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St Margaret of Antioch, Barley

Church End, Barley, Hertfordshire SG8 8JR see MAP


E J Wiseman BSc FZS MRI

barleychurch.JPGRecent archaeological exploration of the district has demonstrated that this area, adjacent to the Icknield Way, was a centre of population in pre-historic times and during the period of the Roman occupation of Britain.

In the Domesday Book, where we first find written records of the village, Barley is spelt Bertai – a word of Saxon origin, the meaning of which is obscure but may incorporate a debased form of the Saxon Beora (a bear, or possibly, a boar). Ley may be derived from leye or lege signifying a meadow. Barley is certainly not so named from the fact that much barley is grown in the neighbourhood! Between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries the spelling passed from Berlaye to Berle, while Berlei and Barley appear in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

At the time of the Norman Conquest there existed four principal estates in the Parish: Abbotsbury, Mincinbury, Greenbury and Barley (or Hores). These names are still to be found in the area.

Mincinbury, even at the time of Domesday, belonged to the Abbess and Convent of Chatteris near Ely. Abbotsbuty was given to the Abbey of St. John at Colchester and Greenbury passed to the Priory of Anglesey (vide, Anglesey Abbey, a National Trust property near Bottisham, Cambs.).

img_0799.JPGIn 1294 and 1297 King Edward 1, as patron, made appointments to the living, of St. Margaret of Antioch, Barley. In 1317 King Edward 11 performed a similar duty. From 1328 to 1495 the benefice was in the gift of the Abbess and Convent of Chatteris. Andrew Willet (of whom more anon) was presented to the living by Queen Elizabeth 1. Herbert Thorndike received his appointment from Charles 1. Otherwise, from 1557 to 1853 the patron was usually the Bishop of Ely. In 1891 the patronage passed once more to the Crown, where it has remained ever since.


Although the Church of St. Margaret has been restored on a number of occasions since 1100 when the first church appears to have been erected on this site, in 1853 the fabric was in so ruinous a condition that a major rebuilding programme was called for. William Butterfield, the eminent Victorian architect, was instructed by the Revd. Robert Augustus Gordon (Rector, 1853-1891) to draw up plans. As the result of that Rector’s enthusiasm and generosity (he himself contributed £4,700 towards the total cost of £5,385.18s.2d.) we have the building we see today. Work began in 1870 and the service of reconsecration was held on Thursday 13 June 1872.

The restoration work is typically Butterfield with its lavish use of coloured marbles in arcading and in the reredos and also in the employment of patterned floor tiles and coloured banding on the Chancel walls. Local flints were used for the exterior, the main construction being undertaken by the firm of Gibbon of Buntingford. The chancel arcading and reredos are by Messrs. Field Poole and Co. of London. The pews were made by Mr. Thomas Savell, a Barley craftsman.

Kneeling boards in the pews are often found in Butterfield churches, for he was opposed to hassocks, since, not being fixed, they presented a hazard to the unsure of foot among a congregation. The East Window lights are the work of Messrs Hardman and Co of Birmingham.


In 1969 the interior of the church was cleaned and redecorated. Plaster work was painted with emulsion paint and the roof coloured blue. More recently the Organ has been cleaned and restored, for many pipes were blocked by an accumulation of dust and some had been so badly tuned in the past that they needed new tops to enable them to be restored to their original pitch. The Chancel was redecorated in 1994 and new lighting installed.


Butterfield enlarged the Nave by lengthening and widening it and adding a new North Aisle, thus compensating for the seating lost by the removal of galleries formerly existing on the South and West sides. The South Arcade, dating from the late thirteenth century, has been retained and extended by a loftier arch at the east end to match the taller arches in the newly built North Arcade. The Font is also to the design of Butterfield.

Fortunately, the pulpit from the old church has survived and dates from 1626.

The ironwork flower stands commemorate Mary Ellen Wilkerson and Harry Lane. These and the bracket supporting the laid up Colours of the British Legion (now Royal British Legion) were designed by the former Rector the Revd A S Lockett and made by Mr F W King.


The main entrance to the church is by a North Porch (1870) leading into the North Aisle.


At the east end of the aisle is the Chapel of St. Alban, dedicated on 2 October 1969 by the Bishop of Hertford, the Right Reverend John Trillo, to the Glory of God and in Memory of Laura Amelia Moore, James Edwin Moore, Ada Ellen Lockett, William Ernest Wyatt Lockett, Ernest William Townson and Ada Jessie Townson and their daughter Ethel Winifred.

The Altar and Credence Table were constructed by Major F E Townson, MBE. The Cross and Candlesticks were made by Mr F W King, our late village blacksmith, to the design of the former Rector the Revd A S Lockett.

The Cross is mounted on a Roman tile from the Abbey of St. Alban and nearby are other stones from that edifice.

The trefoil of the East Window of the Chapel contains a crucifix in fourteenth century g!ass.

The two lights of the East Window are in memory of Mary Louisa Boucher (d.1909) and her father John Boucher (d.1911).


The oldest portion of this Aisle is the south wall. The Piscina (1340 circa) indicates the position of the altar when in this aisle was sited the Chapel of St. Katherine. The Aisle was extended westwards in the mid fourteenth century and eastwards in modern times. The South Windows are early sixteenth century work. One contains fragments of early glass and the date 1536. These may be parts of some glasswork in memory of Archbishop Warham, formerly Rector here. A seventeenth century fragment in the South Window of the Vestry at the west end of this aisle depicts St Martin of Tours sharing his coat with a beggar.

Under the Warham Window is a brass palimpsest to the memory of Robert Bryckett, who may perhaps be the same to whom, at the time of the Reformation, in 1552, the King’s Commissioners entrusted the Church’s Plate, Ornaments, Vestments, Furniture and Bells to be kept safely until the King’s pleasure be known.

The Nave and Chancel

The original Chancel was completely destroyed, being in a very poor condition, and the present Chancel built some eleven feet further eastwards when Butterfield extended the Nave by that amount. The arcading is of Bath stone with red marble shafts, the panelling of veined alabaster and Minton’s red tiles. Foreign marbles in the reredos contrast with the cross of Sicilian marble. The arcading and reredos were a gift from a relative of the Revd R A Gordon, while the murals on the East Wall were presented by the Revd E F C Van der Noot and his wife. The candelabras in the Sanctuary are of painted iron to designs by Butterfield.

In 1886 a piece of carved wooden tracery was found under the thatch of the tithe barn. Other pieces of carving from the wooden reredos of the old church were subsequently recovered. These have come to be accepted as originating in the rood screen separating the nave from the chancel of the old church.

In 1887, these, together with matching panels carved by Mr Arthur Frere (of whom more later,) to complete the screen, were fixed to the north wall of the Chancel above the choir stalls.


According to the Victoria County History of Hertfordshire, the two lower stages of the Tower date from the early twelfth century. The present bell chamber was added in the fifteenth century. The original twelfth century windows are retained in the second stage, that to the west being partially obscured by the clock face. The wooden ladder to the clock chamber is probably 17th century. The present oak-shingled spire was added by Butterfield to replace a somewhat unusual cupola-like structure which, in its turn, superseded a lead-covered spire. The Clock by Handley and Moore was put in during 1807 and a new dial erected at the time of the 1870 restoration. The old peal of five bells and a sanctus bell were recast in 1807 to form a peal of five bells. A sixth bell was added after the First World War. The gates to the Tower, by Brown and Downing, were designed by Butterfield and set up shortly after the re-consecration of the church.


The Organ by Bevington and Sons was installed in 1883. The case was designed by Butterfield and made by the organ builders. The instrument, of one manual with pedals, has some pipes that are considerably older than the rest. The cost was defrayed from the accumulated sum of the Offertories at Early Celebrations of Holy Communion over a period of ten years.


The records of Ornaments of the Church give the following account of the Communion Plate.

Silver Chalice. Epousse. Traces of parcel gilding. Boss on cover broken off. Height 8 ins. Diameter 3½ ins. Height with cover 9 ins. Inscription “Magrisculum fecit suis sumptib:” “Jon King 1613″. Plate mark: lion passant, leopard’s head, crowned Catherine Wheel.

Paten. Silver, low rim, no foot. Diameter 6¼ ins. Inscription: “This platt was given by Elizabeth Cowper wife of Lawrence Cowper to the town of Barlie for an ornament about the blessed sacrament”. Marks- lion passant, leopard’s head.

Flagon. Plated, height 10½ ins, diameter at base 4 ins.

Cruet. Plated, height 6V2 ins , diameter at base 2¾ ins.

Alms bason. Brass, diameter 11 ins.


St. Margaret’s is fortunate in possessing one of the most complete Lists of Rectors in the County of Hertfordshire, in which figures a high proportion of distinguished men, no doubt owing to the village to the University of Cambridge. Indeed, seven Rectors were heads of Cambridge Colleges and two others were Regius Professors of Divinity and Hebrew respectively.

Archdeacons of St. Albans, Cornwall, Coventry, Essex and Middlesex were formerly Rectors of this parish, while other Rectors were installed as Deans of Rochester and Hereford.

Ralph Brownrigg, appointed Rector 1621, gained preferment as Bishop of Exeter. Two Rectors of Barley became Archbishops of Canterbury: William Warham, Rector 1495, occupied the Chair of St. Augustine as the immediate predecessor of Thomas Cranmer. Thomas Herring, Rector 1722, was successively Dean of Rochester, Bishop of Bangor, Archbishop of York and Archbishop of Canterbury – a remarkable achievement by any standard.

In the floor of the Nave, below the Pulpit, there used to be a monumental brass to the memory of Andrew Willet, who was Rector here for twenty years and a prominent theologian of the time. It is now shown on the west wall of the church.

Willet is of interest because of his long association with the village and also since his life has been well described in a biography written by his son-in-law. This gives a fascinating account of the life of a country parson of that time, albeit he was probably an exception to the general rule. Andrew Willet was born at Ely in 1562 when his father held a prebendal stall in the Cathedral. Having received his early schooling in Ely, Andrew went on to Peterhouse, Cambridge, at the unusual age of fourteen and later gained a fellowship at Christ’s College. Later, Thomas Willet, the father, became Rector of Barley, to which living Andrew was appointed in 1599.

Andrew Willet was much in demand as a preacher in both Cambridge and London, yet he found time to publish no fewer than thirty-five books, mostly massive folio volumes.

It is recorded that “He must write in his sleep, it being impossible that he should do so much waking”. On returning from London in the late autumn of 1621 his horse stumbled near Hoddesdon, causing Willet to break his right leg. He died shortly afterwards in an inn in that village.

He bequeathed “unto the poore of the town of Barley fortie shillinges to be distributed uppon the daye of my buryall. They are likewise to have twentie shillinges per Annum out of the house wherein John Tompson dwelleth”. In February 1972 Willet’s Cottage still stood in a ruinous condition some 150 yards west of the Church. It had obviously been altered on several occasions and was later demolished.

Andrew Willet was the father of a large family of eleven sons and seven daughters, most of whom survived him.

The Dictionary of National Biography contains a long account of Andrew Willet and records that his son Thomas, born in the Rectory-house, Barley, joined the second Puritan exodus to Leyden and thence to New Plymouth, North America. He was appointed first Mayor of New York in June 1665. However, Charles E Banks has written in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. 60, January 1929, an article on “The ancestry of Thomas Willet, first Mayor of New York” in which he shows (at least to his own satisfaction) that the first Mayor came from a Norfolk family. The visitor is invited to accept whichever version of this story he prefers.

Space only allows reference to one more Rector, the Revd R A Gordon, who was appointed to the living in 1853. His influence on Barley was threefold:

(a) His generosity in largely financing the restoration of the Church in 1870.

(b) His interest in and provision for education in the village.

(c) His interest in the brothers Arthur and Walter Howard Frere, who were frequent guests and may have been regular boarders at the Rectory. Arthur carved some of the panels on the north wall of the Choir and Walter became Superior of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield. Later, he became Bishop of Truro. He had some reputation as a hymn-writer, for his work is to be found in Hymns Ancient and Modern. The brothers together wrote “A Sketch of the Parochial History of Barley, Herts”.

A stranger wandering through the churchyard may well be surprised to see a memorial to Count von Arnim, who was buried here in 1883. He was a German nobleman who, having offended Bismarck, left his country to fight for Kossuth, the Hungarian patriot. Kossuth’s cause suffering defeat, von Arnim sought refuge in England, where he applied his fencing skill to earn his living. The Revd. R A Gordon, of Barley, was one of his pupils and soon became a firm friend. On the death of the Countess, Gordon arranged for her burial in our churchyard. “Eight years afterwards the body (of the Count himself) was … buried, in German fashion, at midnight, by the light of torches”.


The Victoria History of the County of Hertfordshire.

‘The Dictionary of National Biography.

The Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names. E Eckwall.

The Place Names of Hertfordshire. English Place Names Society CUP.

Hertfordshire County Records. General Church File Barley.

A Sketch of the Parochial History of Barley. W. H. and A. Frere. William Butterfield, by PaulIbompson. Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. 1971. The Victoria History and the Dictionary of National Biography give many references to early sources and include much which is culled from other writers – mostly of the nineteenth century. Corrected copy of List of Rectors of Barley exhibited in Church1123 – 1141 Alaric (a Dane)1141 Radulfus or Ralph1238 Hubert1246 Robert1250 Osbert1255 Richard de Cristeshall1294 – 1297 Hugh de Cressingham, Canon of St. Paul’s: Treasurer andGovernor of Scotland1297 – 1317 Richard de HenleLONDON REGISTER COMMENCES1317 Hugh AumfrayHenry de Offrechurch1328 – 1341 Ralph de Kerdington(After)1341 – 1365 John de Foderingay1365 – 1375 Edward Chamberlayne1375 – 1392 John de Duncryco or Dunwych1392 Robert de Wetheringset1392 – 1394 Henry atte Streete1394 – 1405 John Potter, B.D.1405 – 1413 John Gunnechester, M.A.c 1413 – 1453 John Watton1453 – 1455 Robert Wyott, M.A., Archdeacon of Middlesex, Canon ofSt. Paul’s1455 – 1457 Thomas Haldman1457 – 1459 John Ingham1459 -1473 Richard Laverock, Vicar-General of Ely1473 -1483 William Stavell1483 -1495 Robert Adam1495 – 1503 William Warham, LL.D., Master of the Rolls, Bishop of London, Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord High Chancellor1515 Richard Chancellor1515 – 1516 William Robinson, D.D., LL.B., Vicar-General of Ely1516 – 1534 Eudo Aspelon, D.D.

1534 – 1557 William Hatch

1557 – 1558 Thomas Redman, B.D., Master of Jesus College, Cambridge

1558 – 1559 (deprived) Thomas Peacock, B.D., President of Queens’ College, Cambridge, Canon of Ely

1559 – 1564 Thomas Dobyson, M.A.

1564 – 1571 William Ireland, M.A.

1571 – 1598 Thomas Willet, M.A., Canon of Ely

1598 – 1599 William Knight, M.A.

1599 – 1621 Andrew Willet, D.D., Canon of Ely

1621 – 1642 Ralph Brownrigg, D.D., Canon of Ely and Canon of Durham, Archdeacon of Coventry, Master of Catharine Hall, Cambridge, Vice-Chancellor of the University, Bishop of Exeter

1642 – 1644 (ejected) Herbert Thomdike, D.D., Canon of Lincoln, Master of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, Canon of Westminster

1647 – 1652 Peter Smith, D.D., Minister

1652 – 1659 Nathaniel Ball, M.A., Minister

1660 – 1662 (restored) Herbert Thomdike

1662 – 1664 Mark Frank, D.D., Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, Treasurer and Canon of St. Paul’s, Archdeacon of St. Albans

1664 – 1699 Joseph Beaumont, D.D., Master of Jesus College, Cambridge, Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, Canon of Ely, Regius Professor of Divinity, Cambridge

1699 – 1718 William Smith, D.D.

1718 – 1722 Charles Fleetwood, D.C.L., Canon of Ely, Canon of Exeter, Archdeacon of Cornwall

1722 – 1731 Thomas Herring, D.D., Chaplain in Ordinary to the King, Dean of Rochester, Bishop of Bangor, Archbishop of York, Archbishop of Canterbury

1731 – 1751 Edmund Castle, B.D., Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, Canon of Lincoln, Dean of Hereford

1751 – 1771 Thomas Rutherford, D.D., F.R.S., Regius Professor of Divinity, Cambridge, Archdeacon of Essex

1771 – 1774 Ambrose Eyre, M.A.

1774 – 1779 Thomas Hopper, M.A., Canon of Ely

1779 – 1880 Thomas Wagstaffe, M.A.

1800 – 1803 William Metcalfe, M.A.

1803 – 1804 Charles Chester, M.A.

1804 – 1814 Charles Chester, M.A.

1814 – 1827 (Reappointed) William Metcalfe, M.A

1827 – 1829 Thomas Wise

1829 – 1831 Edward Bowyer Sparke, Canon of Ely

1831 – 1838 William Hamilton Turner, M.A.

1838 – 1852 Samual Lee, D.D., Canon of Gloucester, Regius Professor of Hebrew, Cambridge

1853 – 1891 Robert Augustus Gordon, M.A,

1891 – 1894 Edgar F C Van der Noot, M.A.

1894 – 1928 John Frome Wilkinson, M.A., F.S.A.

1928 – 1942 John Rutherford Gardiner, M.A., A. K.C.

1942 – 1950 Samuel Taylor-Wood

1952 – 1966 Edgar Albert Gurney

1966 – 1980 Arthur Stephen Lockett

1981 – 1988 Robert Lines MacQueen, T.D.

1989 – 1997 Christopher Charles Kevill-Davies

1997 – 2005  Barbara Knight

2006 -2011  Sarah Catherine Hillman MA

2012-2014  Jonathan Jasper

2015   Ruth Pyke

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