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Brief History.


Early Days.

The early history of Westmill and it's church is shrouded in the mists of antiquity, so foundation dates can only be conjectural. It is known that there was a settlement here well before the Norman Conquest so it seems probable that a church has stood on this site for about 1000 years.

Anglo Saxon Period.

The existence of some "long,, and short" stones, typical of this period, at the South East angle of the Nave, would indicate a substantial building, which if it followed the usual plan, consisted of a Nave about the present size, short Chancel with square or apsidal East end, low round headed Chancel arch, timber framed roof and, if there was one, a short square tower. It is built of flints, commonly used in East Anglia, with stone dressings of Clunch and Barnack. The walls were plastered, having simple stone slip decoration outside and crude coloured patterns within. Small windows high up in the walls, deeply splayed jambs, and filled with horn, oiled linen or wooden shutters. A stone slab altar and a few rough benches completed the rudimentary furnishings.

12th. and 13th. Centuries.

From the absence of any visible Norman features it must be assumed that the church remained largely unaltered until the end of the 12th. century when the North Aisle was added to accommodate growing congregation and to provide a Lady Chapel which more elaborate ritual demanded. The addition was made by piercing the wall of the Nave to form the two arched openings we now see, leaving blocks of the original masonry as supports. The more usual method was to knock down the whole wall and build a now stone arcade, so lack of money may have dictated this rough and ready procedure. In 1270 a chantry was built by the Lewknors, then Lords of the Manor, at the East end of the new Aisle, with, it is said, a Squint 8 ft. long to give a view of the High Altar. No trace of this now remains. The windows would by now have been altered to single light lancets in the side walls, with three lights above the altars, glazed with grisaille or plain glass. Stained glass was still expensive and only rarely found in country parishes. Furnishings had become less austere, but people stood or knelt for worship, and benches wound the walls were provided only for the aged and infirm, hence the phrase "the weakest to the wall".

14th. Century.

The East Wall of the Nave was now rebuilt and the Anglo Saxon arch was replaced by a new one, much wider and taller and supported on responds of three engaged shafts with moulded capitals. It is amusing to note the error of measurement by the masons which resulted in the lop sided effect above the springing line to the right of the arch. The oldest of the 8 bells, now reduced to 5, is dated 1350 Which confirms that a tower existed at that time, contrary to official records which place it at the end of the 15th. century or later. The explanation may well be that an earlier tower was rebuilt or extensively remodelled then, when it acquired its present characteristic Perpendicular appearance* The tower stands 85 ft to the parapet -tnd with the "Hertfordshire Spike" a later addition, taking it to over 100 ft. is one of the best in the district.

15th. Century.

A time of great activity in church building everywhere, and at Westmill, major alterations. As already suggested, it seems likely that towards the end of the century the top stage of the tower was added, either to accommodate more bells, or to vie with a neighbouring parish, a not infrequent reason for alterations. Then strong diagonal load bearing buttresses to support the extra weight were added at each corner. Next came new belfry windows; below the parapet, gargoyles doing double duty as water spouts and scarers of evil spirits, a fine West door and window, and round the base of the tower a band of flushwork. The West door frame has canopied niches in the jambs, once holding figures of saints, and in the spandrels of the arch are spirited carvings of angels swinging censers. The drip mould terminates in carved label stops, one of which is a hare looking over it's shoulder.

The church was entirely re-roofed, and the splendid Nave roof of trussed rafter construction, with King posts and supported on massive tie belins, remains largely unaltered to this day. The Chancel and Aisle roofs are unfortunately l9th. century
replacements and all that can be seen'is a single tie bean over the East window in the Chancel. Little Munden Church has an exactly similar roof, so that the same carpenters were at work in both parishes at the time. The very tall and graceful West or belfry arch is of interest in that it has no capitals and springs from the ground to the apex in one unbroken line. The octagonal Font, of clunch, has carved and decorated panels on all but one face, shewing that it once stood against a wall, probably by the South door. The South window in the Nave, later altered, was rebuilt, as was the West window in the aisle, partly of brick and similar to one at Wyddial Church of the same period.

A Rood screen and loft stretched across the Chancel arch, and over it coloured and gilded figures of Christ Crucified with St.Mary and St.John, perhaps with a "Doom" painting behind. The doorway to the loft can be clearly seen in the wall above the lectern, but the stairs have disappeared. The 15th. century interior was all light and colour, statues of saints in bright colours stood on wall brackets and in niches, the windows were filled with stained glass, wall paintings had become more sophisticated, and sumptuous 2,ltar hangings and vestments all combined to provide a dazzling spectacle for the congregation whose daily lives were spent in surroundings of appalling squalor and discomfort.

16th./l7th./18th. Centuries.

Probably less constructive work was carried out in the church during these three hundred years than at any other time in it's history, due to political pressures and upheavals with which these notes cannot be concerned. There is no evidence in the church of the destruction ind vandalism which took place after the Reformation and continued during the Civil War a century later, so either Westmill was lucky, or any such traces were obliterated during the lth. century when the church was attacked by the restorers. The 17th. and 18th. cents. were renowned for the number and magnificence of their memorials, and it is strange that there is nothing at all in the church from this period.

Dating from these three hundred years there are in the church, five oak pews c.1500, four poupee heads of the same date, one very much restored, and now incorporated in the choir seats, two bells dated 1616 and 1757, altar rails md gate from the late 17th. century and from among the church plate, a communion cup of 1562, a paten of 1630 and an important alms dish of 1713.

l9th. Century.

Two restorations, but first consider what the church probably looked like at the start of the century. Gone is the pomp and colour of mediaeval days, all is now plain and simple to the point of austerity, horse box pews crowd the floor, those of the gentry paid for annually and lined with coloured baize, there is a gallery across the West arch and underneath what may be the 15th. century chancel screen cut down and altered to fit. The roof boarded over and plastered, the walls limewashed in white or ochre, the vigorous wall paintings gone and in their place texts in coloured borders. There is a three decker pulpit, for parson and parish clerk, the altar without cross or candles is covered with crimson velvet, I H S woven in gold on the front. On the East wall are two boards, on one the Ten Commandments, on the other The Lord's Prayer. Plain glass fills the windows and there is no provision for artificial lighting as services are not held after dark. Dusty and forlorn, the fabric is now seriously decaying.

1834. The first restoration, re-tiling the roof and some urgent structural repairs. Three bells sold to pay the bill.

1876. The great onslaught, when under Ewan Christian, a London architect of strong evangelical convictions, the church was subjected to a most ferocious attack. Wills were stripped, harshly re-flinted without, harshly cemented within, window tracery and mullions, string courses and quoin stones scraped and re-used or replaced with hard unyielding portland stone. The Chancel roof scrapped and a now one in pitch pine of no recognisable parentage substituted. The gallery dismantled, the pews taken out and new ones in stained deal fitted, and a nice new pulpit in middle period gothic, all shiny with ginger varnish, to replace the old one. Behind the new altar table the East wall was covered with encaustic tiles, with the floor to match, of a type ,md colour usually found in late Victorian bathrooms of the grander sort. Above it a window of hard new stone in a debased Tudor style was filled with stained glass of quite extraordinary ineptitude. The South door was remodelled and the old porch rebuilt, the arch being inscribed with an appropriate quotation from Psalm 122. A new vestry was built at the end of the North aisle with a tall arched opening into the Chancel where a new pipe organ by Bevington was installed. And to complete the transformation the Font was moved, placed on a new tiled step, to it's present position under the tower. All this cost 1,600, raised by public subscription, and we must all be grateful to that generation for preventing the church from falling down, but some raiy wish that they had used more understanding and less zeal in their task.!

The Present (1971)
The work of preservation continues, the tower has been re-pointed, a new heating system installed and recently converted to oil, a chiming mechanism installed as the bell frame is no longer safe, another new pulpit, carpets and kneelers, and the organ overhauled. Everywhere there is evidence that the church is still cared for by the people of Westmill in whose hands it's future lies.

Peter Larkworthy

{2jtab: History of Townsend}

TOWNSEND HISTORY

The area of Townsend is part of what was known as Turkey Hills, in the northwest angle of Middlesex county, on the northern margin of Massachusetts, bordered on the North by the foothills of the New Hampshire mountains.

The General Court voted, Dec. 7, 1719, to lay out two Towns, each not over six miles square, " to be settled in a defensible manner" appointing a committee with power to allot and grant out the land in lots of not over 250 acres each, to such persons as would effectually settle the same within the next three years; at least 80 families were to be admitted to each Town; each allotment was to be sold for five pounds; each purchaser was required to build a good dwelling house thereon and inhabit it; and to break up and fence in three acres of land at least within three years; one lot was to be laid out and reserved for "the first settled Minister, a good! convenient lot; also a lot for the School, and a ministerial lot, and a lot for Harvard College, of 250 acres each, and that the Settlers be obliged to build a good, convenient House for the Worship of God in each of said Towns, within 4 years".

The Committee filed its report dated May 11, 1720; it shows the "North town" grants to 72 persons, in lots of 250 acres each. Some of the grantees were stated to be acting for named sons or servants. Most of them paid 2 pounds, 10 s. down, on signing subscription, tile balance of 50 shillings being payable on the drawing, or laying roll of the lot. the grantees were largely from Concord, Billerica, Groton and other neighboring towns, but eight were from Woburn: six of these eight were Wymans, viz; Solomon, Thomas, Edward, Benjamin, John and Jasher.

The purchase price was in "old tenor" money, being the depreciated colonial paper currency issued beginning with 1702, and which was then current at the rate of 71/2 s, old tenor, for 1 shilling silver. So, an entire 250 acres cost but $2.22 in British or Federal coin.

The soil was quite productive, wild game abundant, and the area so protected by the mountains to the North, from the severest winter winds, as to add to its desirability. The new settlers spent some of their summers during the next three years in clearing off timber, building houses, etc., returning to Woburn or other home for the winters.

In 1732, the Court passed an act incorporating the area as the Town of Townshend (the "h" was eventually dropped), upon condition that the Town should within two years "procure and settle a learned orthodox minister of good conversation in said Town, and malice provision for his comfortable and honorable support".

Sometime after incorporation the Town set a bounty of one hundred pounds (old tenor presumably) for each Indian scalp! (So friendly were relations with the Indians! ) And ten pounds for every wolf killed within the Townsend limits.

Not all the six Wymans came to Townsend to live, at least permanently; or if they did, soon went elsewhere. Ebenezer Wyman, of Woburn, who was not on the list of original Proprietors-he was only 14 years old at the time of the allotment-arrived there before 1733. It is a fair guess that he bought from his brother Solomon, or one of the other Wymans. He was a Town Selectman in 1757. The Revolutionary period records mention only three Wymans,- Elijah, Thomas and Samuel- from Townsend, and the church marriage records show only Ebenezer, Sr., his son Elijah and daughter Anna, or others of his family, as marrying there during the next 75 or 100 years following settlement.

Life was no more a bed of roses in Townsend than in other pioneer settlements. And iridescent dreams were not indulged. An independent existence was the goal-hard work the assumed path.

Life was very primitive. Horses were scarce. A yoke of oxen hitched to a two wheeled vehicle was a popular means of transportation to church. For eighty years after the incorporation, hogs were permitted to run at large.

The settlers were soon comparatively independent. They sheared their own sheep, cleaned, spun and wove the wool. Lighter fabrics they made from the flax they raised, spun by a foot wheel. They raised their own grain, ground it into flour; produced plenty of vegetables, and raised their own meat animals. The maple tree gave them sugar. But they could not raise salt. So the Town bought salt in bulk, and levied taxes to pay for it, presumably distributing it proportionately to tax payments.

A family library consisted of the Bible, a Psalter, a few pamphlets, and well thumbed religious books.

As late as 1765, there was a town population of but 598, and 110 years later it had increased to but 2196.

The 'town" form of government worked splendidly for New England. It was adapted to sparsely settled, homogeneous communities. Everyone knew the business of local government, because it was part of intimate neighborhood life.

The approach of the Revolution found only a few loyalist or pro British among the town population, and these few accepted an official invitation to leave the Town. The Town formed two companies of militia, for home guard and emergency purposes. The "alam list" included men too young or too old for prolonged war service-under 18 or over 50. The Muster Roll of Captain James Hosley's Company of Minute Men, Colonel William Prescott's Regiment, who marched from Townsend April 19, 1775 "in defense of the colony against the ministerial troops" included Elijah Wyman-and THomas, probably of the same generation. On Aug. 1, 1775, the muster roll of the Company of Captain Henry Farwell, Colonel William Preston's Regiment, also included Thomas Wyman of Townsend.

The muster roll of volunteers of the Company of Captain Hosley, from Townsend, Pepperell and Ashby, who marched to the assistance of Major General Gates, Sept. 22, 1777, in Colonel Jonathan Reed's Regiment, included "Elijah Wyman, Sergt., Militia." In 1778 the Townsend militia companies included men from 16 to 65.




St. Marys History




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