History Blog

Advent Day 10 - Barkway Church

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The church of St Mary Magdalene at Barkway was the first church I went to, as my primary school hosted many nativity shows, Easter ceremonies and harvest festivals in this building over the years. As a child I mostly just remember it being a rather plain and very cold building (especially during the nativity show), but as an adult I have gone back repeatedly to remind myself of it's beautiful memorials and some nice stained glass. Barkway Church, Hertfordshire

The church in Barkway has stood on this spot since Norman times, and possibly may have been the site of an earlier Anglo-Saxon church. It was rebuilt in the 13th century, and extended in the 15th, but by the 19th century it was suffering from neglect. Two prominent locals, Mrs Harcourt from the Newsells Park estate(who also paid for the porch to the built) and Colonel Clinton from the Cockenach estate, paid for a major restoration of the building. During this work, the old church tower collapsed and was replaced, albeit a little larger than the original.

The restoration work means that if Barkway had any medieval graffiti then it was most likely plastered or painted over. However that doesn't mean that the church is short of historical things to look at. Memorials include a set of 16th century brasses depicting one Mr Poynard and his two wives, and several elaborate 18th century memorials in white marble, including one by noted Flemish sculptor John Michael Rysbrack. One window shows the fragmented remains of a 15th century stained glass window, which was smashed during the reformation. In some parishes the locals collected the glass and buried it, hoping it could be restored in the future. In this case the glass was too small to put together in a coherent picture (there's also a rumour that the glass was originally in a window in the church of neighbouring Reed).

In terms of more recent memorials, one large stained glass window was placed in the wall of the north aisle to commemorate those who fought in the Burma Campaign during the second world war. This corner in particular features multiple memorials to fallen soldiers. A small plague mirrors the main war memorial, a large stone cross placed at the top of the High Street, listing the names of Barkway men who died in the First World War. A larger memorial is dedicated to John Perkins Sworder and his brother Hubert Pelham Sworder, sons of William and Annie Sworder, who were living at Newsells. The younger brother, Hubert, joined the air force and died in April 1917 aged just 19, John died of wounds in France in 1918 aged 24, the memorial includes a quote from an officer of each young man. A second memorial is dedicated to Captain Wilfred Hubert Chapman, who was killed at Gallipoli.

Perhaps the most interesting story of Barkway church comes from 1980. The turret bell, which rings on the hour, was in need of a restoration. Due to it's size and weight, it was eventually decided that it should be removed by helicopter, and then returned in the same way! 

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