Great Canfield – St Mary

Our friends Geoff and Anne drove across from Maidenhead and we went to the Black Lion pub in High Roding for a very good meal. Then we stopped at Great Canfield church – just down the road from our cottage at TL594180. The benefice website for the the six parishes has a wonderful typo “a past report by the Diocesan surveyor said ‘This church is'” – that’s where it finishes. Add your own comment!

DSC06415Geoff’s grandfather came from here, and Geoff had been efficient enough to have the phone number of James the churchwarden. He happily came and unlocked and gave us the guided tour. There is a Norman motte and bailey just behind the church, and the building itself dates to 1150 – there was probably an earlier wooden building. The manor belonged to Alberic de Ver at the time of the Domesday Book, and the de Vere family remain patrons for many years. Nice flint rubble walls and the odd Roman brick, good C12 windows in the Chancel.


The south door has two capitals, both carved. Each has a mask – one has scrolls from the mouth, the other two birds bending towards the beard. To quote the very scholarly guide “The abaci have zigzag ornament, and the western reveal has squares on which fylfots are carved.” A “fylfot” is what we know as a Swastika (which means ‘good luck’ in Sanskrit). Apparently these signs were adopted by early Christians as a form of the cross, and are found in the catacombs of St Calixtus – so now you know! The tympanum has zig zag decoration – there’s a similar pattern in the north door (presumably a modern reproduction).




DSC06399Inside there is a lovely monument – to Sir William Wiseman and his family. They took over from the de Veres in the sixteenth century – this monument dates to the seventeenth century. It was originally placed behind the altar. Beside the altar are some brasses to members of the same family – one is to “John Wyseman esquire sometime one of the auditors of our soveraigne lorde kynge Henry theight of the revenues of the crown”. Apparently (and I didn’t find this out until reading the guidebook) the date of his death is given as 17 August 1558 in “annis regnorum Phillipi et Marie qunito et sexton”. The other is to Thomas Fitch, 1588, his wife Agnes, and their sons and daughters.


When the Wiseman monument was removed in 1888, the mural painting was discovered. Painted in red and yellow ochre, probably dating to about 1250. Apparently the picture of the Virgin and Child is very similar to one by Matthew Paris, in his manuscript dating between 1250 and 1259. At the Reformation it was painted over, rather than scraped off, then hidden by the monument. It kept it safe – and it is rather special.


DSC06395The Marian theme is continued in a window dating to the 1970s in the Nave. Designed by Brian Thomas it shows Mary’s Feast Days – quite beautiful. The parish chest is seventeenth century. Built into the Chancel arch is an Anglo-Scandinavian burial slab – with a clever mirror contraption so you can see it. There’s also a marble font and a marble pulpit, a wooden box and a wooden cradle.


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In the churchyard is a memorial to Isaac Lodge VC.  It was awarded to him for his actions at Korn Spruit in the Boer War in 1900. “On 31 March 1900 British troops were ambushed on their march to Bloemfontein by Boer commandos. Under heavy fire, ‘Q’ Battery Royal Horse Artillery managed to rescue all but one of their guns. Every man in the battery showed considerable bravery and under Rule 13 of the Victoria Cross Warrant, four officers and men were nominated by their fellows for the award. Isaac Lodge, then a gunner, was elected, together with his commanding officer, Major Edmund Phipps-Hornby, Sergeant Charles Parker and Driver Horace Glasock. Lodge was decorated by Lord Roberts in Pretoria that October. Isaac Lodge was born at Great Canfield in Essex on 6 May 1866. He enlisted in the Royal Garrison Artillery in 1888 and transferred to the Royal Horse Artillery in February 1889. He was promoted to the rank of Corporal in 1903 and after six more years with the colours he was discharged. He later worked as a Keeper in the Royal Parks and died in a London hospital in June 1923. Lodge also received the Queen’s South Africa Medal 1899-1902, the King George V Coronation Medal 1911 and the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, 1907″ says the National Army Museum who have his medals.

An amazing amount in a locked church in the middle of a hamlet in the middle of nowhere, five miles from Stansted. I think they need an advertising board in the airport- “Come and see Great Canfield’s little gem – fylfots included” (in the words of Basil Fawlty “don’t mention the War”). And we had better not mention the Boer War either!

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