Who or where or why what … is the Volka of Kingsland?

Who or where or why what … is the Volka of Kingsland?

St Michael’s Kingsland in Herefordshire is a pretty large church, all of a piece as Pevsner puts it, dating from the fourteenth century and showing a rather idiosyncratic taste for triangles that perhaps reflects the work of a master from Bristol. (the parapet at St Mary Redcliffe shares his taste.)

There is some good fourteenth century glass in the chancel: an unusual set of the four archangels Gabriel, Michael, Uriel and Raphael (remember the church’s dedication) rather heavily though effectively restored – which do not feel to me to be in theit orginal array, overfaced as they are by the Mortimer and Catgedral heraldry – and also a sainted but un-named archbishop: arch because he carried a cruciform staff, so not St Thomas Cantelupe (sorry, Mr Dean). Augustine? Becket?

The party-piece and puzzle of the church, though, is the little. presumably chantry chapel of c.1320-40 which lies off the porch. It’s been called the Volka or Vaukel Chapel since c.1700, but no-one knows the origin or meaning of the name. Given the date of its architecture the idea that it was built as a chantry for those killed at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross (1461) doesn’t really hold water, though it is now used to commemorate the event and may well have been so used earlier. A Mortimer daughter of the right date did marry a Berkeley and was buried in Bristol though, so just possibly that was the connection.

Pembridge Church’s puzzling bell-tower

I’ve blogged on Pembridge, St Mary before, but time ran out then before I could look into the massive free-standing bell-tower right next to the main building, looking like a cross between a teepee and a stave-church. Inside the timbers are truly massive, if decidedly “rustically” put together. But why did they come there in the first place? Herefordshire Past opines that the structure was “a bolt-hole of safety for the parishioners” but with so much wood it would only have taken a torch to smoke and burn the refugees out, so I’m not convinced. Nor does the idea that the bells were temporarily hung there while the main church was being built and then never got moved sound right. This is no temporary structure! No, I think it must have been the bell-tower from the beginning with perhaps a subsidiary purpose for storage or gatherings (though the church itself is not short of space.). Perhaps the lay of the ground didn’t offer good footings for a tower in the main structure. Or perhaps some noble lord came up with a wonderful gift of oaks from their forest at just the wong time … Answers on back of a postcard please.

Strawberry and Cream at St John’s Church, Shobdon

“The finest C18 church in Herefordshire” (Pevsner) or “English Rococo gone mad” (TripAdvisor) – either way, this is a must-see church for any crawler, and it was a delight to visit it with Robert Walker and friends recently. It’s not as flamboyant as Great Witley, but unlike that confection, it has a wonderful element of surprise as you enter through the door in the Early-English lookalike tower only to be met by Strawberry Hill Gothic not the Norman variry, strawberries and cream not swords and lions:

We wondered what the little stool by the readeror clerk’s chair in front of the reading desk enclosure by the wonderful pulpit was for. A gammy leg? The prayer book? The organ-boy?

The rococo is in bizarre counterpoint to the glimpses of real Gothic that still peep through. The wonderful Leominster- style lions snarl out in disapproval from the font across the front of the nave from the pulpit, while the original chancel arch and dorrways are banished to be a folly at the top of the alleé which is now flanked not by a cricket pitch but a field of massed blackburrant bushes destined either for Ribena or perhaps to give up their spirit to make Herefordshire cassis. The county grows a staggering 2.5k tons of the berries each year, and both products are well worth a glug!

Much to see at St Bartholomew’s, Much Marcle

Much to see at St Bartholomew’s, Much Marcle

“One of the most rewarding of Herefordshire’s parish churches.” So begins the Pevsner entry for St Battholomew’s, and it is indeed a striking building presenting a well-balanced structure, basically thirteenth-century as we see it, all maintained to a beauitfully high standard.

The fabric is impressive and the stained glass among Kempe’s best, but it is the statuary that steals the show, with a succession of beautifully-carved recumbent effigies running from Blanche Mortimer (d.1347) to “a franklin”, perhaps Walter de Helyon, of c.1360 in oak (repainted in 1972), who could have stepped straight out of the Canterbury Tales, to the monuments in the Kyrle Chapel, which leave us in no doubt where the local power lay. (They went on to literally married Money, specifically William Money d.1843, becoming Kyrle Money and Money Kyrles, all of Homme House next door.)

Beware the security system though. Lean over some of the monuments to get a closer look and a stern ethereal voice will boom out, warning you to step back immediately…

Cherchez la Dame at Woolhope, St George

Jean and I enjoyed a visit to St George’s Woolhope recently on that glorious Saturday that was laid on for the Herefordshire Historic Churches Trust annual church-visiting day, “Ride and Stride” (coinciding happily with one of the Heritage Open Days and also Herefordshire’s art wek h.Art – you know fols, we could join the dots up here a bit more and get some synergy going…).

The excuse for the visit, as if one was needed, was the opener for the HHCT’s new season of Music in Quiet Places with some choristers from the Chapel Royal (with new probationers flanking the main singers and no doubt taking it all in) and an excellent choir from the Cathedral School.

As I wallowed in the music I was also able to look around a bit and as they were near my aisle seat it was the two wall-tablets that mnost caught my eye. The church as we see it is the result of a heavy restoration in 1882-3 by Henry Woodyer, but there is a 12th and 13th-century core (note the capital on the left-hand column in the photo above with its strong chevrons), and two very striking early grave-covers or coffin lids (not I think a pair).

The chap (I think he’s a chap …) on the left with his splendid long hair and missing legs is striking enough, but it is the lady in the right hand tablet who really caught my eye and perhaps dates right back to that era – but just what is she holding? And who is she? the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture annoyingly ignores her, although it does tell us that the manor was given to the cathedral by two siusters Wulviva and Godiva in the 11th century, daughters of Leofric Earl of Mercia – too early I think for the carving, whose headdress looks thirteenth century (though I’m not sure it’s “crespine” as some have called it).

And yes, that Godiva is thought to be the Lady of Coventry fame and is also commemorated in a window, while Woolhope is sometimes taken to be “Wulviva’s Hope” (a hope being the top of a valley of course, not a wish-list).

But going back to actual figure in frot of us, shears and keys are the most common symbols found on female’s grave-covers, so this is a rather remarkable depiction, and unless I have missed something an under-researched one (surprisingly so given the boom in feminist and gender studies). Is she holding a knife or perhaps a pestle in her right hand, with a bowl below it held in her left? If that is a plant lower down, is she preparing some sort of medicine? And what about the motif to her right which looks like a dove in a circle? ‘Tis mystery all … unless some reader of this blog can enlighten us further.

A Grand Day Out

Huge thanks to conservationist Robert Walker, now working on Herefordshire’s stained glass, after rounding up the county’s Dovescotes and and Pigeon Houses in a recent Logaston Press publication. He was in touch with him after I blogged on the angel glass at Weobley (he shares my view of its importance and has unearthed more of its story) and we remembered that we had been speakers together at a conference in Cambridgshire a few years ago.

So the idea grew of a going on a church crawl together, and the photo gallery above gives you a tatste of it,a nd morew blogs to follow. We started at Croft, where a few angels of the finaincial sort are still needed to oroperly re-cover the cupola and soert out the leaks please. Then on to Shobdon for a Strawberry Gothic Surprise with the added bonus of the Shobdon Arches, with their Kilpeck-style carvings weathering away in the folly on the hill, like the flake on a 99. An excellent quiche came next at Þe Olde Steppes Cafe [I refuse to say “ye”] at Pembridge followed by a reprise to the church at the top of the steps (sic) where I had missed out on the bell-tower last time I was there. From there to Kingsland with its mysterious Volka Chapel, and finally the wonderfully-reordered church at Yarpole (with its baby bell-tower too).

The day was made extra special by the presence of Joyce Marston, chair of Hereford Diocese’s Advisory Committee on the care of church buildings (DAC) and local Rural Dean Mike Kneen, who were both great company and full of knowledge too. Thankyou Robert for a Grand Day Out!