Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Mediaeval Churches 1 : " Saint Mary Mead "

Murder at the Vicarage
The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Hambleden.
This view from the south east shews the chancel
partly obscured by a chapel flanking it
and the south transept.
Devotees of BBC television dramas frequently see fine old English churches as a backdrop to the story. The writer of this column is often more interested in the churches than the storyline. In some cases, such churches figure more prominently than others, as in a re-screening last night (Australia) of the 2004 production of Agatha Christie's Murder at the Vicarage. This novel is set in the fictional village of Saint Mary Mead and the famous amateur sleuth, Miss Jane Marple, lives opposite the church and vicarage.

In this instance, the church exterior and interior depicted were two completely different buildings as, I expect, was the vicarage location.

This post concerns that church outside which parts of the production were filmed, Saint Mary the Virgin in Hambleden in Buckinghamshire (UK).  It seems that the church was used for another BBC Agatha Christie mystery Sad Cypress

Murder at the Vicarage
View of the church looking up the path 
from the lychgate. 
At the southwest corner of the nave
can be seen a timber porch constructed 
in the 19th century to protect 
the original stone
doorway of the 14th century.
Like so many old English churches, Saint Mary's was built and rebuilt over many centuries and yet has a certain harmony of appearance because the same basic materials - flintstone and chalk with stone dressings - were employed at most stages of its development. It has its origins in the 12th century, as a cruciform building in the Norman style, but this basic plan was much altered in the two centuries which followed, so that Norman features are not immediately obvious from the exterior.

The church had a central tower over the Crossing which seems to have been part of the original building, but this collapsed and a new tower was built in a different situation at the west end of the building in the eighteenth century, and heightened to its present form in the late 19th century. The appearance of this tower, built when Gothic architecture was at its lower ebb, nevertheless in its simplicity complements the older work. 

A detailed description of Saint Mary's Hambleden may be found here.

Murder at the Vicarage
View of Saint Mary the Virgin from the north east.
The northern transept, although much altered, is the oldest part of the building.
Another chapel (built in the 19th century) flanking the chancel
adjoins the transept. Also shewn is a small vestry.

The late Gerald MacEwan with some of the cast of the
BBC production " Murder at the Vicarage ".
They are standing outside the lychgate of Saint Mary's church.