A Description of All Saints' Church, Headley

June 1935, by PM Johnston, Architect, and JS Tudor-Jones, Rector.

I have been asked by the Rector to write a short account for the Parish Magazine of your ancient Parish Church, and of the repairs now being brought to completion.  There has been a Church on the present site since the 12th century at least—possibly succeeding to a Saxon Church of timber.  Of this 12th century building only one feature remains—a plain Late Norman doorway, now built into the Vestry, which was probably the Priest's doorway in the N. wall of the Chancel, removed to its present position when the Vestry and Organ Chamber were built.  With the exception of the picturesque 14th century tower at the N.W. of the Nave, the walls of the Church were entirely re-built, with some modifications in the plan, in 1859, at a time when scant respect was shown for ancient things, and when our fathers were only too ready to exchange old lamps for new.  It is pleasing, therefore, to record that in this case so many original features were preserved from the ancient fabric and re-built in the re-construction. 

First and foremost among these is the magnificent roof of wide span and massive timbers, which sits so grandly upon the Nave walls.  It dates from the last quarter of the 14th century, and its great width (about 26 ft.) is quite exceptional in a Parish Church.  Its tie-beams, king posts and wall plates are all heavily moulded, and the braced collar and rafter construction is very massive.  On one king-post near the west end is carved the head of a man—possibly meant for the master-carpenter, who took an affectionate pride in his work.  Happily, this noble roof appears to have escaped the ravages of the all-too-prevalent death-watch beetle; but that pestilential insect has attacked some of the timbers of the porch—which also dates from the 14th century, though re-constructed in the 19th—and it is the more desirable that a thorough inspection should be made, with the aid of ladders, and chemical spraying be applied at an early date, bearing in mind the old adage: "prevention is better than cure."  Heppel's anti-beetle fluid is being used on the Porch timbers, where the beetle has left his holes and 'galleries'.

The Chancel roof is modern and poor: the Chancel arch appears to date from 1859, but possibly some of the stones may be old ones re-worked. In the north-east window of the Chancel, however, almost completely hidden, is a magnificent panel of painted glass, of brilliant colouring, dating from about 1260.  It represents the martyrdom of a Saint.  It is much to be desired that this very valuable relic of mediŠval art should be removed to another position, where it can be properly displayed without the incongruous modern glass in which it is now set, as has been done under my direction at Compton and Byfleet, in the Guildford Diocese, at Buckland (Southwark), and West Hendred, Berks.  Ancient painted glass deserves all the care and display we can give to it.

Hard by this glass are the brasses of a civilian and his wife, of about 1510, the woman wearing a kennel head-dress of the period, such as is perpetuated in the Queens of our playing cards to this day.  Unfortunately these brasses are divorced from their original stones, and mounted on the jambs of the Vestry doorway.  The vertical setting tends to destruction, instead of preservation, owing to condensation of moisture on the surface and the formation of corrosive verdigris, which when lying on the floor is automatically kept at bay by the slight friction of foot-traffic.  The scouring of ancient brasses with 'Monkey Soap', on the other hand, should be rigourously forbidden as most destructive.

There are several large 17th and 18th century monumental tablets on the walls deserving notice, but otherwise all the fittings and furnishings of the Church are modern, except, perhaps, the Font, of 15th century type, octagonal, with quatrefoil panels on the bowl.  This, if old, has been re-worked.

Of the other ancient features incorporated in the re-built walls there are a short 13th century lancet in the south wall of the Chancel; a good two-light window of about 1380 in the south wall of the Nave; and a fine three-light window, with somewhat elaborate super-tracery, in the west wall, of the same date, which, from evidence of water-colour drawings preserved in the Vestry, would appear to have been removed in 1859 from its original position as the east window of the Chancel.  These two windows, which were very decayed in parts, have been skilfully repaired under my supervision by Messrs. Norman and Burt's workmen, and unsightly patches of brown cement have been removed, greatly to the gain of the larger window.

The south doorway, like these windows, is of clunch, or Surrey 'Firestone'—not very suitable for external use, owing to its soft texture.  It has a flat four-centred head and is about 1500.  Unfortunately, the door that fills it is only of painted deal and of the meanest appearance.  Will not some lover of Headley and its Church present a decent oak door in substitution?  [This has since been promised by Miss Ballantine Dykes in memory of her sister — JSTJ]

The Tower of Headley Church, which we have now carefully repaired and made strong to last for centuries to come, is a beautiful little feature.  Excepting the parapet, with its battlements and pinnacles, which replaces some form of spire or roof, said to have been fired by lightning in 1839 [actually 12th May 1836 – "The fire broke out in a shed which was then close by the Church (the churchyard not being so big as now) owing to some straw catching alight from matches with which some children were playing"], the tower is of about 1380.  It has no buttresses, but the walls are solidly constructed of hard sandstone rubble, partly plaster-coated, with quoinings and string-course of sandstone ashlar, and charming tracery windows of two-lights in the white clunch, dug from under the chalk in the neighbouring hills.  There are four of these pretty windows in the top or bell-stage, a single-light trefoiled opening—formerly open, but now repaired and glazed to keep out the weather—in the middle storey; and another two-light window like those above, but with the addition of a hood-moulding in the west wall of the ground storey.  All these we have carefully repaired, using a greenish-white stone from Chilmark, Wilts, of good weathering quality and harmonious colour.  Where old stones could be repaired without renewal we have carefully mended them with a mixture of stone dust and white cement.  Finally, we have re-lined the rough floors of the bell-chamber and repaired the roof, over the chime of bells, which has been introduced by Messrs. Gillett and Johnston, the founders of Croydon, in substitution for poor and damaged 19th century bells; and the good 14th century arch from the Tower to the Nave has been denuded of thick coats of old colour-wash, much to its enhancement.

We humbly hope that these much needed repairs, carried out chiefly through individual generosity, with the advent of your new Rector, will increase the affectionate pride which the parishioners of Headley so evidently take in their Church of their fathers.  A suggestion may be here thrown out that the fine and valuable framed pictures of Moses and Aaron, now hung in the Vestry, are worthy of being displayed in the body of the Church.  Originally no doubt they were put right and left of the altar, as in so many other Churches.  They represent a period in Church art and tradition which has its own value.

A more worthy pavement than the poor 19th century tile floor of the Chancel is very desirable; and some day perhaps oak seating mat oust the present stained deal seats in the Nave.

PHILIP M. JOHNSTON, F.S.A, F.R.I.B.A.


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