Holy Trinity Church, Penn

 

Oldest building in the Conservation Area

Set in an acre of churchyard, Holy Trinity has a late 12th century nave, built in flint with clunch and tiles incorporated. The font, consecration crosses and stone tomb are also 12th century. The south aisle and low tower are early 14th century and the clerestory and the queen-post roof are c.1400. Visitors to the Church should note the rare “Penn Doom” one of only five surviving wooden tympanums in the country. It is a 12 foot wide painting of the” Last Judgement” on oak panels and hangs above the chancel arch. It was added in the 15th century when Penn Church was owned by Chalcombe Priory in Northamptonshire.

In the Lady Chapel there is a reminder of the importance of the local medieval tiling industry where an arrangement of 14th century Penn floor tiles may be seen, as well as a collection of Tudor and Stuart brasses of the Penn family. Wall monuments mainly dedicated to the 18th and early 19th century Curzons and Howes are also on display.

Six grandchildren of William Penn, the Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania are buried in a family vault under the centre of the nave. Heraldic shields on the roof corbels show eight centuries of English history.The Church has had its share of colourful vicars. During the 14th century the vicar was murdered with an axe. In 1539, at the time of the Reformation, the vicar of Penn was jailed at Aylesbury by his churchwardens for “uttering certain opprobrious words”.

Six grandchildren of William Penn, the Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania are buried in a family vault under the centre of the nave. Heraldic shields on the roof corbels show eight centuries of English history.The Church has had its share of colourful vicars. During the 14th century the vicar was murdered with an axe. In 1539, at the time of the Reformation, the vicar of Penn was jailed at Aylesbury by his churchwardens for “uttering certain opprobrious words”.

External appearance

In the 1730s, Sir Nathaniel Curzon made major alterations to the church that gave us the shape we know today. Fortunately, we have a drawing that pre-dates these changes. It is a lithograph of c.1800, but various clues indicate that it is a copy of an earlier drawing made in the 17th C and is an accurate record of the church’s appearance at the time. The artist was W.F. Campbell, an unknown and apparently amateur draughtsman, whose initials appear on one of the gravestones in the drawing.

There is no written record or architectural evidence of any major work on the church in the 16th and 17th C, indeed there is specific evidence of the serious neglect which was entirely typical of many Anglican churches in the 150 years of religious turmoil following the Reformation. We can therefore reasonably assume that this 17th C drawing also represents the shape of the Catholic church, in the late Middle Ages before the Reformation.

The church looks better proportioned than today because the nave roof was some 3 feet lower and the chancel, the upper part largely rebuilt in the 1730s, about 8 feet shorter. The walls were covered with render to protect the soft clunch from weathering, and this was not removed until the 1950s. The East window was narrower than today, with diagonal leading and, almost certainly, clear glass had replaced earlier medieval stained glass. The north porch was a foot lower than now, its buttresses were much thinner and the doorframe had different shaped moulding.

The drawing shows a tiled roof in what appears to be bad condition. We know, from a written record of 1552, that the roof was then tiled, at a time when most ordinary buildings were still thatched. Many churches in the later Middle Ages had very low-pitched, lead roofs. Earlier still, they may have been thatched or with wooden shingles, but probably not in Penn, where a tilemaker is recorded as early as 1222. The manufacture of clay roof tiles was big business by the 14th C and roof tiles were incorporated in the building of the nave walls and buttresses.

So well positioned is this ancient church, that from the top of the church tower and on a clear day, it was claimed that 12 counties could be seen.

Copyright:  Miles Green

 Posted by at 8:16 am
Customized Social Media Icons from Acurax Digital Marketing Agency
Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On Facebook