[Sheering News December 1995]
How many of us have sat in the sun in Sheering churchyard absorbing the wonderful peace and tranquillity there and have wondered about those who have gone before us, who built the ancient church and cared for it over the centuries. The Normans began by building the tower starting in 1160 , but before they came (in 1066!) remnants show that there was a Saxon building here. Sheering is a Saxon name meaning the settlement of the followers of Schere, also known as the ‘army people’.
William the Conqueror
William the Conqueror had a firm hand on all Essex. He secured two members of his family in Sheering. His nephew Peter de Valognes (also spelt Valoines), who came from a place about 15 miles South East of Cherbourg, was granted the Manor of Sheering Hall, his uncle William de Warenne the Manor of Cowicks (Quickbury).
It is with Sheering Hall that the church history is tied closely. The Lord of Sheering Hall Manor had the advowson (the gift of the rectory, appointing the rector to the living). This continued from 1100 until 1635.
In 1712 Christ Church Oxford acquired the right. Christ Church was founded by Cardinal Wolsey, who created the first chair for the teaching of Greek.
There have been some famous patrons here. Robert FitzWalter ‘Marshal of the Army of God and the Holy Church’ with others in 1215 confronted King John at Runnymede forcing him to acknowledge the ‘Rights and Priviledges of the Barons, the Clergy and the People’ in signing the Magna Carta. He had married Gunnora de Valognes securing the Manor for the FitzWalters for many years to come and later on through the female line to John Radcliffe – Lord FitzWalter.
Wars of the Roses
Phillipa FitzWalter in 1407 took for her third husband one Edward Duke of York. Edward had been a diplomatic messenger for Richard II and he must have been pretty fit as he accompanied Henry V to France where he was killed at Agincourt in 1415. Shakespeare movingly describes the scene in Henry V, Act II, scene VI. During the wars of the Roses the Hall was leased to Sir Thomas Cobham for a time. Perhaps the FitzWalters were Yorkist (White Rose) sympathisers, for after the battle of Bosworth Field, when Yorkist Richard III lost his horse, his crown and was killed and Henry Tudor (Red Rose) became Henry VII, John Radcliffe, Lord FitzWalter was in 1498 executed, for treason at Calais, a rallying ground for those who supported rival claimants to the throne of England. Subsequently, Henry stripped the FitzWalters of titles, lands and property so becoming himself the patron of Sheering Church (1498).
Henry VII sponsors John Cabot
He was very interested in exploration and having missed the boat with Christopher Columbus in 1492 he decided to sponsor John Cabot in 1497 to sail west to find India and discovered Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.
During these times printing had been invented, Caxton being the first English printer. Now it was possible to reproduce books more easily, there were movements to print the Bible in English and later to standardise the Prayer Book. There was a flurry of translations from Latin, Greek and Hebrew culminating in King James’ Authorised Version of the Bible and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
The FitzWilliams came back into favour with Henry VIII who restored their property and titles, Robert Radcliffe being created Viscount Sussex and later Earl of Sussex. This southern connection was reinforced after his death when his widow Mary married Henry FitzAllan, Earl of Arundel. Nearly a hundred years later the FitzWalter heir sold off Sheering Hall in 1635 and by 1712 Christ Church Oxford became our patrons and continued to be so. Since Sheering church joined with Hatfield Heath church, the patronage is shared with Hatfield Broad Oak.
King Charles I was having great difficulties with Parliament. The previous year he had raised an army against them. East Anglia and Essex were areas where Cromwell mustered his trained bands and had a garrison at Saffron Walden. In 1643, Sheering Church came under the patronage of the Commonwealth ‘by the Order of the House of Commons’. This was well before Charles’ death (1649). What had happened to the legitimate patron? The next one recorded is Margaret Hewitt wife of Sir Thomas Hewitt who appointed the rector in 1671.
Meanwhile the church was built and the bells were hung. The first pair were hung in 1619, the third bell was added in 1685, the year that Charles II died. The fourth bell was hung in 1702, the year of Queen Anne’s coronation. Were these dedications or coincidences? Coming to more recent times, the Reverend Tutte (or Tutts) in his will in 1815 left £105 in stocks to provide a schoolmistress to teach 12 poor girls to sew, spell and read. When the school became a National School, the Trust was converted to give prizes to girls for sewing and scripture. Even up to the thirties girls in the village were receiving these prizes. The trust is now wound up as being negligible in these times.
Although our patrons had become more remote there were persons of note living in the village who left their mark in the church. Samuel Feake, one time of the East India Company, built the Durrington House. Later Clayton Feake Glyn lived there. His relative Clayton Glyn married Elinor who became a famous Romantic novelist. She went to Hollywood to supervise the making of her books into films, the actress Clara Bow starring as the original ‘It Girl’. ‘It’ was having sex appeal and being ‘It’ was the craze of the time. Elinor wrote many books to keep a roof over her family’s head as they had to move from Durrington house to Sheering Hall and then to Lamberts on the Street. She had to have a retreat for peace in writing and built a separate small house on the west side calling it her ‘Petit Trianon’-it is still there. Wikipedia Elinor Glyn
The Feakes and the Glyns are remembered for posterity by the stained glass windows in the church and by the mossy, gravestones in the churchyard. Those who amble down Church Lane will perhaps take time to savour the past and let their thoughts dwell on all the people who built the church and made it survive. May they be reassured by its comforting endurance and strengthened in their daily life remembering that ‘God is the builder of everything.’