- A nice Norman tower
- Great early 19th century entrance gates
- A complicated history of building
- Very distinctive Victorian pews
- Good, varied stained glass
- A couple of good carved chairs in the chancel
- A very fine west gallery
- A bookish memorial
Back in1813 the Napoleon was still warring away but losing far too many battles, the Brits and Yanks were continuing their tragic war of 1812, China banned opium, Beethoven debuted his 7th Symphony and the good folks of Hemyock got themselves this fantabulous church gate. A definite win for Hemyock, I’m thinking.
Plus those globes either side and that dinky one on top, a prophecy of Britain being top of the heap for the next century or so. Not that that news would alter life here.
Cows, crops and caring surely ruled the days ever. Though tradition has its downside and by the 1880s the butter that they used to sell around the country, well
The undisguised and unmistakeable disgust with which these large dealers received the mention of Devonshire butter touched the Devonshire interviewers to the core
Western Times 21/8/1886
So some local farmers built a factory here, researched new packaging techniques, and got back to producing the best butter in Europe.
Hemyock Church of St Mary
Retrench, redesign, rebuild, succeed, the story of this church a number of times as well, and this version is a sweetie. Why, that new door, that is a real keeper that is, the way the joinery work has been designed to reflect the arches and the use of glass messaging that the church is open to all always.
Plus that tower porch on the left, a real puzzler. It has confused many a better person than me, so an outline only…
That tower is Norman, and that tiny chancel on the right is also suspiciously small, early chancels were much smaller than later ones generally. The nave and aisle were nearly entirely rebuilt in the late nineteenth century, keeping to the same ground plan though.
Hemyock church tower
Inside the tower though there are early Norman arches to the north, south and east. The west one might have been destroyed when they put that big window in above.
So this tower probably sat in the middle of a largish Norman church, with bits going off it on every side. Now there’s a stream to the west, but when medieval peeps saw a stream they saw something to divert for fishponds, mills, cloth washing, the castle moat (the castle is next door, though it is a bit more of a manor) or other joys back in the day, and there is no certainty that it followed the same path earlier.
Likely then a big Norman church, downsized at one point and just the present nave and chancel kept, the tower south transept adapted into a porch, then probably more than once altered again until we have this darling.
Now strapped together as we all tend to end up with the years bearing down…
Entering Hemyock church
It is very nice indeed, and going in there are two things to leap to attention.
One is the chancel, the light streaming through that large, low east window, coloured already but then bouncing off the red, the sacred blazing from such a comparatively small space. It is a powerful set up, especially with that colouring.
The real classy Victorian pews
The second is these pews. The bench ends come to my chest height, and I am a tall lad; they stand strongly above the benches are really rather arresting in a very good way.
It is not just their size, which has some effect, but also the design with those wonderful curves mirrored by the moulding, contrasting with the sharp points the top.
And the differing depths of the design, as we can see here. Very nice indeed.
The choir stalls want their turn too
And then from the chancel the choir stalls want to show their charms, with those exquisite curves on each one, the slight drop at the top that makes it just right, that well-coloured wood and of course the little passion flower (symbol of the Holy Trinity) carved on the end.
Just really nice design, I venture. Just. But then again it might easier to impress with grandiose stuff, but getting simple and modest on point is mighty challenging.
And then taking the time to really look and recognise it, that is such a thing too, and a deal of pleasure in the art of so doing, for sure.
Some subtle stained glass
In truth there are a lot of nice simple things in this church, like this window for example. That pastel glass in the top lights and the shading of the lower glass adds so much interest to the whole.
Then there are sweet curves of the surround, really very nice and framing the glass so well. A pretty variation on what could have been just a standard Neo-gothic design.
Hemyock church chancel
The present interior of the chancel is intriguing; that low red ceiling is unusual. Whether it is the original colouring or not I have no idea; I have seen red ceilings on a couple or so of Victorian chancels down here, but none so low.
It makes for dramatic cave-like effect here, especially when seen from further down the nave (see the earlier image), drawing attention to the Communion space so very markedly.
The East Window has been kept clear too, avoiding the all too common temptation to put a massive altar back there covering a goodly proportion of it; Victorian renovators all too often gave in to this temptation without a sign of struggle.
Some fine Devon carving
Also in the chancel are a couple of unexpected darlings, though being Devon and being a church I really should be used to discovering beauty in most every corner.
This chair back is early seventeenth century Devon carving (thank you, Marham Church Antiques) and those plants so work for me, as does the ‘strapwork’ on the sides.
Here is the thing though, it was never meant to be a chair back, it was originally a Devon carved chest; I have seen a few chests with similar work in my rambling. At some point, almost definitely in the nineteenth century, somebody decided to make two chairs out of the panels.
Possibly the chest was damaged, possibly two chairs with Jacobean carving were worth more than one chest or possibly another explanation.
Anyway the deed is done, and we get to admire the dynamic plants without getting on the floor, a definite plus for lazy me.
A fourteenth century image niche
Also in the chancel on the right of the altar, just a tad higher, is this possible fourteenth century niche carefully preserved. The little statue of Mary is obviously recent but historically accurate.
The east wall of the chancel usually had a representation of the patron saint of the church, or statue of the same, and as this church was, and is, St Mary’s, here there would have been her statue.
Doubtless not the only representation; there would have been many wall paintings as well, long since destroyed or painted over.
Looking down the nave
Looking down through that very nice chancel arch, there is again the effect of size, this time from small chancel to big nave. While the tower entrance and the chancel line up well, the pillar arcades and the actual tower are all off centre.
A puzzler that, but this church has had so much rebuilding that we will probably never get to the bottom of it.
The west gallery
What I do know is that there is bit of a scrumptious west gallery, 1847, very nicely built. Those thin columns and flowing arches really bring a sense lightness to the game, especially as the spandrels (the triangular gaps between the top of each arch) are left empty except for those slight protuberances to bring a bit of interest to the space.
Then the front of the gallery has that repetitious carving to bring interest again without being overpowering and drawing too much attention to that area.
There are not many west galleries left nowadays, they used to be in most churches, used for musicians and/or seating for the poorer folk and servants.
Some luscious stained glass
In the nave is this most charming window, which almost seems out of a child’s colouring book and all for the better for it. The simple blocks of colour, somewhat shaded as they are, make for an entrancing sequence of Jesus’s birth and early life with the Virgin Mary, whose church this is.
Many Victorian windows depict the emotional content of biblical narratives, this not so much and there is a purpose behind that. Some thought that being emotionally involved in the scene would lead the observer to fail to understand the depth and richness of the truth depicted. In other words; to some extent, sentiment was thought of as somewhat shallow.
Well, Devonchurchland is never going to agree with that, not with the way I approach the beauty of churches, but there is a point there, and room for many an approach in stained glass art.
Besides, this is just magic, and leaves a big grin on my face.
The chancel East Window
A similar approach though with a very different style, is here in the East Window, where the scenes from Christ’s life are again portrayed without strong sentiment, to meditate in depth on the scriptural meanings and connections.
And truly, for participants, The Nativity, the Last Supper and the Crucifixion make for plenty to contemplate as the Eucharist is taken.
A Norman font
The font is lovely aged piece, Norman probably from the early 13th century and quite a classy little thing. It does look like it has been left outside part of its life, which happened to fonts as various folks took various approaches to worship and church fittings.
But in its original sharpness it really would have glowed, and there is a suggestion that is made from Purbeck stone, a very posh choice from nearly fifty miles away.
If this church was a much larger building in the Norman period, as seems very possible, then this font would have fitted right in.
The cover is a good seventeenth century creation as well.
A fine bookish memorial
But buildings grow and shrink, aspects of Christianity float across the landscape of faith shadowing and highlighting different qualities as they do, and the core remains the same, selfless love and surrender to the Divine (allowing for my clumsy theology).
Here memorial to the Revered John Land, who died aged 74 in 1817 after forty two years as rector of the parish, gives a glimpse into that life,
‘… to his particular request his remains were deposited in the church yard in the midst of those who had been so long the objects of his parental care’
A beautiful sentiment from a dedicated preacher, though nowadays ‘parental care’ term might be seen as condescending, which here it clearly is not, the whole surely conveys his temperament and faith in a very simple and modest way.
The Latin tag at the end?
The man who sets sail first reaches harbour first
Which is another fine sentiment even if it proves he knows zippetty-doo-dah about sailing.
Books on the other hand, he did love his books, which is why this memorial gets my vote. I tend to be the ‘if I can see the floor I don’t have enough books’ kind of person, and if they start taking over my life (as if!) there are always the churches.
A fine modesty
Like this beauty, a modest parish church easy to pass by, but as ever with qualities to love and be amazed by.
The pews, the structure, that tower in truth, the west gallery and so much more, including and very muchly so, the modest Rev John Land and his desire to be buried amongst those he so cared for.
They will do me, so very so.