Our Church during the Middle Ages

No 21: Corbels: Turville, Penn, Holy Trinity (all guesses)

The fine timbered roof, which we admire today was first raised C.1400, supported by 12 stone corbels. Whether they also supported the earlier, lower roof we do not know.

In 1952, when the Rev. Oscar Muspratt was having the Church renovated, there was scarcely any trace of visible colour to any of the corbels, but there was sufficient outline of the original carving to identify seven of them. The remaining five were painted with arms thought appropriate to the history of the parish.

Three of the five ‘guesses’ are the corbels between the north porch and the chancel:

1)The Turville arms, nearest to the porch (on a demi-man with a high collar and spiky hair holding a shield) are those of the family who were the overlords of the Pennes (see Part 16) and who held the patronage of the church in its early years.

2) The Penn arms (on a demi-man in a cap and knitted pullover, holding a shield). The arms first appear in written records in about 1308 when the parliamentary Roll of Arms assigns ‘Argent, on a fess sable, 3 plates to Sire Johan de la Penne’. He was twice Knight of the Shire for Buckinghamshire but his forbears were also of the knightly class, and the arms are likely to date from the early years of heraldry at least a century earlier.

(The arms on the corbel were originally mistaken since the three plates or roundels should be silver rather than gold  – since corrected)

3) A symbol of the Holy Trinity. I suggested (Part 4) that the original dedication of the church may not have been to the Holy Trinity.

© Miles Green, August 1999.

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No 22: The Corbels (continued)

The corbel holding up the roof on the south side of the nave, just above the pulpit, was painted with the Segrave arms during the 1952 restoration. This was an informed guess because insufficient carving and colour survived to identify the original design.

However it was a good guess because the Segraves were very important in Penn during the Middle Ages. Stephen de Segrave was Constable of Dover and Warden of the Cinque Ports at a time when the south coast was being continually harassed by French raiders. He was also Chief Justice of the Kings Bench in 1232 and Sheriff of both Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire from 1228 – 34.

Stephen’s second wife was related to the Turvilles and it seems to have been through her that he first held land in Penn. He soon acquired more when in 1222, Nicholas de la Penne was found guilty of murdering a neighbouring landowner over a dispute about pasturing a horse. Nicholas was hanged and his property in Penn, 1/4 knights fee, amounting to about a fifth of the parish, was confiscated by the King and given to Stephen de Segrave.

The new Segrave Manor took in Knotty Green and Forty Greeen including Bayline Farm and a 150 acre deer park with a hunting lodge at its centre which we now call Seagraves Farm. The Seagrave family never lived in Penn and their bailiff  lived in the manor house/farm on Church Road next to Watercroft which is still known as the Manor House.

The Penn family bought back Segraves Manor, in 1607, but separate manorial records were kept for two centuries thereafter.

Stephen de Segrave’s son, Gilbert, married Amabilia de Chaucumb whose family had founded Chacombe Priory in Northamptonshire, And it was to be Chacombe Priory which was to hold the rectory of Penn and appoint its priests for nearly three centuries until the Reformation.

It is good to note that a new housing development in Knotty Green has recently been called Chacombe Place.

© Miles Green, October 1999.

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No 23: The Roof Corbels (cont’d)

The next five corbels discussed below were all part of the original design for the new roof in c.1400.

The second corbel from the east end of the south wall, almost above the pulpit, shows the arms of the Bishop of Bayeux and there is a similar one on the north side of the nave. The Bishop was William the Conqueror’s half brother and held the manor at the time of the Domesday Book, although he lost his estates only two years later when he rebelled against his nephew, William Rufus. The builder of 1400 must have been aware of the Domesday entry for Taplow, and that it included Penn.

St. George is represented on the next corbel, an unsurprising choice at a time of war with France.

Next is very probably Edward III (1327-77). The corbel depicts a bearded and crowned king’s head and shoulders, a fine piece of portrait sculpture, not just a random conventional kingly type. Dr. Clive Rouse, a nationally acknowledged expert on such matters, suggested Edward Ill. He had been a generous benefactor of Penn tilers and was a famous warrior king.

The immediately adjacent corbel shows a grotesque man’s head, bearded and moustached, with a huge nose, wearing a red painted, stiffened  ‘cap of estate’, a sign of rank only one degree below a coronet which a king might wear on occasion. Dr Rouse suggested that this might well be a caricature of Richard II after his deposition, in 1399, by Henry of Lancaster who was Penn’s overlord at the time. Caricatures of this kind were quite common in churches.

© Miles Green, December 1999.

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No 24: The Doom

The Penn Doom

The painting of the Doom, or Last Judgement, which hangs high above the chancel arch may not seem impressive at first sight, but it is a very rare survival from the Middle Ages. There are only five of its type in the country.

It has hung in our Church for 600 years and is all that is left to remind us of the colourful images that so impressed the largely illiterate worshippers in the Catholic Church that served our predecessors. All such evidence of popery was forbidden after the Anglican Church was established and the painting, which was then fitted under the chancel arch, was whitewashed over in about 1550. A further layer of the lath and plaster was added, probably when the chancel arch was rebuilt in 1733.

1938: The boards of the Penn Doom roughly
reassembled and freed of lath and plaster and
some whitewash, immediately after discovery,
but before cleaning.

It was only rediscovered in 1938, quite by chance and in its present position, when workmen were repairing the roof. They broke up what they thought was old lath and plaster and piled it in the churchyard to be carted away. Some was taken to the local rubbish tip. One of the workmen was about to take some home for firewood when he noticed a face painted on its surface. He called the Vicar who called Dr. Clive Rouse, a very considerable expert in such matters, who at once realised its importance and after two days combing through the rubbish tip, recovered and assembled as many of the pieces as he could find.
(An extended article on the Penn Doom, Records of Buckinghamshire, Vol 44, 2004)

A painting of the Doom made by Dr. Clive Rouse. Pinxit 1939.

The Penn-Pennsylvania Fellowship have recently paid for a survey by Ruth Bubb, an expert conservator, who has recommended that it should be taken down to be repaired, cleaned and treated for woodworm. This would also allow a close technical examination by experts using X-rays, infra red reflectography and pigment analysis. One particular area of interest is that an earlier painting, more delicate in tone and line, underlies the simpler, bolder design, which we can see.

The PCC have decided to accept Ruth Bubb’s advice, and the Diocesan Advisory Committee has given their agreement. Application will be made to various grant-making bodies.

Extended Penn Doom article, Records of Bucks, 2004

© Miles Green, February 2000.
Photograph courtesy Eddie Morton, ARPS

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No 25: The Roof Corbels (cont’d)

The corbel in the corner of the south wall of the nave, next to the organ, has the shield of the Curzon Howe family. It was a ‘guess’ during the 1952 restoration, painted over an unidentifiable earlier shield, but cannot have been an original device since the Curzon Howe alliance came into being only 200 years ago.

On the north wall, in the other corner by the organ, is the Mohun shield. This was identifiable in 1952. Sir John de Mohun (1320-75) was one of the Black Prince’s leading followers and one of the original Knights of Garter – his name and arms are still in St. George’s Chapel Windsor.

His connection with Penn was through his mother who was a Segrave. He married a neice of the Bishop of Lincoln who survived him by thirty years. We know she built and endows a chantry chapel in Canterbury and the unexpected Mohun shield in Penn may record a similar offering to Mother Church. The suggested date of c.1400 for our timber roof fits well.

Her connection with the Bishop of Lincoln may also explain the figure of a Bishop on the corbel near the north door. Alternatively the Bishop represented could be St. Hugh (1186-1200), the Bishop who began the rebuilding of Lincoln Cathedral.

© Miles Green, January 2000.

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No 26: The Rood screen and Rood group

Most late medieval churches had a wooden screen dividing the people’s nave from the holy area of the chancel. The lower part, to about waist height, was made of solid wooden panels, usually painted with the patron saint and other popular saints, with a central door.

Elaborately carved posts supported a loft or gallery which in turn supported the great central crucifix known as the Rood, flanked by Mary and John. A painting of Judgement Day or Doomsday was set in the tympanum of the chancel arch above or behind the Rood group.

The Rood group and screen thus summarised the essentials of medieval Christian belief and was still a ritual prop which served as a focus of worship, particularly on Palm Sunday when the Clerk often stood in the Rood-loft at the foot of the Cross to sing the service.

The Doom survives in Penn and what appears to be the opening to the Rood-loft staircase was found set in the south wall, during restoration work in 1952. In the centre of the wooden beam above the chancel arch there is still the socket which held the Rood in place with a hook on each side to support the figures of Mary and John.

Rood loft opening …

One or more candles were kept burning all the time on the Rood loft and parishioners provided for them in their wills. Thus in 1513, William Grove left a sheep, and in 1544, Thomas Bovingdon bequethed 4d to the Rood-light of Penn. The burning of any lights except for two candles on the altar was strictly forbidden by an injunction of 1547 after Henry VIII’s death released the full vigour of reforming Protestant zeal. It is therefore very surprising to find that, as late as January 1549, Roger Playter could still bequeth 2d to the Rood-light at Penn and 2d to the priest ‘to say masse in the chapell for my soule at a time convenient‘ .

© Miles Green, August 2000.


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