Wednesday, 27 January 2016

St Mary, Clapham

Clapham church is hidden away at the top of a long unmetalled drive, a lovely position. It is a charming little church dating mainly from the 13th century, though the main accent outside is 15th century - two square-headed windows on either side of a doorway that gives an oddly domestic effect. But the monuments inside are the main attraction.

Many visitors go for the tombs of the Shelley family, ancestors of the poet.
The most impressive is a brass dating from 1526 in the floor of the chancel right in front of the communion rail - you have to lift the carpet to see it. The figures are of John Shelley and his wife Elizabeth. He wears armour with a coat of arms over and she sports an elegant robe with the arms of her husband and of her own family, the de Michelgroves, whose estate she brought to the Shelley family.
His son William became a judge and is commemorated by an ornate tomb recess carved in 1548 where he is portrayed kneeling in his judge's robes, with his seven sons behind him. Behind them kneels his wife, Alice with their seven daughters.
Another brass dated 1550 shows their eldest son John and his wife Mary with their twelve children. Those poor women must have spent most of their married lives pregnant.
Their son John, the first baronet, also has a brass.
The reredos behind the altar wall the altar is decorated with tiles supplied by William Morris in 1873. The brilliantly coloured tiles show the four archangels depicted in the classic Arts and Crafts manner, standing before a hedge of roses and vines with bunches of grapes.
This is very rare, the only other Morris reredos being in Findon church close by. That had been installed a few years before and had been widely admired, so when Clapham church was restored by Sir George G Scott they clearly decided they wanted one too.