St Nicholas Church

Great Munden

"History of the Church of St. Nicholas Much Munden, Hertfordshire."
by H. C. Andrews, M.A., F.S.A.
(date unknown)

transcribed by Jenny Dexter

History of St Nicholas

Munden is mentioned as early as the reign of King Edmund (940-946) when a certain Ethelgifu left it to one Elfwold for life.

Immediately before the conquest it belonged to Eddeva (Eadgith) the Fair. In 1086 the king had given it to the Norman Count Alan of Brittany. But it is not until about the year 1120 that there appears to have been a church at Much Munden; and the presence of it is furnished by some details surviving in the present fabric. The small window in the north wall of the chancel, the north respond of the chancel arch, and the blocked-up north doorway in the nave, all belong to this period. At the restoration in 1865, a Norman arch was found on the north side of the chancel, in excellent preservation, but it was closed up again for want of funds to open it out.

The first alteration was made to the fabric in the middle of the fourteenth century (c. 1350). The south aisle was added evidently as a Lady Chapel and burial place for its founders. The beautiful reredos beneath its east window and piscina in the south wall, which had both been concealed but were discovered during the restoration of 1865 show the position of the piscina and the south doorway, two wide-arched recesses were evidently intended as the burial places of its founders. The lords of the manor at this time were Sir Guy de Boys and his wife Cecily, daughter and heiress of Henry do Osevill. Sir Guy was dead before 1370 but his widow still survived; so it is probable that the south aisle can by attributed to her.

A century later Sir John Fray was lord of this manor, as he was of Broxbourne manor, Herts. He died in 1461 and his widow Agnes in 1478. During this period the tow-light window was placed in the south wall of the chancel and the three windows in the north wall of the nave. Between the two easternmost of these was inserted the image niche. This amounted practically to the rebuilding of the upper part of the whole north wall.

After the death of Sir John and Agnes Fray, Much Munden manor came to their daughter Elizabeth and her husband Sir William Say son of Sir John Say. The elaborate Say tombs can still be seen in Broxbourne Church and the Say chapel there was the work of Sir William. At Much Munden Church at this time the west tower was added with its foundations of Hertfordshire "plum pudding stones" and the chancel arch was widened. Its north end rests on the original twelfth century respond, but its south end dies into the chancel wall, thus throwing the chancel out of centre with the nave. Also the rector, Robert King (1510-1538) furnished the chancel with the stalls, some of which are carved with his initials R.K. Another additional was the handsome south porch built and ornamented in brick. Unhappily we know it only from a drawing of the exterior of the church, made in 1832 by John Chessell Buckler, for it was replaced in 1874 by the present wooden porch and renewed in 1929 as a memorial to the Rev. A. G. Langdon, recto here from 1905 to 1928. The porch appeared to have been very similar to that at Meesden Church, Herts.

The hexagonal Jacobean pulpit (on a modern base) was probably presented in memory of Sir Robert Cecil, the lord of the manor, who died in 1621.

There must have been some drastic restoration before the year 1713 when all memorials in brass and stone were swept away. The earliest surviving one is the slab to the memory of Robert Hadsley who died in that year aged 81. There are other Hadsley slabs in the church. The two medallion tablets of the Spence family of South Malling, Sussex, both of eighteenth century date, are on the south nave wall. In 1865 came a thorough restoration of the whole of the fabric, except the tower, and including the rebuilding of the south arcade; but some of the earlier stones and the west respond of the fourteenth century arcade are incorporated in this. The tower contains a peal of six bells. The 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th were cast in 1621 by the Hertford bellfounder Robert Oldfield and bear his mark. They are inscribed (2) Jesu be our spede; (3) Praise the Lord; (4) God save the king; (5) Sonoro sono meo sono Deo. The treble bell was added in 1882, cast by John Warner and Sons. The sixth, originally by Oldfield with the inscription Sana manet Christi plebisque religio vana, was recast by John Warner and Sons in 1881, reproducing Oldfield's inscription. The five Oldfield bells were probably a recasting, in memory of Sir Robert Cecil, of the "four bells and another little bell in the steeple" which were recorded in the Edwardian Inventory of 1553.

At this restoration the south chancel window was filled with stained glass to the memory of the Rev. Henry Dawson who died in 1863, and on the north wall of the chancel was placed a brass to the Rev. John Lightfoot, canon of Ely, and Master of St. Catherine's College, Cambridge, one of Much Munden's most famous rectors, and renowned for his Hebrew studies, who died in 1675. He became rector in 1636; was ejected during the Commonwealth, but restored 1660. Other memorials on the same wall are to the Rev. James Price, rector here for 28 years, who died in 1846 aged 82, and his wife Ann who died in 1849 aged 84; and, on the south wall of the nave, to John Carter his son-in-law, 1842.

The plate includes a chalice dated 1696.

The registers commence in 1558, but the earlier parts are very defective. At the commencement of the first volume is written "Alijs inserviens ipsemet absumor" which may be freely translated "I myself am spent in the service of others" the humble words of the parish priest.

In the churchyard, near the south porch, is the base of a churchyard cross.

The first known rector of Much Munden was Richard de Cornay, instituted by Hugh Wells, Bishop of Lincoln (1209-1235). The earliest recorded patron was Gerard de Furnivall, in 1274, whose family gave to Much Munden the alternative name of Munden Furnivall.

Other prominent rectors besides those already mentioned were Samuel Ward (1616-1636) who was Master of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and got into trouble for selling the college plate to the king: and Thomas Tirwhit. The latter was a Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge, and Proctor of the University in 1631. Cromwell ejected him from his Fellowship, but he was restored in 1660 and presented to the rectory of Much Munden on October 31, 1660. He held the rectory for only six weeks, being succeeded by John Lightfoot on December 13 of that year.