Bosbury in Mee, 1938

Arthur Mee (1875-1943) was a journalist who joined the Daily Mail in 1898 and later turned to freelance writing. In 1936, he and his researchers set out on a five-year project to see all England and put on record all they saw. It was published in 36 county volumes and The King’s England : Herefordshire : The Western Gate of Middle England was published in 1938 by Hodder and Stoughton. Arthur Mee was perhaps better known in his lifetime for ‘;The Children’s Encyclopaedia’, but The King’s England Series remain a lasting legacy.


BOSBURY. A real medieval church with a detached tower like a fortress dominates this village on the River Leadon, with its quiet street of black and white homes and its big houses suggestive of its old importance.

The Crown Inn with its grand Elizabethan room was once the home of the Harfords, whose still grander monuments are the church’s chief ornament. Old Court House to the north of the churchyard was the country house of the Bishops of Hereford, and a very pleasant picture it still makes with the tips of the oasthouses peeping over the big and little stone arches of its 14th century gatehouse. The grammar school next door has been altered out of all recognition since Sir Rowland Morton founded it nearly 400 years ago, but Temple Court, a farmhouse half that age, keeps a moat to prove its descent from a medieval dwelling of the Knights Templars. Hill House Farm is pleasant with its 16th century timbered walls, and many thatched roofs shelter homes nearly as old.

But the massive 13th century tower, standing apart with walls 29 feet square and pierced only with lancets, calls us back to the church with its peal of ancient bells. One is 400 years old or more, while four others average 300 years apiece; the one dated 1660 is so richly ornamented as to suggest that it may have been made to ring Charles Stuart back to the throne.

We enter the church through a Norman doorway sheltered by the black and white roof of a 500-year-old porch. The pent roofs ofthe aisles are probably as old, and the rafters of the lofty nave roof, having survived something like 700 years, must have been cut from ancient oaks in Norman England. Fine arcades of pointed arches on round pillars with scallop capitals from the end of the 12th century divide the aisles from the nave, and the chancel arch is also 12th century. Across the arch is a 15th century screen with exquisite fan vaulting on both sides and a rich crest above its vine cornice. Some of its new lower panels have been pierced with carving in memory of Edna Lyall (Ada Ellen Bayly), the Victorian best-seller whose romantic novels had as their foundation her own liberalism and passion for social reform. For six months she dedicated her royalties to a memorial for Charles Bradlaugh, whose political ideas she shared, though not his religious views. Mr Gladstone praised her novel Donovan as enthusiastically as Lord Baldwin praised Mary Webb’s books. In the Golden Days was read to John Ruskin as he lay dying, the last book he enjoyed. Eastbourne, where she spent her last 20 years and where she died, has her memorial window in St Peter’s, and in St Saviour’s hang three bells she gave, naming them Donovan, Erica, and Hugo after her characters. Here at Bosbury, which appears as a setting in her novel In Spite of All, her brother was vicar, and here in 1903 her ashes were buried at the foot of the churchyard cross.

In the modem pulpit are 16th century New Testament scenes in foreign carving. The oak lectern is 17th century. The great plain font on five legs is Norman, and among some medieval coffin stones is one carved with a cross of 12 fleur-de-lys like real lilies between two other crosses and a sword. Above a smiling 13th century stone face in the south aisle is a crumbling stone of 1282 to Stephen Swinefold, whose son became Bishop of Hereford.

Except for the later east window and a rounded one in the Norman west wall, all the windows of the nave, aisles, chancel, and clerestory are lancets from the time when the Norman church was rebuilt 700 years ago. Very different is the chapel added by the Mortons about 1528, which is nearly all window, so that we can see well its splendid roof with barrels or tuns and the family initials on the bosses and the one great pendant. A peephole is cut in one of the richly moulded arches leading to it, and fragments of original glass are left in the big windows.

Last of all we are held by the pomp and glory of two colossal Elizabethan monuments wall-high in the chancel, almost like little temples, scarcely an inch uncarved with various and wonderful devices. One achieves perfection with more restraint, and under its arch the solemn figure of John Harford lies in cap and gown on a sarcophagus supported by two lions, two Corinthian pillars holding a rich pediment over him. In the more florid shrine his son Richard lies with his wife, who appears to be reading to him. Their sarcophagus is held by two uncomfortable monsters, and classical statues of a man and a woman support the pediment. This monument is signed by John Gildon of Hereford, and it may be that he made the other also and was well content with the pair of them, but we feel that he must have regretted when the last square inch was covered, and his glorious medley was finished.

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