Most of the visible structure is actually 15th and 16th century, the arches separating the nave and aisles, and the clerestory or windows below the roof of the nave.
As all house-holders find, of course, running repairs compete with home improvements for finances, and there have been many of both. In the 18th and 19th centuries, vestry rates were levied on the congregation to pay for repairs to the aisles, for rough casting the church and steeple, to paint the columns as imitation marble, and later to white-wash the interior (by a rector who thought the columns too gaudy).
The wheatsheaf is the trademark of Kempe. The example shown here has a tower superimposed on it, and therefore dates from after 1907 when Kempe died and the studio continued as CE Kempe & Co under the direction of his cousin, Walter Tower. Other examples have a single sheaf or three sheaves on a shield.
GARGOYLES AND CARVINGS
The stone and wood carvings on the aisle pillars and roof beams provide an astounding contrast: fabulous beasts of mediaeval imagery representing earthy sins and temptation, surmounted by delicate carvings of the twelve apostles with Barnabas and St Paul.
Gargoyle is an old French word with the same root as gurgle, that is, it indicates a rain spout on a building, particularly one with a human or animal face. Carvings that do not carry this purpose are known as grotesques.
Such symbolism, obscure to us now, generates many theories as to why a church should have boars, foxes, griffons, dragons, and so on within. Perhaps only the original 15th century architects, masons and congregation can really say.
MEMORIALS AND OTHER DETAILS
Having explored the structure, you will notice that the Church is not just a sum of its individual stones, timber and glass, or even its gargoyles. It is also a home, and the decorations and possessions inside reflect the owner, occupier and visitors as much as your home reflects on the occupiers tastes, past and present. It is perhaps easy to appreciate the reason for an altar, cross and pulpit in a church. However, other artefacts tell complicated stories of the relationship between their creators, the ways they saw the church (both building and institution) and the different times in which they lived.
The Gore Memorial celebrates William Gore, sometime Lord Mayor of London and owner of Tring Park, and his wife. This was finished in about 1715 and is thought to be by Grinling Gibbons or one of his pupils because of his signature pea-pod hidden in the foliage. Gibbons was a Dutch-born master carver, famed for his wood carvings for royalty, particularly at Hampton Court.The monument stands out for its apparent excess in comparison to other decorations, but it should be seen as in the style of its time and the taste of the family.
Before the Victorian restoration, there was no church organ, but there was a choir and orchestra, seated in a gallery by the bell tower. The congregation had to turn and face them for every hymn, then turn back for the service. When a small organ was introduced, the choir went on strike; so the Vicar refused to preach. Harmony was eventually restored, but the idea of the gallery remains in the screen above the doors to the tower.
In the early fourteenth century the chancel was decorated with tiles. On the floor, these were of ‘Chiltern factory’ production with a chequered or floral pattern (copied when the floor was re-laid). The technique was to lead-glaze an earthenware body, fired to make the brown ground and slip-coated as well before firing to make the yellow, with a touch of copper for the green. Those recovered (and now cased) include fragments portraying Everyman and his wife, and a royal personage. The frieze-tile “masterpieces” (8 in all, 12.5 in x 6.5 in, and a fragment) at the British museum, are regarded as of the same provenance.
Clockwise from top left:
Harvesting a miraculous crop sown by Jesus; harvesting a miraculous crop sown by Jesus; part of a series in which Jesus miraculously helps a carpenter; Jesus playing with a lioness and her cubs. Raised yellow pictures on a brown ground, done by incising them on a slip-coated tile and then removing the slip from the ground before firing, illustrate episodes from apocryphal stories about the boy Jesus – all double, except for the “mystic feast”. Two more of these tiles, from a similar series but with holes for hanging (and 2 fragments) are at the Victoria & Albert museum, in London.
Between 1861 and 1882 the church was completely renovated, and much that can be seen now, both inside and out, is the result of Victorian ideas of what a church should look like.