From the Thorley Archives
Thorley Church
The following paper was read by the Revd. John Edward Ingleby Procter to members of the East Herts Archaeological Society during a visit by them to St James the Great, Thorley on 19 July 1899, and subsequently published in Volume I, Part I, pp 65-69, of the Society's Transactions.


I HAVE been asked to give a short account of Thorley Church, and I will endeavour to do my best. I must, however, ask you to forgive my shortcomings, as I am no archaeologist, and I am quite sure there are many present here to-day who could discharge the duty, which I have undertaken, far better than I can hope to do myself. However, I will do my best, and tell you briefly what I know about the church.

The church is one of the three ancient churches in Hertfordshire dedicated to St. James. It consists of chancel, nave, south porch, and an embattled western tower surmounted by a wooden spire. The church was thoroughly restored in 1855 at a cost of 2,000. The work of restoration was carried out under the superintendence of Mr. J. Vulliamy, who is celebrated as the architect of some of the large houses in the west of London - notably Grosvenor House. Although the work done at the time of the restoration was substantial and good, yet I am afraid that too little regard was paid to preserving the venerable beauties, which archaeologists so much admire. Thus the battlements, which, I am told, ran round the chancel and nave, were removed, and I think it was then that the whole of the exterior of the church was covered with stucco, instead of an effort being made to bring out the flintwork.

The first object to which I should like to draw your attention is the south doorway, which affords a good specimen of early twelfth-century architecture, the circular arch with its double dog-tooth moulding being perfectly preserved.

The font, of Bethesden marble, is also Norman. It was found by the late rector in the neighbouring farm desecrated to the purpose of a horse trough. The base was designed by Sir Gilbert Scott.

Outside the west door, on the right-hand side, is a holy water stoup. On the south side of the chancel there is a piscina, and there is another piscina on the south side of the nave near the chancel, which was originally no doubt enclosed in the Lady Chapel. The steps leading to the rood loft are well preserved, and so are the sedilia on the south side of the chancel.

The pulpit, reading-desk, and altar rails, although not old, are interesting, since they were presented to the church by the late Bishop of Lincoln, Christopher Wordsworth, in memory of his marriage in this church to the sister of the late Mr. Bartle Frere. The pulpit, reading-desk, and altar rails were designed by Sir Gilbert Scott. It is also an interesting fact that the late Bishop of Lincoln preached his last sermon in this church on July 5, 1884, on the occasion of the unveiling of the reredos, which was erected by public subscription to the memory of the Rev. Frederick Vander-Meulen, who was rector of this parish from 1853 to 1882.

There is but one old brass in the church, which you will find on the south side of the nave, bearing the following inscription :- "Here lyeth the body of John Duke, who was, while he lived, Fermor of Thorley Hall, and died the fifth day of December, Anno Dni. 1606, who, by his first wife Gertrude, being buried in the Parish Churchyard of Sheringe, had eight children, viz., Robert, Margaret, Thomas, William, John, Henry, Ellen, and Peter; but by his last wife Jane no issue." This was most fortunately recovered to the church in an interesting way. Probably at the time of the restoration in 1855 it was sold as rubbish. But fortunately it came into the possession of Mr. Joscelyne, of Bishop's Stortford, who, seeing that it had originally come from Thorley Church, most generously restored it. Probably other interesting relics were lost to the church at the same time. One monument which, I believe, used to be in this church now adorns a stable in the neighbourhood.

There are a good many monuments in the chancel. Three of them are to the memory of the Billers family, who held the manor of Thorley from 1691 to 1714. Two others are in memory of Moses and Matthew Raper, who were Lords of the Manor from 1714 to 1748. There is a memorial to John Horsley, who was rector of the parish from 1745 to 1778; and another to his son Samuel Horsley, who was rector from 1779 to 1782, and who afterwards became successively Bishop of St. David's, Rochester, and St. Asaph. Bishop Horsley was buried at St. Mary's, Newington Butts, in the county of Surrey, but when that church was pulled down his remains, together with those of some other members of his family, were removed to Thorley on July 18, 1876, and buried on the north side of the chancel. At the same time the memorial tablet was placed on the outside of the north chancel wall. As, however, the tablet showed signs of decay owing to exposure to the weather, with the consent and at the cost of the surviving members of the Horsley family it was placed in its present position. And it was placed where it now is as being nearest the spot where Bishop Horsley's remains lie buried. There are also three other monuments in the church erected to the memory of those connected with the parish.

There are five ancient windows in the church - two in the nave and three in the chancel - and all the windows in the church, except two, are filled with stained glass. The stained glass in the east window and also in the small window on the south side of the nave were put in by the members of the 1st Herts Light Horse, of which the late rector, the Rev. F. Vander-Meulen, was chaplain. The other windows are memorials to those who either lived in or were connected with the parish.

The tower contains three bells, with the following inscriptions: -

1. _ "John White, James Cramphorn, Churchwardens, 1682."
2. _ "God Save the King, 1628."
3. _ "William Wightman made me, 1682."

In the churchyard, near the south porch, is a handsome monument with iron railings, to the memory of several members of the Frere family. On an oval medallion in front is a representation of our Saviour on the Cross, His feet resting on an anchor. On rays of glory round His head are the words "Our union". This design was copied from a monument seen in France. At the north-west corner of the churchyard are some stocks. They originally stood against the south wall of the churchyard, but when that wall was pulled down in 1888, in order that the churchyard might be enlarged, they were removed to their present position. The pound used to stand on the left-hand side of the gateway leading to Thorley Hall; the site is now occupied by farm buildings.

The registers date from 1539.

There are four pieces of plate in the Communion service. The chalice was the gift of Moses Raper, who died in 1748. A paten was presented to the church by Mrs. Pennington in 1809, and a flagon by Elizabeth Frere and Anne Frere in 1839. There is a second paten with no inscription. The only other objects of interest connected with the church are a pewter flagon and the old weathercock, which was replaced by a new one in 1893, and which bears the date 1691.

The best known of the Rectors of Thorley was Samuel Horsley, whose name has already been mentioned. John Pory, afterwards Archdeacon of Middlesex; Thomas Turner, who founded a charity for apprenticing poor children, and who afterwards became Archdeacon of Essex and President of Corpus Christi, Oxford; and Joseph Warton, Headmaster of Winchester College from 1766 to 1793, were rectors of this parish.

"The monastery of Walden owes its origin to Geoffrey de Mandeville, first Earl of Essex, in 1136, in the beginning of the reign of Stephen, for monks of the Benedictine Order, afterwards converted into an Abbey, 1190, in the reign of Richard I. He endowed it, among various other Churches in Essex, Cambridgeshire, Bucks, Northampton and Middlesex, with the Churches of Sawbridgeworth and Thorley in Herts. These were not to be under the control of any Abbey or Priory, but subject only to the jurisdiction of the Bishop and officials of his diocese." - Lord Braybrooke's " History of Walden."

I do not know of any other objects of archaeological interest in the parish, except that a certain piece of road between the Rectory and the hamlet of Thorley Houses is called "The Causeway," and Thorley Houses is often called "Thorley Housen." To the east of the parish, and separated from it by the River Stort, is the Roman camp at Wallbury.



Philip Hargrave
April 2016

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