Church History and Tour

The earliest written reference to Little Gaddesden church is to be found in a document dated 1161, signed by Thomas a’Becket, who lived in Berkhamsted castle at that time. The main body of the church was built between 1370 and 1450 although the tower is probably of a little earlier date. It has undergone many changes since then. It was extended in 1812, restored and re-modelled in 1876, extended again in 1964, and it underwent major repair works in 1991.

Tour of the Church

Take a tour of the church, starting at the East end. Load the panorama below, then click on the icons to find out about features of interest.

The tour starts at the East window and altar, comes back through the chancel to the nave, and then works round clockwise from the Bridgewater Chapel to finish at the organ. Here’s what the tour takes in:

East Window

The East Window design is derived from Albrecht Durer of Nurnberg. The glass was made by Burlinson and Grylls who also made the Noyes window in the north wall, depicting St Elizabeth and St Mary with beautiful faces.

Photo of East Window
The East Window

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The Altar – the table where the bread and wine are offered at Holy Communion – is dressed in different colours depending on the liturgical season. Somewhat unusually, Little Gaddesden’s altar can be lit from within and houses a nativity scene at Christmas.

Photo of the Altar
The Altar
Photo of the Altar at Christmas
The Altar at Christmas

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Floor Tiles

The Floor Tiles throughout are by Maws. Those in the chancel are decorated with the symbols for St Peter and St Paul – the keys and the sword.

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The Chancel was enlarged between 1876 and 1879 when the east wall was taken down and moved outwards a metre.  The roof was raised and you can still see the corbels which supported the original roof.  At this time, too, an 18th Century gallery was removed – along with a cornet player who played “fancy tunes” at the end of the services.

The Wall Paintings on the East wall of the chancel were based on a 15th Century Italian fresco painted by a pupil of Fra Angelico.  They were painted in 1896 by a Miss Burnett who lived in Berkhamsted.  Most of the paintings of saints in the wooden panels below were painted by sometime rector, the Revd. Charlton Lane, whose head is on the second figure from the left, St. Barnabas.

The Reredos is a copy of 13th Century Italian work by the Cosmati family who made monuments in Westminster Abbey to St Edward the Confessor and King Henry III.

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The Screen is probably 15th Century and originally extended across the North aisle.

Photo of screen

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The Pulpit incorporates nine angel figures made in pre-Raphaelite style by Mrs Mary Watts of Compton, Surrey, while round the base are carved wooden symbols representing the four evangelists.

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War Remembrance

The Church’s War Memorial is to the left of the arch leading into the Bridgewater Chapel, and revised Roll of Honour is to the right. The original (1919) Roll of Honour is within the Bridgewater Chapel on the south wall.

Follow the link to the War Remembrance pages:

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The Bridgewater Chapel

Photo of Bridgewater Chapel
Bridgewater Chapel

The Bridgewater Chapel was originally built as a mausoleum for the Bridgewater family from Ashridge House, and entered by the door in the south wall of the chancel.  A new arch was constructed in the alterations in 1896 to join the chapel to the south aisle and it became to be used as a vestry, reverting to a chapel in 1963 when the new vestry block was constructed.   It contains many monuments to the Bridgewater family, not least the 3rd Duke – The Father of Inland Navigation. 

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Bridgewater Chapel Monuments

The Monuments in the Bridgewater Chapel and elsewhere around the church are very fine and contain beautifully inscribed tributes.  The majority are in memory of the Dukes and Earls of Bridgewater and their families.  The family was founded by Sir Thomas Egerton, who became Viscount Brackley and Baron Ellesmere. Sir Thomas was Keeper of the Great Seal under Elizabeth l, and Lord Chancellor of England under James l.  He had purchased Ashridge House from the Queen (Elizabeth I), who had inherited it from her father, Henry VIII. Henry had appropriated it after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. 

Ashridge had originally been a college of monks of the Order of Bonhommes, founded in 1276 by Edmund, grandson of King John.

Memorial to Anne Gill, née Norton, in the Bridgewater Chapel.

Photo of Memorial to Anne Gill, née Norton, in the Bridgewater Chapel.

Bas Relief

The Bas Relief above the altar in the Bridgewater chapel is a memorial to the 7th Earl of Bridgewater and is by Sir Richard Westmacott.  It is called ‘The Midday Rest’ and considered one of his best works.

Canon Howard Senar, in his booklet “Little Gaddesden Church, Hertfordshire”, writes:

John William the 7th Earl succeeded to the Earldom but not the Dukedom, which lapsed. He was son of John Egerton, Bishop of Durham, and cousin of the Canal Duke. He rebuilt Ashridge House using James and Jeffry Wyatt. A man of great family pride. He built this chapel, using Jeffry Wyatt. He died 1823. Sir Richard Westmacott RA was commissioned to carve the memorial. It was called “The Midday Rest” and is one of Westmacott’s best pieces of sculpture. It has been suggested that it was inspired by a “Holy Family” group in Florence. Westmacott was a pupil of Canova.

The Earl and his lady (she died 1849) have their profiles carved on either side of the church porch.

Photo of Bas Relief above the altar in the Bridgewater chapel.

Bas Relief above the altar in the Bridgewater chapel: a memorial to the 7th Earl of Bridgewater by Sir Richard Westmacott. Click for larger image.

Monument to the 8th Earl of Bridgewater

The Monument to the 8th Earl of Bridgewater refers to a legacy he left for the writing of treatises to show the wisdom of God as revealed in nature.  Eight essays were written and are known as ‘The Bridgewater Treatises’  They are kept in the British Museum.

Photo of Monument to the 8th Earl of Bridgewater

Monument to the 8th Earl of Bridgewater . Click for larger image.

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South Aisle Monuments

The “Red Lady” monument in the South Aisle commemorates Elizabeth Dutton, the granddaughter of Sir Thomas Egerton, Baron Ellesmere. She “liv’d true Spouse & Widow, dyed a maid”: her husband was killed — reputedly on their wedding day — in an accident in which they were riding the same horse. Elizabeth survived him only for a year or so.

The monument came from St Martin’s-in-the-Fields in Central London in 1730 when the old church there was pulled down.

Photo of the Red Lady Monument.
The ‘Red Lady’ monument. Click for larger image.

Above the South Aisle door is the monument to John Egerton, the Second Earl of Bridgewater. He was the widower of Elizabeth (née Cavendish), the Second Countess, in whose memory he erected the Great Monument in the North Aisle.

Photo of Monument to John Egerton, the Second Earl of Bridgewater.

Monument to John Egerton, the Second Earl of Bridgewater. Click for larger image.

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The tapestry kneelers were made in 1969 at the instigation of Mrs Megan Mead.  The then rector, Canon Howard Senar chose the main colours and the designs were chiefly crosses and fleurs de lys with borders.  They were stitched by many people in the village, often in memory of someone.  The church youth group, The Sword and Keys worked the kneelers with that design on, Megan’s mother-in-law worked over thirty of them, just after her husband had died, and Lavender Loxley, who organised the kneelers at Potten End, gave advice and worked the fish and kneeling ladies.  With children in mind, designs with animals and birds were included, and the then organist’s daughter stitched the Dresden Amen.  The individual kneelers were taken apart, cleaned, stitched together and fastened to the wooden kneeling benches in 2012.

Photo of tapestry kneelers
Tapestry kneelers

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The two columns supporting the three arches between the nave and south aisle were built in 1896 (leaving in the Corsican pine beam, which was plastered over), the arch between the south aisle and chapel was formed. This beam finally succumbed to dry rot, along with many of the roof timbers and significant repair work had to be carried out in 1991.

Photo of columns supporting the three arches between the nave and south aisle

Columns supporting the three arches between the nave and south aisle

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List of Incumbents

Just to the right of the door (on the left as you come into the church) is a list of incumbents dating from 1276 with Roger de Duckingham and continuing in an unbroken line to the present day. 

Photo of list of incumbents
List of incumbents

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Historical Illustrations

Historical illustrations on the window cill by the font show that the interior of the church has undergone extensive alterations, starting in 1812 when James Wyatt, who had been employed by the 7th Earl of Bridgewater to rebuild Ashridge House, was employed to build the South aisle and Chapel which was originally entered by the door in the chancel, and was used as a vestry.  The wall between the nave and the south aisle which had been removed, was replaced by a single low arch beneath a huge beam of Corsican pine, 60cm square in section, holding up the roof of the nave and aisle.

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The font is used for baptisms. A baptism is a ceremony by which is person becomes a member  of the the church. Presented to Ivinghoe Church by the 7th Earl of Bridgewater and given to this church in about 1872. The font cover remains from the previous font.

The Font stands to the left of the entrance (South Door) of the church.

Photo of font

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Although the main body of the church was built between 1370 and 1450, the tower is probably of a little earlier date. It has undergone many changes since then, being extended in 1812, restored and remodelled in 1876, extended again in 1964, and it underwent major repair works in 1991.

Photo of church tower (external view)
Church tower

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The Bells

Photo of the ring of six bells in the tower

Click on the photo of the bells, or here, to learn more about the ring of bells in the tower.

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West Window

The tiny West Window in the north aisle is of German glass and dates from 1534.  It came from Ashridge House.

Photo of North Aisle Window

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The Great Monument

Photo of the Great Monument
The Great Monument

The Great Monument was erected by the second Earl of Bridgewater in memory of Elizabeth (née Cavendish), his Countess, and of his parents, the first Earl and Countess. Click on the link below to see the informative monograph on the subject by Felicity Lidderdale.

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The brass eagle lectern was given by William Paxton, who died in 1878 and was agent to the Earl Brownlow.

Photo of lectern

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Hymn Board

The Hymn Board is quite an unusual example of the art of marquetry, using the veneers of timber of contrasting colours, often quite exotic varieties, cut to form an interlocking pattern and glued to a base.  The base is made from American black walnut.  The angel figure is made up with veneers cut from holly, box, plain and figured sycamore, English walnut, ebony and Indian rosewood.  The feathering of the wings is kingwood and some tulipwood, while the halo is made from thin sheet copper.  The frame holding the hymn number cards is from brown oak, a scarce and much sought after variety of ordinary English oak which has been attacked in early life by the ‘beefsteak’ fungus which stains, but does not damage, the grain and markings of the wood.  Outlines of fingers, toes and facial features are picked out and emphasised by burning with red hot wire (pyrography).  An engraved metal plate is inserted into the back of the board and bears the inscription:


Photo of hymn board
Hymn board

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Choir Stalls

Photo of Choir Stalls

The Choir Stalls incorporate several original mediaeval carved end panels, although they and the nave pews were made in the 1870s.

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The Organ

The church organ was made by G.M. Holditch of London in 1870, a much respected organ builder of the 19th Century. In the words of Eric Pask, the St Albans Diocesan Organ Consultant “this little instrument is simply and soundly constructed, in musical terms extraordinarily effective for its modest size, and of especial importance because of its age and, in most respects, excellent condition”. The organ appears in the Clutton/Niland Gazetter of organs of historic significance.

It was re-voiced in 1921 by the Revd. Noel Bonavia-Hunt, one of the great organ experts of last century. It was restored by R. Crabbe, organ builder of Wing, and more recently in 2006 by V.H.M. Woodstock of Redbourn.

Photo of church organ

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If you have found this information interesting or useful, please consider making a donation to Little Gaddesden Church.
It’s quick and easy to do on our Donate page, and your generosity will be much appreciated.

Photo Credits: Peter Leonhardt, Barbara Sheard, Michael Carver (panorama)