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The Misericords and history of St John the Baptist,

Cockayne Hatley.

The church of St John the Baptist has twenty three, 17th century Flemish misericords.

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Cockayne Hatley

History of St John the Baptist, Cockayne Hatley, Bedfordshire.

The village of Hatley is of Saxon origin, possibly meaning a clearing on a hill, and as there are 10th century records of Hatley, it is likely that there was a church.  The first recorded mention of a church is in 1166, where it is detailed as one of 14 churches endowed to the newly formed Newnham Abbey; this would indicate that the church already existed, as the Abbey would have been more interested in revenues than the expense of building a church.

Due to a lack of records, it is difficult to ascertain the order in which the church was built, but there appears to have been several rebuilds, in the process of which the chancel, nave, north & south aisle do not line up, whilst the west tower is the only part of the church which is rectangular.  The little that can be derived is that the nave’s north arcade is the earliest part still in existence and dates from the late 13th century, the chancel was rebuilt in the early 14th century, the south aisle was added later that century, and finally the tower was added in the 15th century. The south aisle was lengthened and the south porch added sometime late in the 15th century.

The manor was acquired by the Cockayne family in 1417, which is why the village gained such a wonderful name!  The Cockaynes held the manor until 1745 when the last of the Cockaynes died.  The manor was left vacant for some years until it was taken over by the Cust family, who were related to the Cockaynes by marriage - Cust Hatley wouldn’t have nearly such a nice ring to it.

With the dissolution of the monasteries the church reverted to the crown, but at some point between 1540 and 1595 it had been transferred to the lord of the manor. For the next 200 years or so, nothing much happened to the church until, after those years of absence, Richard Cockayne Cust became both lord of the manor and Rector in 1806.  His impression of the church was that it was in the most lamentable condition.  The tracery around the east window had crumbled away, and the roof was in such a poor condition that snow fell on the altar during the Christmas service.  Henry undertook to restore the church - restoration may be the wrong word, as it implies returning to its original condition, however, what he did not only saved the church, but in no small way added to its beauty.  Over the next 24 years, the nave was re-roofed, the east ed of the chancel was demolished and rebuilt as a slightly shorter chancel, then re-roofed.  The south aisle was rebuilt, the south porch removed and the doorway blocked up.  The stone from the south porch was used to create a north entrance, and a west entrance was created. Finally, the church was filled with beautiful Flemish carving, most notably from my perspective, the 23, 17th century misericords.  Unsurprisingly these misericords do not have supporters, however, the surprise comes when you look at some of the foliate masks - it is usually said that the Green Man is a purely British design within churches, but this does not appear to be the case with these Flemish misericords.  As has been noted above, the chancel is now shorter than it once was, which meant that there was not room for the misericord stalls in the chancel, hence they are in the nave.  It may also strike you that 23 misericords in such a small village is slightly excessive.

St John the Baptist has several claims to fame; Robert Louis Stephenson used the poet, W. E. Henley as his model for Long John Silver.  Henley is buried under a fine monument at the church.  Henley was also a friend of J. M. Barrie, and used to refer to him as “My friend”, whilst Henley’s daughter Margaret, who died at the age of 7, used to mispronounce this as “fwend”, then extended by her to “fwendy-wendy”.  As you may be aware, there was no girls name of Wendy before Barry wrote Peter Pan, so it appears that he got the name from Margaret.  She too, is buried in the churchyard.

In 1987 much more restoration work was carried out, including cleaning of the stained glass, repair of the exterior stonework and restoration of the tower.


The Official St John the Baptist website.

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St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 1.1.jpg
C Hatley 1.1.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 2.1.jpg
C Hatley 2.1.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 3.1.jpg
C Hatley 3.1.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 4.1.jpg
C Hatley 4.1.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 5.2.jpg
C Hatley 5.2.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 6.1.jpg
C Hatley 6.1.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 7.3.jpg
C Hatley 7.3.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 8.2.jpg
C Hatley 8.2.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 9.3.jpg
C Hatley 9.3.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 10.2.jpg
C Hatley 10.2.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 11.1.jpg
C Hatley 11.1.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 12.2.jpg
C Hatley 12.2.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 13.2.jpg
C Hatley 13.2.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 14.2.jpg
C Hatley 14.2.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 15.2.jpg
C Hatley 15.2.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 16.2.jpg
C Hatley 16.2.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 17.2.jpg
C Hatley 17.2.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 18.2.jpg
C Hatley 18.2.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 19.2.jpg
C Hatley 19.2.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 20.2.jpg
C Hatley 20.2.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 21.2.jpg
C Hatley 21.2.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 22.2.jpg
C Hatley 22.2.jpg
St John the Baptist church Cockayne Hatley Flemish 17th century medieval misericords misericord misericorde misericordes Miserere Misereres choir stalls Woodcarving woodwork pity seats C Hatley 23.1.jpg
C Hatley 23.1.jpg




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