St Mary’s church is located adjacent to Aspenden Hall at the end of the village; originally the church was endowed by and served the owners of the hall.
St Mary's Aspenden Church
We are blessed with a beautiful secluded building set at the end of the “long” village of Aspenden. Our church is mentioned in the Domesday book as having a priest. We are privileged that the continuous worship of God has existed on the site since at least that time. There is a set of eight historic bells in our tower and some beautiful stained glass which helps create a good ambiance for our worship. Sadly, the secluded nature of the building means that we need to leave it locked. If you would like to see the inside of the church, please use the contact form and we will do our best to enable your visit.
The Domesday Book records there being a church and a priest in Aspenden. Whether anything of the Saxon church building remains is open to speculation.
The entry for Aspenden reads:
Richard de Sachenvilla hold Absendene [Aspenden] of Eudo [The Norman Lord]. It answers for one hide and a half.
Eudo Dapifer (sometimes Eudo fitzHerbert and Eudo de Rie); (died 1120), was a Norman aristocrat who served as a steward under William the Conqueror, William II Rufus, and Henry I.
- Land for 3 ploughs in lordship 2 ploughs
- A priest with 6 small holders has 1 plough 3 slaves.
- Meadow for 1 plough; woodland, 20 pigs. In total value £4, when acquired 30s; before 1066 60s. Aldred, a thane of King Edward’s held this manor.
When Pope Nicholas IV taxed the clergy in 1291, the church at Aspenden was valued at £8, about average for villages in the area.
Because Aspenden was, according to the Domesday book, more valuable in Saxon times than after the conquest, we can presume that there has been a church here since at least the time of Edward the Confessor. The original Saxon church may have been demolished; if it was built of flint rubble it may have been subsumed into the current chancel.
Officially, the chancel and nave are both 12th century; although on the outside of the north wall the chancel does appear older than the nave, so it may incorporate elements of the Saxon church. The South aisle was added around 1340 and the tower in around 1390. The South Eastern corner, which would have originally been a chapel in which Sir Robert Clifford’s tomb is located, was added in the late fifteenth century. at which time other changes were made. Sir Robert Clifford’s widow, Elizabeth, built the South Porch in about 1525.
In 1622 the chapel in the South Eastern corner was altered for Ralph Freman of Aspenden Hall and his arms were placed in the wall. It was probably at this time that the box pews were installed, which remain today encasing the vestry area and the organ.
The church was “restored” in 1873 by Sir Arthur Blomfield who added a steep red tiled pitched roof over the old roof of the SE Chapel, and 3 gabled dormers on the South rood with quatrefoil clear storey lights to the nave.
To the north of the altar is an “Easter Sepulchre”, and the original 8-foiled piscina is to the south of the altar.
The church is blessed with some beautiful stained glass, including glass in the porch of the four evangelists (writers of the gospels) dating to around 1913 by Morris and Co. The octagonal font is late fifteenth century, with plain cardinal faces but a shield-in-quatrefoil pattern on the angled faces.
Notable People in Aspenden
A few notable people who lived at Aspenden Hall are commemorated with monuments in the church:
Sir Ralph Jocelyn was a member and sometime master of the Company of Drapers of London. He was also an alderman for Cornhill Ward. Sir Ralph later became Lord Mayor of London and was created a Knight of the Bath by Edward IV. He served as a Member of Parliament.
After Sir Ralph Jocelyn died, his widow Elizabeth married Sir Robert Clifford, a “Knight of the Body” and Master of the Ordnance to King Henry VII and they lived in Aspenden Hall. His tomb is in the South-East corner of the church.
Sir Robert Clifford is mostly noted for his involvement in the “Perkin Warbeck Affair”. Sir Robert Clifford gave early enthusiastic support, declaring that he recognized him as Richard of York, whom he had seen as a young boy. He started a base in Aspenden to support Perkin, along with a priest from Aspenden. Sir Robert Clifford then suddenly forsook Perkin and made his submission to the King.
Sir Robert Clifford was found guilty and sentenced to death. However, he revealed the names of his fellow conspirators and so received a pardon. He lived peacefully in Aspenden until his death in 1508.
In the seventeenth century, a junior attorney in Aspenden had a son called Seth Ward. He was educated at the Buntingford Grammar School and then as a Sizar at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. He is remembered today as a prominent mathematician, and astronomer. Ward was an early member of the Royal Society, as well as Bishop of Exeter and then Salisbury. There is a monument to him on the South East outside corner of the church.
Sir Ralph Freman who was Lord Mayor of London in 1633 has a joint memorial with his brother William. The memorial was saved and moved to St Mary’s from St Martin’s Cornhill, after the great fire of London.