Oh, but they can, only we do not yet understand everything they say.In order to decipher the message conveyed in medieval church graffiti one really ought to get inside a medieval mind…Let’s have a go, then! Religion in the Middle Ages was a strange combination of official Church teachings, folk religion and beliefs and even magic.The Church was inclined not to discourage these popular beliefs, which was also a good method of exerting clerical control over parishioners. The walls and pillars of our churches are covered in graffiti.They have been a subject of the Norfolk and Suffolk Medieval Graffiti Study, headed by its Project Director, Matthew Champion.The study culminated with a publication of his book, to which I am indebted in this short article.Numerous graffiti have been identified, photographed and catalogued; however, we still do not know for sure “who, when and why?” Our little church is also hiding secrets, some barely visible under a thick layer of lime wash. Entering the south porch, we come across a strange mark (Fig. 1) clearly visible around the west window jamb. This inscription may represent either a mason mark, showing a cipher of a master mason who worked on the building, or be a means of identification of a stone mason, who cut the block in the quarry, and was paid per block. Another possibility is that the stone was hand finished and marked to indicate its final position in the building. The Church encouraged and fostered a belief in the protective power of symbols.After all, life was a continual battleground of good and evil. Evil was everywhere; it even attempted to invade the sanctity of the parish church. It had to be kept at bay!Churches are full of ritual protection marks, or witch marks, intended to enhance spiritual protection of the building. Figure 2 shows a very faint compass-drawn daisy wheel, scratched on one of internal walls. These signs were a popular design in a vast repertoire of protective marks, still abundant in medieval churches today (Ashwell has a beautifully executed example on one of its south arcade pillars). Again, their precise meaning eludes us. The significance of these curious “pock marks” in Figure 3 is much less obvious and I have been at a loss to explain their significance. They have been found around a base of the font, obviously intended there as an extra protection from evil during baptism and of too regular a shape to be incidental. The north door of a church is traditionally known as the “Devil’s Door”. When a baby was baptised it was important for it to produce a loud yell, a sure sign that the devil left its body and fled through the north door. To stop him from coming back the blacksmiths used a protection mark in the shape of a saltire cross etched on the inside door latch (Figure 4+5). However, it appears that our Caldecote blacksmith was particularly superstitious as he put saltire crosses on all outside metal door fittings too! (Figure 6) Our most exciting and unexpected find to-date is still visible on the north tower wall and is apparently extremely rare. Mr Champion calls it swastika pelta and I have found not one but TWO examples in our church, in close proximity (Figure 7). It was believed that the devil was attracted to lines and if he came across one he would follow it to the end. Trouble was, pelta was in a shape of an endless knot so the devil would trap himself forever within the symbol.Rather like in a “Hotel California”, right down to “… those voices calling from far away…” Perhaps the strange squeaks that could be heard in the dead of the night are his pleas to be released? And so our little church continues, albeit reluctantly, to reveal its secrets and mysteries. To medieval church enthusiasts it offers a prime opportunity to inspect it inch by inch inside and out in the hope of piecing together everyday lives of people who worshiped here and whose protection marks scratched on the walls almost 500 years ago are still powerful enough to keep the building safe for us to enjoy for many years to come. Grazyna
Notes Champion, M. Medieval Graffiti. The Lost Voices of England’s Churches. London 2015. Wilson, D. A Brief History of the English Reformation. London 2012. Cook, G.H. The English Mediaeval Parish Church. London 1970.
The first Caldecote priest known by name was Robert de Holewell (1215), but there were others before him, like an anonymous priest mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. The reason he was recorded at all was because he held some land, in the gift of the Lord of the Manor. It was not deemed necessary to name him, although named priests do feature in the Book.
A handful of wills survive, among them the last will and testament of Robert Lee, who arrived in Caldecote in 1507; in 1536 he was preparing to meet his Maker. A tomb in the church was guaranteed, ex officio, but he was very specific as to where exactly. “… And my body to be buryede in the qweyre (quire) of the parishe churche of Caldecoyte before the image of Mary Magdalene”.
William Makeley (Makesey?), who died in 1415, was commemorated in stained glass. When the 16th century reformists smashed up all windows, parishioners rescued what was left of a kneeling figure of the priest and mounted the pieces in a small light of the south window. Pity his head was never found to be reunited with the rest of the body!
Another priest buried in the chancel is Francis Bourne, who arrived in 1681 and died in 1713. Robert Clutterbuck in his “The History and Antiquities of the County of Hertford” of 1815 remembers seeing a tablet in the chancel, but the inscription was already barely legible then. These days the remains of this tablet are themselves buried under a new wooden floor of the chancel.
The only priest whose headstone still survives in the graveyard is ThomasCharles Litchfield Layton. The inscription reads: “Sacred to the memory of the Rev. Thomas Charles Litchfield Layton, Rector of this parish, who died 30th April 1893, aged 70 years”. Rev. Layton came to Caldecote barely a year before.
And finally, Henry Buttanshaw, appointed to Caldecote in 1870 only to be offered a more substantial appointment in Edworth, just down the road, a year later. He however continued as rector of Caldecote until his death. A charming stained-glass window in St George’s church, Edworth, was erected in his memory and reads: “To the glory of God and in memory of the Rev. Henry Buttanshaw MA, 30 years rector of this parish. Born Lady Day AD 1830, died May 28th AD 1891”. Grazyna
Not many people know that in the 1970s, at the time when Caldecote church was declared redundant, the church silver was passed to the diocesan authorities and was put on display in St Albans Cathedral Treasury.The collection consists of just three items: a small simple chalice dated 1569, a small paten dated 1638 and an ornate wine flagon dated 1870.
In 2010 Caldecote Church Friends applied to the Cathedral Administrator to borrow the items for display inside the church at the Heritage Open Day, after which the church silver was safely returned to St Albans (see picture left).
So, what is in our modest collection? There is a paten, a small shallow silver plate, used to hold the bread during the Eucharist; it would also sometimes serve as a cover for the chalice.This is perfectly illustrated on the picture (left), where the paten is upturned and clearly displays a depression (“groove”) that allows it to sit securely on top of the chalice. More importantly, ?maker’s London mark, an inverted letter Band a date 1638-39 have also been stamped on the underside. Next, there is a chalice or goblet, a footed cup intended to hold wine to be drunk during the Eucharist (Holy Communion).The chalice is considered to be one of the most sacred vessels in Christian religious worship, and would have often been consecrated by a bishop by anointing it with holy oil. Look closely: again ?maker’s London mark, M and a date of 1569-70 are stamped under the rim.
And finally, there is a flagon (not pictured), intended to hold the wine for the Communion. How wonderful it would be if these three valuable objects from past worship returned for viewing and safe-keeping closer to home, say the new Museum in Hitchin?Perhaps a dream, but dreams sometimes come true ... Grazyna
n the times of old, church bells played a vital role in the life of any community.They served as a quick and efficient messaging and warning system with their array of tones, sequences and peals. These days they are – at best – annoying, especially to those city slickers more used to pinging of their smart phones than sounds of the countryside! In Caldecote, we have one bell, sadly mute these days.It bears a date of 1630 and was cast by a member of the Oldfield clan of bellfounders. The Oldfields of Nottingham were a very known family with roots well back into the latter part of Henry VIII’ reign. Even then they enjoyed high reputation.However, towards the end of the 16th century the Oldfields were on the move, travelling in the direction south.We can only speculate why: perhaps because in the post-Reformation England not many new bells were cast and work in Nottingham simply dried out? Richard Oldfield (born around 1545), packed his family and all his worldly possessions onto a cart and headed for London.On the way, he stopped in Kings Lynn, where he is noted to have worked in 1595.4 years later he is recorded as living in Cambridge, when his first bell there was cast.He continued to work until 1613/14 when, aged 62, he settled in Hertford to be closer to his son Robert, and where he also died around 1625/6. Robert Oldfield, the eldest son born in Nottingham in 1572, either travelled with his parents or joined them somewhere en route before settling in Hertford, where he also cast first bell in his own right in 1605.It seems that he worked until 1640 and died, aged 68, in ca. 1649. Out of the initial three bells once in the belfry only one remains, bearing a name of Robert Oldfield and an inscription, “Praise the Lord”.I do not think we would be far off the mark to associate “our” bellfounder with the Hertford’s Robert Oldfield.The bell was found to be cracked in 1957 and was sent for welding.At the same time, the worn timbers in the bell pit were replaced. When the Caldecote Church Friends assumed care for the church, we found the bell resting on some timbers within the tower: the wood of the bell frame was too damaged to deem it safe to hang and ring the bell.However, 2017 started auspiciously, with a long-awaited visit of the Friends of Friendless Churches architect to carry out a thorough inspection of the tower interior including the bell frame.The findings were encouraging: the bell cradle would require work as some of the timbers have decayed but overall it was pretty sturdy: the piece actually holding the bell, replaced in 1957, still held fast. So, it looks as though it will not be long before the bell will again delight us with its ringing: “O what a tranquil scene Sings the bell of St Magdalene ….” Grazyna Notes: George A Dawson (2002). Richard and Robert Oldfield, Bellfounders.
Today, 11th October, marks the 70th anniversary of the death of Thomas Walker Hobart Inskip, 1st Viscount Caldecote. So, who was this remarkable man and why did he style himself "Viscount Caldecote"? To start with, let me refer you, dear reader, to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography or Wikipedia for his full biography. Instead, I would like to explore his roots. In order to understand the connection to Caldecote, we will start with his grandfather, Thomas Flint Inskip, who was a well-off tenant farmer, born in 1810. On his Bury Farm in Caldecote he employed 13 labourers; in addition there were two domestic servants at home. He and his wife, Louisa Bowman, had 6 children. James, their third child and second son (and our Thomas' father), was born in 1839 in Arlesey. In fact, the 1851 census recorded the family as resident in Arlesey where James, then aged 12, was described as a “scholar”. The next we hear of him he lives in Bristol. When his father, Thomas Flint, died on 16.6.1882, James Inskip and his younger brother, Wickam, were called to prove the will, as chief executors. James Inskip gave his address as 12 Small Street “in the city and county of Bristol” and his occupation as “solicitor”. Right from that annotation in the census, he must have shown such great promise that his parents sent him to the university to study law. James was married twice, first to Eliza, with whom he had 2 children. Eliza died in 1869; some 3 years later he married Constance Sophia Louisa Hampden, with whom he had a further 8 children. Thomas Walker Hobart Inskip was their third child and first son, born on 3 March 1876. Thomas was educated at Clifton College, Clifton, Bristol, followed by three years at King's College, Cambridge. When his father died on 25.10.1909, Thomas, barrister-at-law, and his brother John Hampden, solicitor, were cited as main executors of his will. His legal and political career had been closely linked; to this day he remains the only person to hold the title of the Lord Chancellor (1939-40) and the Lord Chief Justice (1940 – 1946) successively, in addition to a long list of other government posts. In fact, he only resigned the latter when his health began to deteriorate, in 1946. In 1922 he was knighted. On 8th September 1939, The London Gazette issued the following communique: “Whitehall, 7th September, 1939. The KING has been, pleased, by Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the Realm, bearing date the 6th instant, to confer the dignity of a Viscounty of the United Kingdom upon The Right Honourable Sir Thomas Walker Hobart Inskip, Knight, C.B.E., and the heirs male of his body lawfully begotten, by the name, style and title of Viscount Caldecote, of Bristol in the County of Gloucester”. It is likely that little Thomas visited his grandparents in Arlesey or indeed spent summer holidays on the Caldecote farm. It is also reasonable to believe that when his grandfather died, Thomas, aged 6, and his family travelled by train to Baldock to attend the funeral in the Caldecote church. Who knows, perhaps those summers spent on grandfather's farm made an indelible mark in Sir Thomas' memory because he himself suggested the above title, perhaps as a gesture of recognition and confirmation of his Hertfordshire roots? Thomas Walker Hobart Inskip, 1st Viscount Caldecote died in his home near Godalming, Surrey, on 11 October 1947. It must have been his particular wish to be buried next to his grandfather, in the Caldecote churchyard. A handsome headstone was erected, bearing his coat of arms. This in itself is rare - modern armorial headstones are relatively infrequent. Keith Robbins, thus concludes Viscount Caldecote’s biography in the ODNB: The qualities he brought (…) were those he displayed throughout his career: calm judgement and a steady capacity to weigh evidence and draw unemotional conclusions. (…) In his various legal capacities he again left his mark by his courtesy and patience in dealing with the matters before him on a day-to-day basis. (…) His Christian convictions were throughout his life reflected in his commitment to charitable bodies; there his financial contributions were generous”. 1st Viscount Caldecote’s grandson, Piers James Hampden Inskip, 3rd Viscount Caldecote, is Patron of the church and, just like his grandfather, a very generous benefactor and supporter of all our fundraising initiatives. Grazyna
The graveyard at Caldecote Church is small, containing thirteen evident graves. A few other graves are scattered around the church and, of course, there may be more whose positions are no longer known. The graveyard had been neglected; weed, thistles and poppies were concealing five foot high tombstones and where shrubs and small trees had been hacked back, their roots were left protruding from the ground, making it dangerous for visitors. Grazyna and I decided to clear the graves and the surrounding ground. We are both members of Caldecote Church Friends, a small group of volunteers with a great affection for the ancient building. Working over a period of weeks we eventually cleared the graves and it was when I was removing the final – and biggest – tree root that a hole, 300mm x 150mm approx, was revealed. This was outside the then known area of graves to the south of the church, quite close to the neighbouring land owner. Looking down, I could see a neatly pointed, red brick wall but not much else. Digging two further small, exploratory trenches proved the barrel vaulted chamber extended at least to a tombstone to the west of the hole and was an estimated 2.1m long, the roof being some 300mm below the level of surrounding ground. Probing with a long length of wood suggested a depth of over 1.8m and a probable width of 1.65m although later photos proved the vault to be 1.8m wide internally. Using an extendable camera stick a number of photos were taken which, together with photos provided by Danny Loo of ‘The Comet’ newspaper and an infra – red cine film taken by my brother-in-law, revealed the following: upon raised brick platforms were the remains of two adults together with remnants of their coffins, the decoration of which suggests the Georgian period. Below the hole and to the right hand side [looking west] embedded in silt [results of water ingress over the centuries] could be seen outlines of the remains of two small lead coffins. So who are buried in the grave? Prior to removing the last tree root I lifted out a small ‘foot’ grave stone, marking, I assumed, the feet of the interred, the same as surrounding graves. Clearing soil from around the hole, I discovered, in an upright position, the broken, lower half of another ‘foot’ stone. This broken half matched the top part of similar sized stone which had been lying around the graveyard for some years. Its faint, simple, inscription can just be read as: - T + F and below the date 1798. The two large ‘header’ stones to the west of the hole are designated for, on the right looking east, Thomas Flint [d.1798] and his son Thomas [d.1779 aged 7 weeks]. To the left of Thomas is the grave of his wife Sarah Flint [nee Risley of Astwick, married 1764, died 1807] although initially I deciphered the faint inscription on the ‘foot’ stone as 1801. Considering that between the stones mentioned above there is only the hitherto unknown brick- lined tomb, it is reasonable to assume it is probably the Flints interred therein. Perhaps some scanning of the surrounding ground might prove the existence of other such tombs. In the 18th century, the inhabitants of Caldecote village were few in number and, apart from the few local land owners, not particularly wealthy. Which raises the question of how the Flints, or anybody else for that matter, could have afforded the cost of such a tomb? On Tuesday, 1st August, I met Keith Fitzpatrick-Mathews, Curator of Hitchin Museum, on site to discuss the tomb. After viewing the photos and infra-red film, he confirmed here are indeed the remains of two lead coffins within the tomb. A further conversation with Jeffrey Hunter of diocese of Huntingdon helped with his explanation for the underground brick lined vault. Because of space restrictions in churchyards [particularly small impoverished parishes] burials were often on top of previous ones. This led to a disturbance of older graves and some scattering of the remains of those buried. Indeed Keith, whilst looking at the ground around our vault, picked up several fragments of human bones. To avoid their remains being so disturbed the more wealthy were interred in what is basically a brick cellar.