EWELME - A ROMANTIC VILLAGE ITS PAST AND PRESENT. ITS PEOPLE AND ITS HISTORY.
THE CHURCH, ALMSHOUSES and SCHOOL
Ewelme Church was rebuilt about the year 1436 by William and Alice de la Pole, on the site of an older building, of which the only remains are the Western belfry arch, which is Early English in style, and possibly the base of the font; it was usually the custom to embody some portion of the older Church in the newer building. The Church is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, and is a typical specimen of the spacious well-lighted perpendicular architecture of that day.
A peculiarity of Ewelme Church is its general likeness to the East Anglian Churches, it being built, as they often are, of mixed flint and stone, and its red brick battlements add a touch of colour to its grey outline. The building is said to have been modelled on Wingfield Church in Suffolk, another Manor of William de la Pole; who is buried in that Church. It must hove been completed within a few years as the style is so thoroughly uniform. It has no chancel arch, which adds to the extreme lightness of the interior, nave and chancel continuing in an unbroken line, and being further lighted by clerestory windows. The Church has only two stained glass windows, viz: the East window (the Crucifixion) which is a particularly fine example of Clayton and Bell's work and most important, the East window of St John Baptist's Chapel, which is entirely composed of scraps of medieval glass, and jewel-like, but without any coherent pattern.
There are several Consecration Crosses still to be traced on the North wall, both inside and out.
The front cover is a fine oak canopy of Tudor work, a Tudor rose forming the leaden weight at the top which is inscribed with the date 1513.
The corbel-head on the arch over the Font with the flowing hair and beard is said to represent Edward III, who would very naturally be commemorated by Duchess Alice in her Church, as her grandfather Geoffrey Chaucer's patron. It is said to bear a remarkable likeness to portraits of that King.
Two small stone heads on either side of the belfry arch are said to symbolize either Church and State, or, more fancifully, Duchess Alice's two nieces, one of whom became a nun. The heads are evidently intended as brackets for lights.
The only relic of an older Church among the monuments is a plain slab of grey marble in front of the screen, which marks the grave of Michael de la Pole, killed at Agincourt.
The Rood-Screen is particularly interesting, as it was only about sixty years ago that it was discovered by Mr Aymer Vallance (the screen expert) as being of a type very rare in England; namely, consisting partly of hand-wrought iron bars, with oak panels at the base, and remains of the ancient rood-loft above, with the two narrow openings as entrances still in the chancel walls and a blocked-up doorway in the-north wall. The old fasten-tags, iron bolt and lock still remain.
As the whole screen had been covered over with thick yellow paint and cut down from its original height, the discovery of its age and rarity was an event at the time, and the yellow paint was carefully removed, when the original fifteenth century patterns in colour became faintly visible underneath, red predominating on the iron uprights, while on the edge of the panels ran a narrow border of black and white scroll work, the rest apparently having been painted a dull blue with the sacred emblem I.H.S. design in gold, thus corresponding with the design on the walls of St John's Chapel. It was proposed at the time to restore the original colours as far as possible, but the scheme met with little support and so never materialised.
A peculiar custom in Ewelme Church (probably dating from medieval times) was the separation of the sexes during the services, men sitting in the left aisle and women on the right, but this rather uncomfortable usage gradually lapsed and is now almost a thing forgotten.
Monuments in the Church
There are many monuments in the Church of varying interest, including in all eight brasses with figures, besides smaller tablets.
In the chancel the most interesting memorials are the stone tablet to Col. Francis Martyn, protector of the Church., and also to Dorothy , Countess of Berkshire, quaintly described as “Mother of these two young gentlemen, and wife of Charles, Earl of Berkshire and daughter of the Earl of Rivers”, Ob. 6 Dec. 1691 Aetat 80.
There is too, a long-winded epitaph to one of the Howards of Norfolk, John, who died as a boy. After lamenting his early death, the epitaph concludes by saying: “ Tis no wonder Death our hopes beguiled, He's seldom old that will not bee a child ”. But his parents had the consolation of a funeral ode in the grand manner by Edmund Waller.
Also in the chancel there is a quaint little Baroque tablet to a child, with an elaborate Latin inscription, while the monument shows gilt funeral urn, out of which the child is being uncomfortably hauled by two lusty young angels, who are waiting to present him with a solid pair of glided wings and heavy crown composed of golden laurels. No wonder the child, wrapped in shroud and grave-clothes, appears a little loth to leave the funeral urn.
Inscriptions on Brasses
Here lyeth buried Thomas Broke, Esquire, late Knight-at-Armes to our Sovereign Lord, King Henry VIII, and Anne his wife, which Thomas deceased the XXV day of September, the yere of our Lord M.D. XVIII, and the said Anne deceased the --- day of --- the yere of our Lord M.D. ---
“ On whose soules Jesu have mercy ”.
(Thomas Broke (above) directed in his will that he should be buried before the “ Great Rood of Ewelme ” which is exactly the spot the brass now occupies. It shows full length effigies of himself and his wife.)
Monuments of Chaplains, Rectors and Masters of the Almshouses .
“ Hic jacet Magister Henric Mowalt, gndm. Rector iste ecclies, qui obiit XXIIII die rnens Septembris anno dm. MCCCCLXVIII. Cui an. ppicietur Deus. Amen”.
Hic jacet Dmns. Johes Bradstano, qudm Rector iste ecclie. qui obiit VII die Marcii Anno dn. millinio CCCCLVIII. “Cuius an. Ppicietur Des. Amen”.
Hic jacet Dmnus Simon Brayles, gndmn. Caplan doma. Alicie ducissie Suffolcie ac Rector ecclie. de Chedesey in corn. Somerset. qui obiit
XXX die Aprilis Anno dmi. M.CCCCLXIX. “Cui. an. ppiciet De - "
Hic jacet Dmnus Johnes Saynesbury,* gndm. Rector isti ecclies. qui obiit. XXVII die mens Augusti
a. Dm. millinio CCCCLIIII. “Cui an. ppicietur
Obiit Magister Johns. Spence in sacra Theologia bachelor et Magister dom. Eliemosinary de Ewelme, qui obiit prim. die mensis Apriles anno domi. M.CCCC. Ann. XVII. (Corners inscribed “Jesu, Mercy, Helpe, Ladye ”).
(Full length figure in the habit of an Augustinian monk, presumably from Dorchester.)
Hic jacet domns. Willms. Brawthaite, qundm.
Magr. istuis Elyomosinare qui obiit V die
Januari A. DM. M.CCCCLXXXXVII. “cui. an.
ppicietur Deus .”
* (Sir John Saynesbury (or Seynesbury) was the first Master of the Almshouses appointed by William and Alice de la Pole.) Brasses to Lay-Folk
“ Orate pro. Anima Henrice Lee fullonis et civis London isti sepultur. in ecclia de Aldechurch et Alicie uxoris ejus his jacet qui obiit A.dm, M.CCCC LXXXXIIII VIII die Marcii ”.
His jacet Thomas Vernon Armiger, filius Ricardi Vernon militia qui obiit quarto die Decembre a DM M.CCCCLXXI. “ Cui. an. ppiciet Deus ”.
His jacet Robert Chard Armiger', qui obit sexto-decimo die mensis Septembris Anno Domini Millimo CCCC L XXIIII. “ Cuius anima propicietur Deus. Amen ”.
“ Pray for the soule of John Hacheman, which deceased the 21st day of Marche the yere of our Lord M.D.XIII. On whose soule Jesu, have mercy ”.
Here lyeth Edward Norrys late the seconde son of Henry Norrys Esquire and Mary Ffynes, his wife, daughter of Lord Dacres, which Henry was seconde son to Sir Edwarde Norrys, Knt., and of Dame Fuldwithe his wyfe, and Father to the Lord Lovell, which Edwarde was son and heyre to Sir William Norrys, Knight. The said Edwarde deceased at his Manor of Fyne-Perys the XVI day of July the yere of our Lord God M.CCCCCXIV, “ On whose soule Jesu, have mercy ”.
(On a later brass, presumed to be of Flemish make, partly Latin and partly English) -
Here by lyeth (buried) Catherine Palmer, late wife of Thomas Palmer, which died the XXVIth day of June Ano. Dmi. 1599. Beinge XXXIIII yeres old leaving behind her VI sones and one daughter dying in childbed. “ Hominus gloria in vitro posita ”.
Hic juxta situs est Franciscus Martyn de Ewelme in Comitat de Oxon. Armiger. Qui obit non. die Junii. Anno Domi. 1682. Aetatis 74. Hoc monumentum Johns Martyn Arm. Unus Execntorum posuit.
St John Baptist's Chapel
The Chapel of St John the Baptist on the South side of the Chancel is a beautiful specimen of rich perpendicular work. The roof, panelled and embossed with angels bearing shields ornamented with the I H S emblem, is of Spanish chestnut and is now in perfect preservation. Of this wood it is said that, “ over it the spider crawl eth not ”.
The floor of the Sanctuary is also remarkable as being paved with the original encaustic tiles, bearing the Burghersh and Roet arms (double-tailed lion and wheel, yellow on red ground.)
The East window is a collection of fragments of medieval glass, all that remains, alas, in the Church.
The Altar is the work of Mr Comper, being given in 1903 by the late Misses Maxwell in memory of their two brothers. It is in the fifteenth century English style, and includes the two Oxfordshire saints, St Berinus of Dorchester and St Frideswide of Oxford, as also the two soldier saints, St George and St Alban, with the Marwell arms entwined in the design. There is a fine old “ poppyhead ” oak seat in the chapel, the sole remnant of the original seating, before the mustard coloured pews usurped their place.
The walls are decorated with the I H S monogram, in alternate groups of black and red and with texts in Gothic lettering bordering the ceiling. (This repetition of the I H S decoration was no doubt intended to harmonise with the original painting on the screen.
But the chief glory of the chapel is Alice, Duchess of Suffolk's tomb. The tomb is of alabaster and some experts believe it to be of Italian craftsmanship, because of its extreme beauty and delicacy of ornament, perhaps even the work of Torregiano himself. Alice rests in peace in her full-length alabaster effigy; “Serene Princess”, as she is called in the Latin inscription on the tomb - a dignified figure, “grande dame” to the tips of her long fingers, her wedding ring on her right hand and the Order of the Garter on her left wrist.* This is a distinction granted to few women and marks the friendship between Suffolk and his wife and Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. Her head lies on a pillow, under a canopy upheld by two angels, and beneath her veil and coronet her chiselled features look stern and rather sad, but with a peaceful expression round the mouth. Truly she had an eventful life with little rest or security during her long years, for she lived to be 71.
Beside her wimple and cloak, she is clad in a tight-fitting cote-hardie and a tunic falling in straight folds to her feet, which rest upon the Burghersh lion while below is a little bracket for a light. (It is usual for a woman to have a small dog at her feet in effigy, so that Alice's lion is an added distinction.)
The inscription on the tomb runs as follows:
“ Orate pro Anima Serenissimae Principissae Aliciae Ducissae Suffolciae Hujus Ecclesiae Patronae, et Prlmae Fundatricis Hujus Eleemosynariae Quae obit XX Die Mensis Maii Anno 1475 ”.
The title of “ Most Serene Princess ” she probably acquired by her son's marriage to Edward IV's sister, he being at one time declared heir to the throne by Richard III.
*Queen Victoria, before her Coronation, is said to have sent to Ewelme to ascertain the correct way for a woman to wear the Garter. The tomb is flanked on either side by eight groups of angels, alternatively gilt and feathered or wearing ecclesiastical robes. They bear shields painted in colour with the arms of the many great families with which the de in Poles and Alice through her two marriages could claim connection.
The tomb lies in a sort of niche with a canopy while overhead are ornamentations of a coarser nature in stone, with angel heads of inferior workmanship. Over them again, on four pinnacles on each side are eight very curious wooden figures of angels and archangels, differentiated by the former wearing priestly robes and the latter being covered by feathered wings.
These angels are said by experts to be among the earliest known examples of angel figures in English wood carving. (Photographs of them may be seen in the South Kensington Museum).
Beneath the tomb is a grating, or open crypt, wherein lies an effigy of the Duchess in her grave-clothes, a shrunken travesty of the body lying above in splendour. The gruesome was never very far from the medieval mind. On the roof of this crypt are two frescoes of rather crude colouring and execution, but remarkable as being examples of work done for its own sake, for these frescoes remain invisible except from a prone position on the floor of the chancel. They represent St John Baptist, the Annunciation and St Mary Magdalene.
(Framed copies of these frescoes hang in the chancel.)
List of Coats of Arms in South Side of Tomb
1. De la Pole and Burghersh quartering and impaling England.
2. De la Pole impaling Burghersh.
3. De la Pole quartering Burghersh.
5. Montacute and Monthermar, quartering and impaling Burghersh.
6. Roet (wheel).
7. England impaling Roet.
8. Roet impaling Burghersh.
On the North Side
1. De la Pole impaling England.
2. De la Pole.
4. Roet quartering Burghersh.
5. De la Pole quartering Burghersh.
6. Montacute and Monthermar quartering and impaling Mohun.
7. De la Pole impaling Neville.
8. Roet impaling Burghersh.
The Chaucer Tomb
The monument to Thomas Chaucer and Matilda Burghersh his wife is an alter-tomb of grey Purbeck marble with full length brass effigies of the couple, he being in complete armour with a sword at his side and a unicorn at his feet, while his wife is robed in cote-hardie and cloak, with gorget and wimple, while at her feet is a double- tailed lion or 1eopard. These brasses are of the best period. At each corner of the tomb are the family coats of arms, while on the sides of the tomb facing the chapel are the following coats of arms, painted in vivid colours. (The tomb was restored by Dr Kidd, Rector of Ewelme in 1848 and the shields repainted.)
Coats of Arms on and Around the Tomb
(on upper surface)
1. Gules - 3 Katherine Wheels or Roet.
2. Gules - a chief sable, lion rampant, queue fourchee, or Burghersh.
3. Quarterly, Roet and Burghersh.
4. Roet impaling Burghersh.
(round the tomb)
5. Quarterly France and England, a label Ermine, impaling Roet.
6. Quarterly France and England, a label argent, each label charged 3 Torteaux, impaling Mohun.
7. Quarterly France and England, Bord, Gobony, Argent and Azure.
8. Quarterly France and England, a label with Tort, impaling Neville.
9. Quarterly France and England, a Bord, Gobony, Ermine and Azure.
10. England, with a label argent, impaling Neville.
11. Quarterly France and England, Gobony, Argent and Azure.
12. Stafford impaling Neville.
13. Quarterly Montague and Monthermar, impaling Burghersh.
14. Beauchamp quarterly Newburgh.
15. Courtenay, Earl of Devonshire, impaling quarterly France and England within a Bord, Argent and Azure.
16. Quarterly Montague and Monthermar, impaling Mohun.
17. Quarterly Montague and Monthermar, quartering Neville with label Gobony.
18. De la Pole quartering Burghersh.
19. Despencer impaling Burghersh.
20. Mohun impaling Burghersh.
21. Neville, impaling quarterly France and England a label Ermine.
22. Quarterly Lovane and Lucy impaling Neville.
23. Quaplade or Poynings, (Quaere colours?) impaling Burghersh.
24. Strange impaling Burghersh.
Inscription on a brass scroll :
“ Thomas Chaucer armg. qnom. dons istae ville et patronus istae ecclie qui obiit XXVIII die mensis Novembris Anno Dni MLL MCCCXXXIIII et Matildis Uxor ejus que obiit XXVII die mens Aprilis A. Dni. MCCCCXXXVI ”.
On the two arches behind the tomb are corbels, one representing St Katherine, crowned, bearing in her left hand a wheel (badge of Roet) while her right hand holds a shield with the arms of Burghersh, the other shows St Mary Magdalene, with a pot of ointment in her right hand and with a shield
bearing the arms of Roet in her left .
Inside the Chancel are two other corbels, also painted and gilt, bearing the Root arms with a ducal coronet and the Chaucer unicorn crest.
Above the south porch of the Church on the outside wall is a sundial or Mass Clock as they were called in former times. THE ALMSHOUSES
From the west door of the Church a covered way with steps leads down to the Almshouses, St John's Hospital, or God's House at Ewelme, as the older titles run. Through this portico the thirteen old men can pass up under shelter to the daily service in St John's Chapel which they are bound under the Suffolk Trust to attend.
Under the original statutes they were obliged to attend Mass and Evensong every day and to pray for the souls of their benefactors in the Chapel.
This obligation has been reduced to daily attendance at Matins, which the old men, I regret to say, used to like to avoid when possible! The names of William and Alice de la Pole, benefactors and founders, were restored in a prayer for daily use under the joint influence of my father when Rector, and Sir William Osler, then Master of the Almshouses. This prayer was taken from a similar foundation at Lambourne, Berks.
The original foundation in 1442 was to consist of twelve old men, bachelors, poor and in reduced circumstances, but not from the lowest class of life. Over them was set the thirteenth man, who was to be of a superior type, a kind of Head-brother to the twelve. All were to wear a habit consisting of black tabards or gowns of wool with a red cross upon the breast. A chaplain was provided who was to live in one part of the present Master's rooms, the other half was to be occupied by the grammar-master, also in Holy Orders, who was to teach in the school founded at the same time by the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk. The Hospital (Almshouses) was to draw its revenue, 100 marks yearly, from the Manors of Ewelme, Marsh Gibbon, Ramridge, and Connock, The original charter could still be seen in the boardroom of the Master's house in an excellent state of preservation, drawn up in Latin and in English, beautifully illuminated, and with Suffolk's signature attached, together with several seals, as well as title-deeds and gifts of land, some of them bearing the Royal Seal of Henry VI. Some of the deeds date back to 1300 and are in Norman French. The boardroom is panelled but nothing remains of the ancient furniture.
The Almshouses themselves are built of red brick in herring-bone pattern and timbered. They comprise a quadrangle surrounded by a cloister walk with a well in the centre of the square. The men's houses have sloping tiled roofs and dormer windows. Each man has two rooms allotted to him. Most of the original stringent regulations have fallen into disuse within the course of time; the habit has been discarded and the almsmen may now have their wives living with them. The widows' lot was often hard, as when their husbands died they had to turn out of their homes: occasionally they had been known, by a happy compromise, to marry the incoming man! The arch leading from the cloisters to the school is of brick tracery with a trefoil head, said to be unique in England for that and the step-gables surmounting the arch are more characteristic of Holland, and it has been suggested that a Flemish architect may have been employed. (Since this was written the Ewelme Trustees have completely renovated the interiors of the almshouses while preserving the outside in its original appearance. The cloister now comprises nine comfortable modernised dwellings for elderly folk. Widows are allowed to remain, but the rules still exclude single ladies.)
The last of this group of the Suffolk buildings is the School. It was founded originally as a Grammar-school, a place of superior education where Latin would be taught by the Grammar-Master, also part of the Foundation, and a house was provided for his use. Gradually, however, its prosperity declined, and sometime in the nineteenth century when the attendance had sunk to three or four boys, it was converted into a Church Primary School, and is so still. It has been altered and brought up to date several times to suit modern requirements.* * Ewelme school children are proud of their historic surroundings. Theirs is the oldest school building in the country to be in use as a state primary school. The upper classroom is particularly interesting for its magnificent roof beams, probably made from ship's timbers.
The School is a fine rectangular red brick building two storeys high and has mullioned windows supported by corbels (angels bearing shields), mullions and corbels being of stone.
The money which formerly supplied the Grammar-Master's salary was at one time used for the endowments of two scholarships, known as the “Ewelme Scholarships”, one to the value of £20 and the other of £40 annually. The Scholarships were reserved for boys or girls from the Manors of Ewelme, Marsh Baldon, Rambridge and Connock, and were administered by the Trustees. The Scholarships still exist; terms and eligibility have, I think, been varied.