole and John Donne directed that they should be buried in the church, and a little earlier Ellen Barbour, in 1494, left £3 to the making of a glass window in the church, or as much of that sum as it would cost and four crosses to be erected over her husband’s sepulchre and her own. Unfortunately, there is to-day no indication where any of them lie ; but the Society of Antiquaries has a rubbing of a brass, said to have laid on the floor of the church; of this a copy is exhibited to-day. The inscription is to John Brande and Alys, his wife, 1527. He may have been one of the Brands of Much Hormead, though the name is found several times in our early registers which commence in 1563.

Then there is a stone slab on the floor in the north-west corner of the nave, of which we show you also a rubbing. The brasses are all missing. Surely this might be a case of their being torn off for the purposes of war, for at the time of the Civil War, 1649, the then old vicar, Strange, and his people probably thought more of their new chapel-of-ease than the old church, which, almost out of sight, out of mind, would be an easy prey. The indents show two couples with inscriptions and their respective families of boys and girls, all on the one slab, an economical and rather unusual arrangement.

According to Edward VI’s Commissioners we were well supplied with church goods ; a silver chalice and one of silver gilt; a cope of crimson velvet and one of white Bruges satin. A vestment of crimson velvet with an alb. There are four bells in the steeple, besides other things which the parishioners were willing to sell. This would be at the Reformation.

Alswick was unlucky at the Dissolution, for it was acquired by Sir Henry Parker, who pulled down the chapel, tooks its goods for his own use and sold the bells, lead, timber, and stone to William Hammond and Henry Grave, of Buntingford.

Of the fifteenth century we can see all there is to record. The nave itself, 52 feet long and 27 feet broad, probably built quite early in the century; and the tower 14 feet square, though it is suggested the belfry steps and part of the tower are older. The nave, lofty for a country church, and the very graceful tower arch, deserve a more dignified roof. The line of the old roof can be seen over the chancel arch. Our old pews were surely made by a parishioner of this century. The font, too, belongs to about the same time. It still shows some of the emblems of the Passion on the small shields of its pedestal, but being of clunch it is easily damaged, and time, not malice, may be responsible for its present defaced condition. The crosses scratched on the eight quatrefoil panels of the bowl should be consecration crosses, but so many seems unusual.

The stone corbel or bracket on the south wall of the chancel, with its grotesque head still bearing a little colouring, which is at least fifteenth century, bore a sanctus bell. A worn hole on the sanctuary side shows where the bell cord passed through. The little priest’s door and the larger window next to it are of fourteenth century date. Earliest of all is the early thirteenth century chancel itself, with its seven graceful little lancet windows, two of which are blocked by the Crouch monument. There is a thirteenth century piscina in the south wall and an aumbry on the north side of the altar. Of the choir stalls we can only say that they serve their purpose. We can only hope to keep the old church in decent repair and give it such personal service as is in our power, and then to hand it on to those who can do more, not only to restore its past dignity and grace, but also to leave a worthy record of their service as parishioners.

When you leave the church and walk round its exterior you will notice one or two things. There are Tudor bricks in the buttress of the south wall near the chancel. One buttress of the north wall contains tiles or bricks which are said to be Roman. Perhaps the other buttress there is John Sawyer’s legacy. At the tower the chequer-work of the base course, of 9 in. squares of stone and flints, is a noticeable piece of ornament as are also the gargoyles which top the tower.

Only one other church in the county has a holy water stoup at its west door. This suggests that this was at one time the main entrance.The old weathercock was blown down a few months ago and now lies by the bells in the belfry. Opposite the west door lies an old tomb cover ; this is probably the one which Salmon describes as being then at the south entrance and used as a step. Now no cross or lettering can be seen on it. This could be more worthily preserved if it was placed inside the church.

In the churchyard old parishioners point out the tomb of John Shakespear, citizen and founder of London.

Right at the beginning of the twelfth century the Prior and Canons of Holy Trinity, Aldgate, received the gift of the manor of Corneybury, which included the church of Layston, from Hugh Triket. The donor had inherited it from his father, probably the Robert to whom they had been granted by Count Eustace of Boulogne at the time of the Conquest, but no church is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Was there a church here perhaps in ruins then, which the newcomers partially restored before handing it over to the London community ? The present church seems to have grown entirely under their care, but of any Norman or Saxon predecessor on its site we can only make conjecture.

At the close remarks were made on the well-kept condition of the church as compared with its neglected state only a few years ago. This is very largely due to Miss Butt’s energy and actual personal labour. She had had brought to the church, specially for the occasion, the discarded old reading desk, which she had rescued from destruction, and cleaned of its many coats of paint. It appears to have been made up of carved fragments, perhaps of the former roodscreen. She also exhibited an interesting old drawing of the interior of the church, showing the reading desk in position.

Returning to Buntingford, we visited, by kind permission of Mrs. Ashford, her beautiful old house and garden, River Green. Here the Hon. Secretary read some notes, in which he put forward some suggestions on the place names of Layston, Alswick, and Alfladewick.

The Origin of Layston and Buntingford

In the district which later became the parish of Layston there is a series of manor names, whose meaning has never been satisfactorily explained. Firstly there is Layston itself which does not figure in the Domesday Book, 1086, as such, but whose various holdings are called Icheton. Buntingford is entirely absent; Alfladewick (afterwards Beauchamps) appears as Alfledawicha ; and Alswick as Alsieswiche.

Our earliest county historian Chauncy does not attempt to cope with these names, expansive as he is on every extraneous subject which he can possibly, on the slightest excuse, drag into his history. He designates the place simply as Icheton, Layston, or Lefstanchirche. Salmon is bolder, and discourses at length on Icheton, which he equates territorially with Layston, and suggests a Celtic derivation from Iche or Ichen, an elbow or angle, naively believing that the Iceni of Norfolk were so named by the Romans because they dwelt in an angle more or less, of Britain. He goes further and suggests a similar derivation for Corney Bury ; as Corney means a horn or elbow. But he is uncertain whether this angle or horn represented a piece of land jutting into another vill, or lying in the angle of a stream. He surmises that Icheton afterwards became Lefstanchirche, owing to the building of a church there by an unknown Saxon named Leofstan. Certainly Leofstan is a purely Saxon and fairly common name. Professor Skeat suggests that this Leofstan was the Abbot of St. Albans, who ruled over that abbey from about 1048 until 1066. But I cannot find that he was of sufficient merit and distinction in secular or religious circles to have a church named after him seventy years after his death. I would suggest that the place name of Layston, in some longer Saxon form, existed a century or so before the Conquest and by Domesday date had been superseded by that of Icheton, and was revived in a debased form when a new church was built in the twelfth century. Variants of Icheton are, in the twelfth century, Hitchintuna, and in the thirteenth century, Ykinton and Hygenton. It was then a portion only of Layston and disappeared entirely in the next century, owing, it is surmised, to its absorption into the adjacent Buckland manor.

The Victoria County History says (iv, 77) that the first documentary mention of Layston occurs in 1136, as Leofstanchirche, and that Alswick was probably before that date the lord’s church ; but with the building of Layston church the ecclesiastical parish was formed and Alswick became attached to it only as a chapelry. A footnote makes the ingenious suggestion that Alswick was a timber built church and the new one being of masonry was called Le Stane Church.

Salmon places together Alswick and Alfladewick as probably the dwelling of some Saxon lady Alfleda ; and it seems that this suggestion has more likelihood in fact than first appears. Professor Skeat opines that the lengthened form of the Domesday Alsieswiche may be Alsiges-wiche or Aethelsigeswiche, and hence the name would represent the dwelling of Aethelsige ; and although he does not include Alfladewick in his work on the Placenames of Herts, because it no longer survives, the lengthened form of that name would be Aethelfledawicha, meaning the dwelling of Aethelfleda.

Now let us turn to W. G. Searle’s Anglo-Saxon Bishops, Kings, and Nobles, 1899. There we find that Aethelstan the Half-King, and eladorman of East Anglia, who died in 956, married Aethelflaeda the sister of Brithnoth the hero of Maldon and daughter of Beorhthelm Bryhtelm ; and that Aethelsige was a brother of Aethelstan, both being sons of Aethelred. So here at Layston we have before 956 Aethelstan’s wife Aethelflaeda and his brother Aethelsige both having their dwelling. May we not go a step farther and suggest that the name Layston itself commemorates Aethelstan, by the elision, in course of time, of the first part of his name. So the imaginary Saxon Leofstan of the twelfth century disappears, and is replaced by Aelstan of the tenth century. Thus the history of Layston is taken back at least a century earlier than has hitherto been suspected.

At Layston the site of the wick or dwelling of the manor lord is marked by two moats connected with each other and having one side in common. They are contiguous to the churchyard, and perhaps at one time, as was the Saxon custom, a branch of these moats enclosed the churchyard. Around this centre would be the settlement of the tillers of the lord’s lands.

Dr. Mortimer Wheeler in his Report on the Excavations of Verulamium, a Belgic and two Roman Cities, just published, in speaking of the migration from the Belgic city in Prae Wood down to the Watling Street, in the middle of the first century A.D., remarks that “ it was inevitable that this arterial highway should attract towards itself the population of the plateau above, and that the development of the city should provide an instance of that valleyward drift of population which has been recognized as a definite phase in social evolution “. Here at Layston, though at a much later date, the same migration from the uplands to the roadside took place. Stevenage is another example of it in Herts. Exactly when this commenced we cannot say, but if the place name Buntingford is as Professor Skeat says, Anglo-Saxon, and meaning “ the ford of the sons of Bunt “, and we bear in mind the fact that Layston does not appear in the Domesday Book, 1086, the wick of Aethelstan must, long before that date, have been forsaken and its name lost, through this migration to the roadside of the Ermine Street. Buntingford can, therefore, apparently be ascribed to late in the Anglo-Saxon period. But the name of the new settlement had not, in 1086, come into general use ; in fact, it is not until early in the thirteenth century that any records of it are found. A document of 1288 describes it as a hamlet. To-day, although it has long attained the dignity of an important village, it has no parish of its own but lies in Layston, Throcking, Aspenden, and Wyddial. In the fourteenth century it must have been growing rapidly and as a centre of trade it had become more important than the neighbouring villages. There had been a weekly market at Chipping, half a mile to the north, in 1252. This market Elizabeth de Burgh the lord of the manor of Buckland received licence to transfer to Buntingford in 1360, and also obtained the grant of an annual fair there. Throughout many centuries the market, in spite of various vicissitudes, continued to be maintained at Buntingford, and the fair, on St. Peter’s Day, 29th June, still survives. In 1631 the justices of the peace were holding sessions here, and a house of correction or bridewell from as early as 1638 still stands though it ceased to function in the early years of the nineteenth century, and is now occupied as cottages.

The members were very loath to leave River Green, but were persuaded to do so by the very kind welcome, and bountiful tea which awaited them, by Mr. and Mrs. C. W. Hartnett, at The Manor, Buntingford. This was followed by a short visit to St. Peter’s Chapel-of-Ease, where Mr. G. H. Maughan, in the unavoidable absence of the vicar, the Rev. J. W. Macartney, exhibited the church plate and the parish registers. A short paper was read on ecclesiastical Buntingford.

Ecclesiastical Buntingford

The ecclesiastical history of Buntingford appears to have commenced towards the end of the thirteenth century when the lord of the manor of Throcking founded the chapel of St. John the Baptist, on the site now occupied by St. Peter’s Chapel-of-Ease, on the west side of Ermine Street, and just north of that street’s crossing of the River Rib. Its advowson belonged to him and was attached to a part of his manor called Vabadun’s fee. In 1292, Roger Brian, the then lord of Throcking manor, founded a chantry to it and granted two acres of land and 100s. rent, Hinxworth, Clothall, Throcking, and Aspenden to the support of its chaplain. There is a record that thirty-five years later, about 1333, the rector of Aspenden built an oratory near the king’s highway ; but five years later, as it was said to be an inconvenience to travellers passing through on foot in winter, it was taken into the king’s hands. But an inquisition found that it was of benefit to the town. This oratory may, in fact, have been the chapel itself, which was of great convenience to the people of Buntingford since they were frequently prevented from attending Layston church by the floods of the River Rib. By 1508 the building was evidently in need of considerable repair, as Leonard Hyde, in his will, made February 1508-9, left 40s. for its “ fynysshyng ... if the parson of Throcking or any other well disposed man will it edify “. It would appear that then there was no chaplain but that it was served by the rector of Throcking. By the end of the sixteenth century the chapel was an absolute ruin and unusable. The calamity was successfully overcome by the energy and perseverance of the vicar of Layston, the Rev. Alexander Strange. With indomitable courage, and taking as his motto “ Begghard or beggard “, he collected the money and in 1614 the edifice in which we are assembled to-day was commenced. By the next year the east wall at least was high enough to have the tablet placed in it inscribed DOMVS ORATIONIS, 1615. Subscriptions were collected to the sum of £418 13s. 8d., and when finished and licensed in 1626 as a chapel-of-ease, dedicated to St. Peter it had cost £418 10s. Id. Owing probably to exigencies of space the orientation was varied so that the chancel end is south instead of east.

In such a modern building medieval memorials such as effigies and brasses have no place ; yet there are some interesting features. The chief one is an engraved brass plate which hangs in a gilt frame against the south wall of the east transept. It is dated 1620, and purports to show the interior of the chapel during divine service. Some of the congregation sit in pews, but most of them are standing in the aisle and in front of the pulpit. The preacher habited in a loose gown holds a book in his right hand, and by him is an hour-glass. Some of the women wear Mary Stewart bonnets, and others and the men high round hats with broad brims. The men have short cloaks and loose knee breeches. All wear the ruff of the early years of James I. At the top an inscription in Latin records that Alexander Strange had the chapel built; and at the bottom another in Greek states that “Alexander of small bodily strength, but eminently great in spirit, built our church, or temple, for us “. In connection with the hour-glass thus depicted, it was the custom of the preacher to turn the glass at the commence¬ment of his discourse and to continue it until all the sand had passed through. Some Puritan divines even continued their sermons two glasses long. Fuller, in his Worthies of England, 1662, relates of Lawrence Chaderton, that on one occasion he “ concluded his sermon, which was of two hours duration at least, saying that he would no longer trespass on their patience ; whereupon the congregation cried out, ‘ For God’s sake, sir, go on, go on.’ So he was surprised into a longer discourse, beyond his expectation, in satisfaction of their importunity, and though on a sudden, performed it to their contentment and his commendation”.

In the north window is an oval of stained glass bearing the arms of Reynolds ; Quarterly, 1 & 4 ; Argent, a chevron Sable, between three rooks proper, each holding an ermine tail in its beak Sable ; 2 & 3, Or a lion or leopard guardant Gules ; Crest, a rook as in the arms. Below an inscription records that “ This window was made & —ed at the only Charges of William and Mary Reynolds the sonne & daughter of Lewes Reynolds somtyme vicar of Laist—e, 1622”.

One other memorial is a small oval brass in the east transept com¬memorating the Rev. Samuel Collins, who was vicar of Layston, and his wife Mary, “ Both of ancient families near the Clee Hills, in Shrop¬shire. He died 16th April, 1762. She died 9th June, 1767.”

Some of the chancel seats have panels with arabesque carving as also has the pulpit, which was made up with portions of these panels from pews in the nave, when the church was restored in 1899. Some of the chancel seats have also buttressed ends similar to those in Layston church from which they probably came.
The Layston church plate, which is used here, consists of a silver gilt cup, 1681, a silver gilt paten, and large salver both dated 1683. The parish registers commence in 1563.

The afternoon ended with an inspection of the Seth Ward Almshouses, where Captain H. H. Williams, one of the trustees, gave a most interest¬ing talk on the history of the foundation.


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