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St Mary, Kelvedon


Kelvedon Kelvedon this church was restored

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  Kelvedon runs into Feering at its northern end and forms a village which is larger than some Essex towns, but it is undoubtedly a village in character. In Roman times this was Canonium, a major station on the road between Londinium and Camulodonum. The continuous high street of both is that very road, later rebadged as the A12, which now bypasses the village as a dual carriageway to the east. The two villages are historically separated by the infant River Blackwater, and the main street is very interesting with some good late Medieval and Georgian domestic buildings.

The two parish churches are at the westerly and easterly extremities of the villages, the railway station about halfway in between. And Kelvedon church will be a familiar sight to anyone who knows to look out for it, because the main line into London Liverpool Street from Colchester, Ipswich and Norwich runs along one side of the churchyard as the train emerges back into the countryside out of Kelvedon's built-up area. It is a large, handsome church, more in the East Anglian mould than typical of the usual small Essex church. The aisles and clerestories run the length of the nave, essentially of the late 13th Century. The chancel came along a hundred years later, and then right on the eve of the Reformation in the early 16th Century the red brick north chancel chapel was built, reminiscent of Feering up the road.

The 19th Century restoration here was very early, in 1842. The most obvious result of it is the extension of the south aisle up to the east end of the chancel. Despite its date it does not appear pre-ecclesiological, but this may be as much an attempt to fit in as due to any enthusiasm for gothic correctness. There wasn't much for Arthur Blomfield to do when he came along in the 1870s, and you step into an interior that is as much the result of a turn of the 20th Century refurbishment as anything of the earlier two restorations with a not unhappy urban feeling. The most obvious fruit of this is the glass, the most striking of which is one of the best Louis Davis windows in the east of England, an Annunciation for Powell & Sons of 1898 with his muse Edith Webster depicted as the Blessed Virgin.

To me be as it pleaseth God

Gabriel at the Annunciation (Louis Davis, 1898) Annunciation (Louis Davis, 1898) Edith Webster as Mary at the Annunciation (Louis Davis, 1898)

Davis was one of the finest stained glass artists of the Arts & Crafts movement. He was born in 1860 in Abingdon in Oxfordshire, and studied under Christopher Whall. He worked alongside Mary Lowndes in the Glass House, London. The story goes that in the summer of 1892 when he was in his early thirties, Davis was on a walking holiday in the Norfolk Broads. It was a hot day, and he knocked on a farmhouse door to ask for a drink of water. The door was answered by the farmer's daughter. Her name was Edith Webster. She was 15 years old, and Davis fell in love with her.

Edith had been born in Honing, Norfolk in March 1877. Her father was a farmer with a particular interest in new techniques and developments, one of the 19th Century's new agri-industrialists. Davis got to know the family, and he took the young Ethel to be his pupil, and perhaps his lover, and later they lived as man and wife. But there there is no record that they ever actually married.

It was not just love. Edith was his muse. The sketches he did of her as a young girl in the early 1890s would provide the figures for his windows for the next thirty years. Again and again the young Edith appears as Faith, Hope, Charity, various angels and above all as the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Adoration. There were no children, and it is possible that their relationship was never consummated.

In 1915, Louis and Edith were poisoned by coal gas leaking from a faulty fire. She recovered, but he didn't. He suffered a stroke, and, confined to a wheelchair, he had to give instructions to his assistants to create his wonderful windows, many still depicting the young Edith as he had drawn her a quarter of a century before.

Simon Knott, May 2020

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Kelvedon Kelvedon
Adoration of the Magi Blessed Virgin and child adoration Crucifixion by Burlison & Grylls (1877)
Blessed Virgin and child St Peter St Paul at the lower end of the north ile
clothe the naked feed the hungry comfort the sick visit the prisoner

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