Old Hall Green and Puckeridge - St Edmund of Canterbury and English Martyrs

Old Hall Green, Ware, Herts SG11

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An attractive small rural Gothic Revival church of 1911, replacing a Gothick chapel of 1818. The church was built from designs by Arthur Young as a memorial to Edith Cécile, wife of Arthur Guy Ellis. It contains many furnishings of note, including a fine oak rood screen, and is very little altered.

St Edmund’s College (qv) was established at Old Hall Green in 1793, and was the successor establishment to Cardinal William Allen’s college at Douai in Flanders (now northern France). In that year a small chapel was built on the edge of the farmyard of the gabled seventeenth-century house known as Old Hall, serving both the school and wider scattered Catholic population. This was replaced by a larger ‘parish chapel’ alongside the old house, opened by the Rev. Thomas Griffiths in 1818. In 1911, The Edmundian wrote of this chapel ‘though its greatest admirers would not claim that it is handsome, nevertheless so many old memories cling around it that we are loath to part with it […] the square unpretending nature of the architecture with the characteristic gallery at the back breathes of bygone times, of days of penal laws and unemancipated Catholics’ (quoted in The Church of St Edmund of Canterbury &c, p.7). The chapel (figure 1) was not pulled down, but became the school gymnasium and rifle range, and is listed grade II.

The site of the present church had been used as the drying ground for the college laundry. There may also have been a small burial ground – the description of 1911 describes the new cemetery as ‘adjoining the old one’. The church, dedicated to St Edmund of Canterbury and the English Martyrs, was built by Arthur Guy Ellis, a local resident and prominent Catholic lawyer, as a memorial to his wife Edith Cécile, who had died on 9 November 1909 and is buried here (figure 3). The church was built from designs by Arthur Young, and was solemnly consecrated by Bishop Butt on 2 December 1911.

The church is served from Puckeridge, where a small ‘temporary’ chapel was built opposite St Thomas More’s school in 1926 (not visited as part of this survey).    

A small rural parish church in Decorated Gothic Revival style, built in 1911 from designs by Arthur Young, and set within a burial ground. The church consists of an aisleless nave with south porch, and a narrower square-ended chancel with confessionals and sacristy to the north. It is built of red brick laid in English bond, with some darker brick banding and ashlar stone dressings. The porch is timber framed with brick nogging over a high brick and stone plinth. Both it and the main body of the church are roofed with clay tiles. There is no break in ridge height between the nave and chancel; instead, the transition is marked by a stone gabled bellcote, containing one bell. The west window is of five lights, with cusped heads, under a depressed four-centred arch with hoodmould and carved stops of angels bearing shields. There are angled buttresses at the west end, and a narrow light in the gable. A wooden crucifix is attached to the west wall below the window. The other window openings to the nave, and those to the sacristy, consist of a mixture of paired or triple cusped lights under flat lintels with hoodmoulds with square stops, and single-light ogee-headed windows. The high east window of the sanctuary is of three cusped lights with a depressed four-centred arch.

The entrance porch has oak double doors within a Tudor-arched opening with carved shields in the spandrels and an inscription, ‘The Master is here and calleth thee’. Within the porch are a holy water stoup and a brass memorial panel to Edith Cécile Ellis, late wife of the donor.

The nave has white plaster walls and an oak waggon roof, typical of Young’s churches. There are gilded decorative bosses on the ribs of the roof. Around the coving is a painted inscription, ‘Unto the + King + of Ages + Immortal + Invisible + the only + God + be Honour + Glory + for ever + and ever + Amen (1 Tim. 1.17)’. At the chancel arch is a carved oak rood screen with delicate cusped tracery and surmounted by rood figures. Various coats of arms are attached to the coving of the rood beam, while in recesses to right and left are polychrome figures of the Sacred Heart and the Madonna and Child, both original to the church, possibly by Mayer & Co. Beneath the rood figures are the inscriptions ‘Ecce Agnus Dei’ (Behold the Lamb of God) and ‘Tu Dulce Lumen Patriae Carnis Negatum Sensibus (‘Sweet Light of our eternal home,
To fleshly sense denied’, from St Bernard’s hymn for the Feast of the Transfiguration, translation by Bl. J. H. Newman). On the sanctuary side of the screen is a further inscription based on the second chapter of the Song of Solomon, which appears to be a plea (so far successful) to ambonoclasts not to destroy the screen: ‘O Qui stas post parietem nostrum Proscipiens per cancellos, Hunc decorum domus tuae tua decores luce; Hoc propugnaculum propugnes, Modo custodes Ipse custodias, Ut semper a securibus hoc opus stet securum’.   The chancel also has an oak barrel vaulted roof, and around its coving is a further painted inscription, ‘Splendor + Paternae + Gloriae + Incomprehensa + Caritas + Nobis + Amoris + Copiam + Largire + Per + Presentium’. The altar is described in the 1911 account in The Edmundian as ‘a large stone slab placed upon four stone pillars, encased in oak upon the front of which is the device of the Lamb’. This appears to survive unaltered, and at the time of the visit had been re-attached to its original reredos, also of oak, with rather weak painted figures of angels and martyrs, their shields and emblems below. At the centre of the gradine, the wooden tabernacle has a brass door elaborately adorned with precious stones and decoration and with a pelican in its piety at the centre. An ivory (?) crucifix is placed in the recess for the monstrance throne above.

The church retains its original oak furnishings throughout, including high-backed sedile and stalls in the sanctuary, moveable benches in the nave with panelled ends with square moulded tops, and a high panelled and railed enclosure at the west end forming a baptistery area. Within this enclosure, the stone font is placed on a raised stone floor and has an octagonal bowl with wooden cover supported by a stubby column with floriated capital. Over the baptistery is a handsome brass wall monument, recording the gift of Arthur Guy Ellis. In the southwest corner is an oak Lady altar with a large semi-circular ceramic over, a depiction of the Annunciation in the style of Della Robbia, in memory of Anna Stancioff, Comtesse de Grenaud and Mistress of the Robes at the Bulgarian court, given by her children in May 1955. A small oak tabernacle has an enamel Agnus Dei on its door. In the northwest corner is a small pipe organ with an oak case, made by The Positive Organ Company, London NW (Catalogue no. 883). The Positive Organ Company specialised in cheap, sturdily-built organs for smaller churches.

The windows mostly have clear glass set in rectangular quarries, with coloured glass chevron patterning in the margins. There are three stained glass windows:

  • East window, with the Holy Trinity flanked by kneeling figures of St John the Baptist and St Francis (figure 2), given in memory of Edith Cécile Ellis by her mother, 1911, signed by Ward & Hughes;
  •  On the south side of the chancel, a two-light window depicting the Annunciation, 1931, signed A.L. and E.C. Moore, London;
  • The easternmost window on the south side of the nave, a narrow single-light depicting Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, possibly c1950, not signed or dated.

Last updated: 20.11.17.

Diocese: Westminster

Architect: Arthur Young

Original Date: 1911

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II