Wheathampstead with Harpenden: Churches and charities

Pages 309-314

A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.

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The church of ST. HELEN, (fn. 1) WHEATHAMPSTEAD, stands in the midst of the village, surrounded by a large churchyard with a lichgate at the eastern entrance, erected in 1887. It consists of a chancel of three bays, with a north vestry and a staircase to the rood-loft on the north-west, a central tower, north and south transepts, a nave and aisles of three bays, with a large south porch and a smaller one on the north. The church was restored in 1865–6 under the superintendence of Mr. Edward Browning, architect, with the assistance of the rector, Canon O. W. Davys. The walls are of flint rubble with stone quoins. The nave and chancel roofs are covered with slates and the aisles with lead. The tower is surmounted by a leaden broach spire renewed in 1865, and contains a clock with a face on the east side. Immediately below the spire is the original buckle-head corbel table. The west doorway is ornamented with the ball flower usually attributed to the reign of Edward II. The south porch was built about 1350, but has been restored; the north porch has been rebuilt.

The first church apparently consisted of an apsidal chancel, (fn. 2) a central tower with transepts, and a nave. About 1230 the present chancel was built; the three lancet windows in the east front and similar windows in the north wall, together with the string course round the walls, are of this date. The tower was rebuilt during the last quarter of the thirteenth century, and in 1290 an indulgence for twenty days was granted by the bishop of Lincoln to all who should contribute towards this work. (fn. 3) The lofty tower arches are of two chamfered orders carried by simple piers with moulded capitals. The rebuilding of the church was gradual and continuous. So soon as the tower was completed, the south aisle of the nave was added early in the fourteenth century. The arches between this aisle and the nave are of two chamfered orders with octagonal pillars. The plain roof timbers are old, but probably later than the aisle. The west end, with its fine doorway, was next built, and then the north aisle was added. The arcade on this side is very nearly the same in design as that opposite, but the mouldings of the capitals differ. The recessed tomb in the north wall, which was probably that of the founder or person who defrayed the cost of building the aisle, and the oak-moulded roof timbers are original. The north transept was next rebuilt about 1330–40, with a large five-light window having reticulated tracery on the north, and one of three lights on the east. This latter is of excellent design, and has its sill carried down to support the reredos of the altar that stood beneath it. This reredos was found walled up in 1865, and consists of a row of seven canopied niches with leafy crockets and foliage in the spandrels, the carving of which has not been completely finished. The rebuilding of the south transept followed. Its southern four-light window is of about the same date as that opposite to it in the north transept, as are also the sedilia and canopied piscina in the chancel and the piscina in the south transept. Finally, the lancet windows on the north and south sides of the chancel were replaced by others of larger size about 1380. The two-storied vestry on the north-east side of the chancel was added about the same time, but has been much altered, and was enlarged in 1897 under the superintendence of Mr. F. Trevor Davys, architect. The lower chamber has a piscina in the south wall. Of about the same time is the low-sided window at the west end of the south wall of the chancel. The easternmost window of the south aisle is of about 1430 to 1440. The timber roofs of the chancel, now painted, of the nave, and of the transepts were renewed in 1865, when the clearstory windows were restored.

There were certainly three altars in the church: the high altar of St. Helen; an altar of Our Lady in the Brockett or Lady Chapel (fn. 4) in the south transept; a third in the north transept was probably that of St. Nicholas, in which chapel John Laudy, in 1507, directed that his body should be buried. (fn. 5) In the south transept to the north of the east window are traces of some elaborate canopied structure with the remains of a bracket for an image which was probably that of St. Katherine. (fn. 6) There are a few fragments of fourteenth-century painted glass in the east window of the north transept. The beautiful carved font at the west end of the nave is of the first half of the fourteenth century; at its base will be seen some ancient tiles. The oak Jacobean pulpit, the pews in the north transept, one of which has the date 1631, and the oak dwarf screens across the south transept came from the chapel at Lamer Park which was pulled down about 1761. The dwarf screen across the north transept came apparently from the front of the western gallery, which was taken away in 1865. The oak choir stalls and similar fittings in the chancel are of the date of the restoration. The large picture of the Agony in the Garden in the south transept was painted by Mr. J. King of Wheathampstead, in 1821. It was formerly placed over the high altar, but was moved to its present position in 1866.

Of the earlier monuments in the church we have the following:— (fn. 7)

A brass on the floor of the north transept to Hugh Bostock and Margaret Macry, his wife, c. 1436. Below is a foot inscription in leonine verse, evidently by the hand of Abbot John Wheathampstead of St. Albans, son of the said Hugh and Margaret. Underneath are the indents for three sons and three daughters, and at each corner a shield, the brass for only one of which now remains. This has the arms of the three bats.

A fifteenth-century brass of a knight and his lady in the south transept. (fn. 8)

A brass, c. 1510, showing a civilian and a woman with a 'butterfly' head-dress. Inscription gone. Below are in brass two sons and six daughters. It is possible these do not all belong to one monument, as the brasses are not apparently fitted into their original indents.

A brass in the north transept to John Heyworth and Elizabeth his wife, 20 December, 1520. Underneath is a foot inscription and four sons and five daughters. At each corner is a shield of arms. The Heyworth coat with the bats appears once; twice is given a shield with a fesse charged with a molet for difference (which is no doubt intended for the Bostock coat, although the fesse of Bostock is usually cut off at the ends) impaling a rose between two lions passant; and the fourth shield is Heyworth quartering this Bostock coat. It is not safe to rely for the colours of these shields on the painting of the quartered coat that is above the monument of his son John Heyworth.

Two Shields from the Brass of John Heyworth who died 1520

An incised slab of white marble on the east wall of the north transept to John Heyworth, who died in 1558, and Margaret his wife, showing a civilian with a short beard, in a long robe and a ruff, kneeling at an altar with his hands raised in prayer and an open book before him. On the other side of the altar is a lady kneeling in prayer, wearing a 'kennel' head-dress and a long dress puffed at the sleeves. Behind the man are two sons, and behind the woman a daughter. Above is a shield of arms identical in its quarterings with the second coat figured above from his father's brass, and below a long inscription.

A large altar tomb on the east side of the south transept to Sir John Brockett and Margaret his wife, with two life-size recumbent figures in alabaster. The effigy of Sir John Brockett shows his head, uncovered, with long hair and a long beard (which has been broken off), resting on a helmet. Round his neck are two massive chains, from the lower of which hangs a cross patée, now hidden by plaster used to support the hands. He is dressed in plate armour with a hauberk of mail beneath. His hands are raised on his breast in the attitude of prayer. On his feet, which rest upon a lion, he wears sollerets, on his left side his sword, and on his right a misericorde hanging from the sword belt by a cord. The head of the lady, which rests upon a pillow, has been much damaged; she wears a close-fitting cap and a necklace, a long dress fitting closely to the figure with sleeves puffed and slashed at the shoulders; the arms are broken off; the skirt is open in front and ornamented by rows of knots. A pomander hangs from the front of her waist by a long chain. Her feet rest on a dog or leopard, much broken. From her shoulders hangs a cloak, kept in position by cords tied in front and hanging down to her feet. Around the tomb is the inscription, 'Here lyeth the bodyes of Sir John Broket knighte and Dame Margaret his wiffe dowghter an ayre of Willm Benstede ye wch Sir John departyd this worlde ye XXIII of Marche in ye yere of or Lord God M° D° LVIII an ye sade Dame Margaret departede this world ye [blank] day of[blank] in ye yere of oure Lorde God M° D° [blank] whych Sir John and Dame Margaret had yssue x sonnes and thre dowghters.' On the south side of the tomb are three small male figures, one bearded, each holding a shield, and in the middle the arms of Brockett within a garter. On the west side are two small effigies of Sir John Brockett dressed in exactly similar manner to the recumbent figure above. Each figure holds a shield. On the north side are three small female figures holding shields, and in the middle a lozenge containing the arms of Benstede in a garter. There yet remains a considerable amount of the paint and gilt with which the monument was ornamented.

A mural tablet on the south wall of the chancel to Nicholas Bristow, servant to Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth, who died in 1584. The inscription gives his family and descendants. (fn. 9)

A slab in the north transept to Alice wife of Jonas Bailey of Mackarye End, who died in 1642.

A large monument against the west wall of the north transept in marble of various colours, consisting of a round arch surmounted by a broken entablature and supported on Corinthian columns of blue marble. In the middle is a shield of the arms of Garrard and Nethermill quarterly, and on each side is a reclining figure. Underneath the entablature are four shields, all bearing the arms of Garrard, impaling those of Nethermill, Barkham, and another. In the spandrels of the arch are the figures of an angel and of Time as Death. Within the arch is the figure of Sir John Garrard with a pointed beard, leaning upon his left elbow and wearing a suit of plate armour. His left hand supports his head and his right rests on his sword; at his feet is a leopard, the crest of the Garrards. On a lower stage is the effigy of his wife, Elizabeth, in the same position, with her head slightly turned towards her husband and holding in her right hand a book. She wears her hair in loose curls, upon which is a veil, and has the somewhat stiff dress of the period, with sleeves puffed and slashed, and a tippet of lace. At her feet is the crest of Barkham, two arms holding a sheaf of arrows. Below, at the base of the monument, are carved in high relief the kneeling figures of six sons and eight daughters. In the upper part of the archway is a long inscription, without date, to Sir John Garrard and Elizabeth his wife, and to Isabella Garrard, who died in 1677. Sir John Garrard died about 1637.

On the floor of the south transept is an inscription to Edward Brockett, son of John Brockett, who died in 1669, and next to it a slab to Mary, wife of John Brockett, who died in the same year.

A mural tablet to Thomas Stubbing, temp. Charles II.

An inscription in the north transept to Sir John Garrard and Jane his wife, who died respectively in 1686 and 1692.

A slab in the chancel floor to Elizabeth, daughter of John Hunsdon, who died in 1695.

There are six bells in the tower cast by Richard Phelps, of London. About 1880 three of them, which were cracked, were recast, and the remainder quarter turned.

The communion plate consists of a chalice and cover of the year 1648. A rim was apparently added to the cover in 1841. (fn. 10) There are also a silver flagon and paten, the gift of the Very Rev. John Lamb, D.D., dean of Ely and rector of the parish 1673–1708, with his name and arms, and the arms of the deanery of Ely. A new chalice and paten were lately given by Mr. A. B. Loder in memory of his wife.

The first book of the registers contains baptisms from 1690 to 1740, burials from 1690 to 1743, and marriages from 1693 to 1741; the second, baptisms from 1741 to 1800, burials from 1744 to 1800, and marriages from 1742 to 1754; the third, baptisms and burials from 1800 to 1812; the fourth, marriages from 1754 to 1781; and the fifth, marriages from 1782 to 1812.

The churchwardens' accounts begin in 1800.

The church of ST. NICHOLAS, HARPENDEN, consists of a chancel with aisles (one bay of the north aisle being occupied by the organ), short transepts, nave and aisles, the northern of which was enlarged in 1898, south porch, and a western tower. East of the north aisle of the chancel is a small clergy vestry, on the north of which is a larger choir vestry added in 1897. In 1862 the whole church, except the tower, was rebuilt with stone. The tower dates back to about 1470, and is of three stories with a stair turret on the south-west corner. It is of flint with bond-stones and stone quoins, the flint being plastered externally. There is a clock on the south side. The former building, much of the interior of which was of the Norman period, consisted of a chancel, transepts, nave with aisles, and south porch, and it is said from evidence which came to light when pulling down the old church that there was at one time a central tower which it is thought was destroyed by fire and was replaced by the present tower built at the west end. (fn. 11)

The Purbeck marble font near the south door has an octagonal bowl ornamented on each side with two slightly sunk panels with plain pointed arches, of about 1200. (fn. 12) It is said that the central shaft and eight detached columns which support the bowl are modern. (fn. 13) The font was restored in 1862 in memory of E. T. R. Vaughan.

There are two ancient brasses in the church, one at the east end of the nave, representing a civilian and his wife, with a dog at the feet of the former. Below is a foot inscription to William Anable, who died 4 October, 1456, and Isabel his wife. The other brass, on the east wall of the north transept, shows a man and his wife each kneeling at a desk. Below is a foot inscription to William Cressye, who died on 24 October, 1 Elizabeth, A.D. 1559, and Grace Johnson his wife, who died on 14 February, 1571–2. There is a monument in the tower to Robert Rudston, who died in 1642, and later monuments to the Jenkin and Wittewronge families.

There are eight bells in the tower, of which the treble and second are by Warner, 1902, and the third and fourth by the same founder, 1898. The old fourth was by John Grene, 1574. The fifth of 1612, is by Robert Oldfield, and the sixth and seventh by Warner, 1898. The old sixth was by John Grene, 1571, and bore an inscription: 'In multis annis resonat campana Johannis,' doubtless borrowed from its mediaeval predecessor. The old seventh was by a London founder, John Walgrave, c. 1430, inscribed: 'Intonat de Celis vox campana Michaelis' (sic). The tenor is by Robert Oldfield, 1613.

The communion plate consists of two chalices and an alms-dish presented by Mr. G. W. Lydekker in 1862, and a large silver flagon with a paten bearing the Jenkin arms, and having an inscription to the effect that they were given to the church by Godman Jenkin in 1720.

The first book of the registers contains baptisms from 1563 to 1677, and burials and marriages from 1562 to 1677; the second, baptisms from 1677 to 1725, burials from 1677 to 1728, and marriages from 1678 to 1728; the third, baptisms from 1704 to 1709 and from 1713 to 1717, burials from 1699 to 1717, and marriages from 1701 to 1709, and from 1713 to 1717; the fourth, baptisms from 1727 to 1777, burials from 1728 to 1777, and marriages from 1728 to 1756; the fifth, baptisms and burials from 1718 to 1746, and marriages from 1718 to 1746, and from 1769 to 1772; the sixth, marriages from 1754 to 1768; the seventh, burials from 1778 to 1808; the eighth, baptisms from 1778 to 1808; and the ninth, marriages from 1772 to 1812.

The churchwardens' accounts begin in 1739.


Wheathampstead has apparently always been a rectory. Early in the thirteenth century the church was the subject of a dispute among the abbot and convent of Westminster, the bishop of Lincoln, and the rector, which terminated by an ordination of the pope dated 21 January, 1220–1. This ordination recites a mandate of Pope Honorius III in 1217, which sets out that the abbot and convent of Westminster had petitioned him stating that Pope Alexander (1159–81) and Pope Clement (1187–91) had granted them certain churches for the hospitality of the poor and sick and other pious uses, and that Pope Innocent had forbidden them to transfer such churches to other uses. Under these bulls they claimed the church of Wheathampstead and prayed that they might be inducted into corporal possession of the same. The bishop of Lincoln objected to this, probably as patron, and the dispute was submitted to Richard, bishop of Salisbury and others, who awarded among other things that the messuage which was next to the chapel of St. Nicholas (now Harpenden church), which before had belonged to the parson, and the moiety of the tithes of sheaves from all the parish of Wheathampstead should go to the monastery of Westminster, that the right of patronage should belong to the bishop of Lincoln and his successors for ever, and that the rector should have the church with the messuage and all the court which belonged to the monastery of Westminster at the time of the ordination, with all the altarages and the remaining part of the tithes of sheaves and the land of the church and the homages, rents, and other things belonging to the church. (fn. 14) This apportionment of the tithes remained, the rector being entitled to all the vicarial and one half the rectorial tithes, and Westminster taking the other half. The patrons of the church certainly from this time, and probably before, were the bishops of Lincoln, till by an order in council dated 5 May, 1852, the advowson was transferred from the see of Lincoln to that of Peterborough. The chapel of Harpenden is the chapel of St. Nicholas above referred to in 1221, (fn. 15) and is named in the licence to Sir William Inge to found a chapel at Ing's Place in 1297. (fn. 16) By a deed dated 22 December, 1319, Pope John XXII granted to the inhabitants of Harpenden licence to receive sacraments and sacramentals, (fn. 17) and to have the right of burial in the chapel and chapel-yard, which privileges were confirmed by Henry VIII on 1 February, 1536. (fn. 18) The chapel was always served by the rector of Wheathampstead or his curate or chaplain, although, as before mentioned, there was a proposal in 1650 to make it a separate parish church. On 29 July, 1856, the inhabitants of Harpenden petitioned Dr. George Davys, bishop of Peterborough, as patron of the parish church of Wheathampstead, that at the next vacancy of the rectory Harpenden might be made a distinct parish. The memorialists showed that the total value of the whole living was £1,591, of which Harpenden contributed £809. At the next vacancy, which occurred in 1859, Harpenden was made a perpetual curacy, and in 1866 it became a rectory under the District Tithes Act of 1865, and a year or two later the bishop of Peterborough exchanged the advowson for that of Oundle in Northamptonshire with the Lord Chancellor, with whom the patronage now lies.

There are modern mission churches at Coldharbour and Kinsbourne Green, in the parish of Harpenden. There are two national schools in Wheathampstead, that near the church having been built in 1863, a church schoolroom used occasionally for services at Gustardwood, and one council's school and three national schools at Harpenden.

The old Congregational chapel at Wheathampstead, of red brick, a little to the west of the church, was opened on 5 July, 1815; beside it stands a new and larger chapel opened on 22 May, 1877. There is also a Wesleyan chapel in the village.

At Harpenden there was early in the nineteenth century a Congregational chapel. (fn. 19) Another chapel was opened on 14 July, 1840, and rebuilt in 1897. There is a small chapel for Primitive Methodists, and a Wesleyan chapel, built in 1886. (fn. 20)


The charities of the old parish of Wheathampstead have been allotted to the separate parishes of Wheathampstead and Harpenden as follows:—


James Marshall, by his will dated 13 December, 1719, bequeathed 48 acres 1 rood 31 perches of land in Harpenden and Luton for apprenticing poor boys of Wheathampstead and Harpenden. A small portion of the land was sold to cover the cost of redeeming the land tax, and the remainder, which included four houses and 40 acres of land, was exchanged for two houses at Harpenden and for Leasy Bridge Farm. The endowment now consists of a farm and land at Wheathampstead let at £59 a year, three houses and premises in Harpenden producing £63 13s. a year, and £119 14s. consols. The total income, amounting to about £125, is divided between the parishes.

Edward Smith in 1632 gave a charge upon a field called Nineteen Acres, parcel of Place Farm in Wheathampstead, with the payment of £10 a year, to be distributed among the poor of the parishes of Hatfield, Wheathampstead, Harpenden, Redbourn, and Sandridge. Of this, £2 a year has been lost; but the balance is distributed in bread, in accordance with the terms of this benefaction.

Thomas Kentish, who died in August, 1712, made a charge of 10s. yearly upon his farm called Cross Farm, for the benefit of the parish. This sum is distributed at Christmas to poor families in money and bread.

The dean and chapter of Westminster have paid yearly from time immemorial a sum of £4, under the title of the Labourers' Gift, to be distributed among the poor, which, it is suggested, is in satisfaction of an inclosure of common land. (fn. 21)

Parish or Church Lands.

—The parish was possessed from time immemorial of 3 roods in Pickford Common, and 3 roods 13 perches in Upper Down Common, and of two tenements and gardens in the village, the rents of which were applied in the repairs and maintenance of the parish church. In 1897 the property in the village, then consisting of 21 perches of land, and a dwelling-house and shop erected on part thereof was sold for £700, which, together with the sum of £12 received from a sale of 16 perches, then recently acquired by exchange, was invested in £633 4s. 7d. consols. The income, amounting to about £20 a year, is applied in the repairs of the church.

In 1883 George Ephgrave by his will left £600 to be invested and income applied in December of every year in the distribution of coal among poor and deserving widows. The legacy—less duty—is represented by £523 consols with the official trustees, and the annual dividends, amounting to £13 1s. 4d., are applied in accordance with the trusts.


William Hunt gave, by his will dated 16 March, 1592, a rent-charge of £6 13s. 4d. a year on his house at Top Street, a hamlet in this parish, and 1½ acres in Wheathampstead and Harpenden for the benefit of the poor. He also charged his house and 16 acres of land at Balmwell Green with the payment of 10s. a year for the purchase of bread and wine for the sacrament in the church. These payments are made by Sir Charles Lawes-Wittewronge, bart.

For Marshall's and Smith's charities see above.

By an order of the Court of Chancery dated 18 February, 1870, a sum of £424 11s. 4d. consols, arising under the will of Dr. Francis House Kingston, M.R.C.S. (dated 15 June, 1868), was transferred to the official trustees, the interest whereof to be distributed among the poor in bread or blankets.

In 1871 Miss Elizabeth Kingston by her will left £500 consols, dividends to be applied for the benefit of poor widowers. The same donor also bequeathed £1,000 consols, dividends to be applied for the benefit of poor widows and fatherless children.

The several sums of stock are held by the official trustees, and under an order of the Charity Commissioners dated 5 August, 1902, the several charities are administered by one body of trustees under the title of the Harpenden United Charities.


  • 1. The approximate dimensions of the church are: chancel, 45½ ft. by 20 ft.; tower, 20½ ft. square; north and south transept, 27 ft. by 18½ ft.; nave 45 ft. by 21½ ft.; north and south aisles, each 10½ ft. in width.
  • 2. Trans. St. Albans Arch. Soc. 1889, p. 15.
  • 3. Linc. Epis. Reg. Sutton, fol. 1d.
  • 4. John Brockett, in 1532, directed that he should be buried in the chapel of Our Lady (Wills, P.C.C. 20, Thower). John Brockett, apparently his grandson, whose tomb exists in the south transept, in 1558 directed that he should be buried in the chapel where his ancestors were buried in the same church (Wills, P.C.C. F. 18, Noodes).
  • 5. Wills, P.C.C. 30, Adeane.
  • 6. Thomas Leventhorp, in 1499, directed that his body be buried before the image of St. Katherine in 'the south ile' of the church. The term 'aisle' was frequently used at this date to denote the transept (Wills, P.C.C. 32, Horne).
  • 7. Chauncy (Hist. of Herts. 524) gives an inscription to William Grettewelle, rector of the parish and canon of Lincoln, who died on 4 of the Ides of February, 1401, now lost.
  • 8. Cussans, Hist. of Herts. Dacorum Hundred, 341.
  • 9. An inscription, said by Clutterbuck (Hist. of Herts. i, 518) to be under the platform on which the altar stands, to William Bristow (ob. 1599) and Agnes his wife (ob. 1590).
  • 10. Cussans, Hist. of Herts. Dacorum Hundred, 343.
  • 11. Cussans, Hist. of Herts. Dacorum Hundred, 359.
  • 12. See note 212, infra.
  • 13. Cussans, Hist of Herts. Dacorum Hundred, 364.
  • 14. Original ordination in the possession of Sir Charles Lawes-Wittewronge, bart.
  • 15. See above.
  • 16. See p. 307.
  • 17. If the font now in the church belonged originally to Harpenden chapel, the sacrament of baptism must have been administered here some hundred and twenty years before the date of this licence. It would seem possible that this font may have come from the mother church of Wheathampstead at the time that Harpenden chapel was licensed for sacraments in 1319, as it is evident that Wheathampstead had a new font then or a little later.
  • 18. Clutterbuck, Hist. of Herts. i, App. p. 47.
  • 19. Registers at Somerset House (Baptisms), 1819–21.
  • 20. The following trust deeds concerning this parish have been enrolled: Independents, Close, 1851, pt. 82, No. 1; Wesleyan Methodists at Kinsbourne Green, Close, 1858, pt. 72, No. 22; and a school at High Cross, Close, 1864, pt. 51, No. 13.
  • 21. Cussans, Hist. of Herts. Dacorum Hundred, 348.