The Parish Church of St. Laurence,
Wormley, Hertfordshire, England

 

 

Origin of the Church and Parish

A charter granted by Edward the Confessor dated 1062 endowed the Abbey of Waltham Holy Cross with the manor of Wormley "with all appurtenances thereto". It is safe to assume that the appurtenances included a church. This was probably of wooden construction, but during the first half of the 12th century, a Norman Church was built of which a few features survive. The first documentary evidence of the existence of a church is to be found in a charter of 1155 where mention is made of "the church of Wormley", and in 1161 Pope Alexander III freed "the churches of Epping and Wormley" from all jurisdiction except that of the Vatican.

 

 

Situation

Nesting among the trees on the hill half a mile west from the High Road (A1170), the Church owes much to its quiet surroundings and pleasant situation "far from the madding crowd" which lend so much to its air of tranquillity. Why is it so far from the main centre of population in the parish? In answer to this question, it must be remembered that it was not the A1170 which was important in olden days but Ermine Street, the Roman roadway from London to the North of England, which passed through the western divisions of the parish, and was later to form the boundary between the Saxon kingdom of Mercia and the kingdom of the East Saxons. Holy Cross Hill is part of Ermine Street, and at its junction with the road leading to Wormley West End, a stone cross was erected in the 9th century and perhaps earlier. Near this cross stood the Chapel of St. Laurence, so in Saxon and early Norman times there were two buildings in Wormley, probably both of wooden construction, bearing witness to the Christian faith.

Features

Some features of the Norman Church built in stone during the 12th century still survive. The north wall is Norman and retains its original doorway and one small window adjoining it. The shafts and scalloped capitals of the doorway are restorations. A small window in the south wall is of Norman pattern suggesting that this was one of the features of the original south wall.

 

The Font is an excellent example of Norman work, and the purely decorative treatment and the absence of Christian symbols and subject matter is not unusual for this period. The oak cover is a fine example of modern craftsmanship.

 

   
The Nave. The Church consisted of a single nave and small chancel. It was enlarged in 1862, the south aisle, built of flints, being erected in memory of H. J. Grant of Wormleybury.

One of the beams of the nave is prominent and dates back to the time of William Woodlief who purchased the manor in 1541, at the period of the dissolution of the monasteries. The nave beams - only one survives - are said to have been erected in celebration of the birth of his grandsons.

At the north-east angle of the nave, the stairs to the rood loft are still to be seen. These are of 14th or early 15th century construction. The rood loft itself must have disappeared long before the construction of the present Chancel arch

 

 

The pulpit is Jacobean. A drawing of the interior of the Church by John Buckler in 1830 shows the pulpit on the south side, with a large back and sound-board and an hour glass. The hour glass was to ensure that the preacher expounded to his congregation for the full period as laid down in the rubic. These features did not survive, and after the chancel had been rebuilt in 1843, the pulpit was moved to the north side.

The Chancel. The chancel arch and windows are all Victorian and belong to the middle of the 19th century when this part of the church was extensively restored. The wrought iron screen is also of this period, and is a good example of craftsmanship.

 

 

On the south side of the chancel is the Purvey tomb. William Purvey was steward to Sir Robert Cecil, auditor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and joint lord of the manor. His wife Dorothy was grand-daughter of Sir Anthony Denny, a favourite of King Henry VIII, and one of the counsellors of State of Edward VI. William Purvey died in 1617 at the age of 59, leaving 100 for the erection of this memorial in alabaster. The work is supposed to have been executed by William Cure the younger, master mason to both James I and Charles I.
   

Also on this side of the chancel is a tablet to Richard Gough, the well-known antiquary, whose historical notes are now preserved in the Bodleian Library.

On the north side of the sanctuary is a tablet to the memory of Angellette Tooke, daughter of William Woodlief. The date of her death is May 31st, 1598.

There are some interesting brasses on the floor of the sanctuary. On the north side can be seen the figures of Edmund Howton and Ann his wife, and five sons. There are probably some daughters missing. There is a part of a marginal inscription showing the date 1479. Adjoining this is a gravestone with a brass fragment in Latin, which reads - "Here lies John Cleve, once Rector of the Church of Wormele who died 22nd October A.D.1404, whose soul may God accept".

On the south side is a fine brass of Angellette Tooke and Walter Tooke, her husband, their 8 sons and 4 daughters. The stone and brasses originally formed the top of an altar tomb. Angellette Tooke's memorial tablet is on the north wall. She was the daughter of William Woodlief and aunt of William Purvey. On the south side may also be seen the brass to John Cok, his wife (with her medieval head-dress) and ten sons and daughters. Between the two figures is a strip of brass with trees and a dog pursuing a hare. Above is a small representation of the Trinity. The incomplete marginal inscription is as follows- "Here lyeth John Cok, Yeoman, and Al... passed God out of this transsitorie...".The date is about 1470.

Two other brasses of Richard Rufton and Edward Sharnbroke, both Rectors of this Church, were lost, probably during the rebuilding of the chancel.

 

The beautiful Altar piece depicting the Last Supper, was presented to the Church in 1797 by Sir Abraham Hume (whose bust is to be seen on the north wall of the nave). It is attributed to Palma Vecchio or, to give him his full title, Jacobo Palma called Il Vecchio, a Venetian and acording to tradition he was a pupil of Giovanni Bellini, his work was heavily influenced by Giorgione, Lotto and Titian. The painting was completed in the middle 16th century. Hume, an art expert and collector of world-wide repute, bought it in Milan, but it originally belonged to the Rochlin Canons who occupied a monastery near Verona which had been suppressed. An interesting feature is the dog feeding from a dish underneath the table. There is a tapestery in St George's Chapel, Windsor showing a similar feature and it is reputed to have been designed from a picture by Titian.

 

The furnishings of the chancel include the Organ which was installed in 1883. The priest's stall was given to the church in memory of Miss Caldecott who died in 1945.

 

The Tower. The wooden bellcote tower was erected in 1963 in memory of Col.G.Green of Wormleybury. It follows the design of an earlier one, which according to an old drawing of the Church, was surmounted by a weather vane bearing the date 1706. The weather vane above the present tower therefore bears the dates 1706 and 1963. When the old tower was pulled down it was replaced in 1826 by a stone gable, containing two bells. This was the gift of Sir Abraham Hume. The stone gable lasted until the erection of the present tower, which contains the same two bells. It is on record that in 1552 and 1700, the Church possessed three bells. Whatever happened to the third bell is a mystery which has never been solved.

The Vestry was added to the Church in 1910.

The Lych Gate was built to the memory of the Rev.F.W.Greenstreet, Rector from 1887 to 1906, and was strengthened in 1994.

 

Parish Records

 

The Parish registers are now held in the Hertfordshire County Records Office, County Hall, Hertford. The records start with baptisms in 1674, burials in 1676 and marriages in 1685. The records should have commenced in 1538 but a memorandum written by John Hicks in 1746 notes that "The Regestour Book of Births and Buryals and the old parish Book" was carried away by the Reverend William Chadwick who was rector from 1690 to 1746.

In 1825 an iron chest was obtained, so that all title-deeds and registers could be securely kept, which was to be left with Sir Abraham Hume in Wormleybury. The instructions to secure parish records were not always observed and instructions had to be repeated in 1829, 1831 and 1842.

The Hertfordshire Family and Population History Society have recorded all the legible Monumental inscriptions in the Church and Churchyard.