Minsden Chapel

near Hitchin

 

Now in parish of Preston

From East Herts Archaeological Society Transactions   1913

The ruins of Minsden Chapel were in the parish of Hitchin but are now in the parish of Preston. [Wikipedia]. For a modern account see  Minsden Chapel

 See also How silent now the desolated spot

Ruins of Minsden Chapel, Near Hitchin, 1913

MINSDEN CHAPEL.

THIS old chapel, situate near Hitchin, was, according to Clutterbuck, known as Menlesdene, Mindlesdene, Mendesden, Minzell, and Minsden. It appears to have comprised a nave and chancel with chancel arch, and had an entrance doorway on the south side of the nave. The existing walls are nearly all in fragments, and are pierced with openings about 8 inches square, the wall at the west end having some of these perforations at equal distances. These form a peculiar feature, the purpose of which it is difficult to decide. They must have been constructed at the same time as the chapel was built, as the upper portions of the openings are covered with pieces of stone.

The walls are principally composed of flints plastered over, and the remains are plain and solid. There are portions of buttresses at the north, west, and south-west corners, and a few pieces of the original clunch stone can be seen. The thickness of the walls is about 33 inches, but there is no moulded or ornamental work of any description. The south wall contains a doorway and a window opening, but there is no stone work to either. The wall at the west end is perfect, and the gable end shows the position of the old roof, and is covered with plaster to the height of the original ceiling. The arch between the nave and chancel is in fair condition. Many of the portions of walls are cracked and out of the perpendicular, and the ruin is complete, the hand of time having taken possession of the building. It is mentioned in Domesday Book as being held by King William: "the Manor did lie and doth lie in Hiz (Hitchin). Earl Harold held it." In all probability the building dates from those early days, as a priest is mentioned in those records. It is said that it was originally connected with the nunnery at Elstow, while another account states that it formerly belonged to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem.

The Knights Templars were located at Temple Dinsley, a short distance away, where they had a castle and a place of worship. The old chapel stands east and west, but its dedication is unknown. In the year 1908 the Editor of St. Mary's (Hitchin) Parish Magazine published a copy of an original manuscript containing a petition from the inhabitants of Preston and Langley, which stated "That for tyme beyond the memory of man an antient chappell called Minsden  Chappell belonging to these two Hamblets, unto which the inhabitants usually resorted on Sundays and holy dayes, to heare Divine Service and Sermons and to receive the Sacraments, have christenen and buried the dead soe often as was occasion". The petition went on to state "That the Chappell hath always been repaired at the proper cost and charges of the inhabitants of the two hambletts", who had raised a considerable sum of money about fourteen years previously in order to repair the building, but the two persons in whose hands the money was placed had died, and the amount was lost. A rate was then made by order of the Bishop of Lincoln, and a new roof was put on the building. The petitioners complained that Sir John Reade, who was High Sheriff of Herts in 1655, and owner of the manors of Langley and Minsden, refused to pay his portion of the rate, and the Bishop was requested to take up the matter on behalf of the petitioners.

In Clutterbuck's History of Hertfordshire we read "In the survey made upon the Dissolution of Monasteries in the twenty­sixth year of the reign of King Henry VIII (1535) the vicarage of Hitchin with the chapel of Missenden (Minsden) was valued in the King's books at 25 6s. 8d. per annum ". "The Commissioners appointed by the Parliament to enquire into the state of ecclesiastical benefices A.D. 1650 found, interalia, that there was a chapel belonging to the Vicarage of Hitchin, called Minsden Chapel, but that they were ignorant of its yearly value, that the privy tithes belonging to it were worth 13 per annum, that the inhabitants had not for years past paid any dues to the late or now Vicar of Hitchin, that they also had been for years past destitute of a preaching minister, that the chapel had fallen into decay, and that they presented it fit to be made a parish church." Clutterbuck also says that the Manor of Minsdenbury was also known as Mindlesden, and that the patrons of the vicarage of Hitchin, from the year 1220 to 1603, were the Abbess and Convent of Elnstowe, in the County of Bedford, and afterwards Trinity College, Cambridge. Divine service was held in the chapel as late as the year 1626, and marriages are said to have been celebrated within its walls up to the time of the Marriage Act, 26 George III (1786). In the Register of Marriages in Hitchin Church are the following entries :-

Married

1737 Jan. 12. George Lyle and Susanna Hanscombe, by Licence, Minsden Chapel.

1737 June 5. Edward Lyle and Ann Hanscombe, by Licence, Minsden Chapel.

1738 July 11. Enoch West and Mary Horn, by Licence, Minsden Chapel.

In the last year of the reign of King Edward VI Commissioners were appointed to make an inventory of the furniture contained in the churches in this county. Cussans, in his History, tells us that the indenture made between the Commissioners and Edward Nasshe of Mynnesden, concerning the goods belonging to the 'Chapell of Mynsdely in Langleye' sets forth that there remained :-

One chalice of silu. poz. viii oz. Md there is lead or tyn in the bottom.

A crosse of Cop [copper] and gilte with A Crosse cloth of grene Sarcenet stened.

One vestment of white Damaske and tawnye vellat with all things thereunto belonging.

A Corporouse case of Tyssue wth a clothe in it.

iij playne Aulter clothes.

ij bells in the steple.

ij hande bells

This inventory proves conclusively that the chapel possessed a steeple containing two bells.

In the Chantry Certificates for Hertfordshire, published in 1909, is the following entry:-

Mynesden Chappelle.

One acre called the Laumpe acre belonginge to the said Chapell geven for the finding of a laumpe in the tenure of Edwarde Nasshe and payeth by the yere iiijd.

The following description of the old chapel is given in the Inventory of Historical Monuments in Hertfordshire:-

Minsden Chapel, ruins on rising ground about three miles south of Hitchin, the walls are of flint rubble with stone dressings. The chapel consisting of chancel and nave was probably built in the fourteenth century; but little or no detail remains by which an exact date can be assigned to 'it. The chancel is 26 feet long and 15 feet wide, little remains but the four angles with fragments of the walls 12 to 15 feet high, and the chancel arch is represented only by a rough opening.

The nave is 42 feet long and 21 feet in width, the north wall still stands to a height of about 15 feet, but the only remains except the rough opening of the two north windows and the north doorway, are a few marked stones in the west splay and the spring of the chamfered arch of the westernmost window. The south wall is pierced by two rough openings, which represent a doorway and a window; at the east end of the wall a complete break indicates the position of a second window. The west wall is nearly intact, and at its apex is a small brick pier. There are traces of square buttresses in the north and south walls, and of diagonal buttresses in the west wall. The condition is ruinous and overgrown with ivy."

A view of the old building appears in Highways and Byways of Hertfordshire, published in 1902, and a description of its condition, etc., in which the author says that "the chapel like King Charles II was an unconscionable time dying"; its period of decrepitude passed over it very slowly. In 1650 it was even then in decay, and yet the last wedding celebrated within its walls was in 1738. Many years before that marriage, in 1701, Daniel 8tringle, who had been ejected from the livings of Essendon and Little Hadham, was imprisoned at the instigation of Francis Bragge, vicar of Hitchin, for having preached in Minsden Chapel, although "but a mere layman and in a lay habit". This presumption got another man into trouble, for John Heath, warden of Minsden Chapel, was made to apologize openly in Hitchin Church, for having permitted such profanity to be enacted before him. He said: " I unfeignedly confess my fault, and the great sin I have committed against God, and I beseech God and you all to forgive me." In a large map of the county published by Andrews and Dury in 1777 the chapel is shown as a complete building, not in ruins.

A view also of the ruins, and description, can be seen in Picturesque Hertfordshire, 1904.

Cussans, our latest county historian, says that in St. Ippollits Church in this county, the three-light east window was inserted when the church was repaired about 1840, and was designed as a copy of a window then remaining in Minsden Chapel. If this is correct, it proves to some extent that the old chapel possessed some interesting architectural features. It has been suggested that this east window might have been removed from Minsden and refixed at Ippollits.

There are no remains of graves or burials to be seen at the present time, and no portions of any monuments that may have been upon the walls. Probably a certain portion of the surrounding space was utilized as a churchyard, but the shrubs and trees and undergrowth inside and outside of the building prevent any satisfactory conclusion being arrived at. It is lamentable to think that these ivy-covered walls in former years comprised a place of worship, to which the humble dwellers of the hamlets were accustomed to resort when they heard the sweet sound of the ."two bells in the steple". We can picture In our minds the devout congregation worshipping God in prayer and praise, and listening to the discourse of the preacher with reverence. But this is all in the past, and we can only hope as we survey these ruins that the East Herts Archaeological Society, or some other influential pody, will take satisfactory steps to have them preserved from further destruction.

W. F. ANDREWS.

APPENDIX.

The following is the translation from the Latin of Domesday Book, which mentions the manor :-

King William held Menlesdene, it was rated for four Hides. The arable is eight Carucates, in Demeasn two Hides and two Virgates and an Half, and there are three Carucates, a Presbyter or Parson with eight Villaines and two cottagers having three Carucates, and now two more may be made. There are Six Servants, Meadow one Carucate, Common of pasture for the Cattle of the Vill. Wood to feed thirty Hogs. The Manor did lie and doth lie in Hiz [Hitchin]. Earl Harold held it.

In all probability the old building dates from these early days, and the priest who is mentioned may have officiated within its walls.

The following lines were printed in an old publication about 100 years ago:-

ON MINSDEN CHAPEL

(a ruin near Hitchin, in Hertfordshire).

 

No pomp of art, no jewelled shrine,

No tombs of gilded splendour shine

     In Minsden's lone remains,

Nor Parian marble's vivid glow,

Nor mimic works of art that show

    The sculptor's faultless pains.

 

"Rent is the fence; and loiterers tread

Gay and unthinking on the bed

    Of many a Preston  seer;

The truant boy forsakes his sheep

To pluck the azure bells that weep

     Upon his grandsire's bier.

 

The ivy o'er those mouldering walls

 In fair festoons of nature falls

    And mantles on their brow;

It seems to weep for that lone aisle,

That broken arch and desert pile,

    In ruin sinking now.

 

Yet have they seen the steel-knit' mail, The swords, the spears, that ne'er did fail

    Of Salem's chivalry.

That race is gone-and this their seat

Now bends the spoiler's shafts to meet,

    As if in sympathy.

 

That race is gone, but still their name

Stands blazoned in the scroll of fame,

    It ne'er may wane or fade;

The deeds of heroes cannot die;

Though low and cold in dust they lie

    A crown of glory soothes their shade.

 

But Minsden falls. Yon midday sun

Ere many an annual course is run

    Will know its place no more.

'Twill sink in Time's deep gulf away;

No pilgrim as they pass shall say

    Here Minsden stood of yore.

 

Yet those stout hearts that rear'd the pile, That fought for Salem's towers, the while

    In honour's fame shall bloom;

Green was the laurel on their brow

In the tourney's knightly strife, and now

    It thickens on their tomb.

East Herts Archaeological Society Transactions Vol. V. Part I. 1913 pages 85-90

See also How silent now the desolated spot for another poem about the ruined chapel

     
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