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Holy Trinity Church, a history

 The oldest surviving parts of Holy Trinity church are the nave and south door (dating from around 1200). The south transept and north aisle with its small round-headed door were added some 25 years later and the south aisle was built in around 1250 (incorporating the transept and with the south door re-set in its current position). Their construction is of flint rubble with detailing in clunch (a soft chalk), the only building stone available locally.  In 2002 a small kitchen and toilet facility were incorporated.  The most recent work carried out in 2012 improved circulation and created a more usable space by removing 12 pews across the front of the nave. The tower was added later in the early fourteenth century and, except that the ‘Hertfordshire spike’ steeple shown in eighteenth century prints and drawings has now gone, it remains relatively unchanged in appearance today, retaining its original windows with only minimal nineteenth century repair of their delicate tracery. It is the last feature to pre-date the decimation and subsequent social change of the Black Death. It contains seven bells, the oldest being the clock bell which has been marking the hours since the 1540s.

 By the fifteenth century, an affluent and devout yeoman class was able to invest in a more elaborate building.  The two pairs of sheep shears carved in the wicket of the fifteenth century north door indicate that it was wealth from the wool industry, which made this possible. The north and south porches both date from the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century. Their roofs contain the beginnings of elaborate fan vaulting reminiscent of work of a similar date at Saffron Walden by John Wastell, the master mason of King’s College chapel in Cambridge. A family connection may explain a link between the two: John Leche, vicar of Saffron Walden from 1489 to 1521 who oversaw the major rebuilding there, was connected by the marriage of his sister, Joan, to the wealthy Bradbury family of Catmere End, Littlebury.  The eighteenth century prints and drawings also show that the east, aisle and clerestorey windows were replaced at around the same time in perpendicular style and the walls battlemented.

Almost nothing remains of the mediaeval interior, which had included two side altars, a tabernacle dedicated to St. Anne, rood and image of the Virgin. The only surviving medieval furnishings are the plain Norman stone font base, which at the peak of late medieval piety was enclosed by its elaborately carved and gilded oak case, and the memorial brasses.  These are now displayed by the font on the church wall although originally they were set in grave slabs in the floor.  They represent a layman of around 1480 (his two wives, sons and six daughters missing), a priest of around 1510 and a husband and wife also of around 1510. 

The church as we see it now is very much the product of the major restoration project of 1870 to 1874 when the chancel and chancel arch were completely rebuilt. Eight ‘Gothic’ windows were inserted into the north and south aisles and six round windows in the clerestorey above the nave replaced earlier examples.  The extension to house the organ chamber, vestry and roofs also all date from this period. Minor repairs were made to the tower.  Changes to the fittings included the installation of stained glass in the new windows, the stone reredos behind the altar, a new pulpit, choir stalls and pews. Some of this work is today regarded as unsympathetic, in particular the severe nineteenth century Gothic style and the use of imported Caen stone (its transport made possible by the advent of the railway) contrasting sharply with the clunch of the medieval fabric. There are, though, some nice details to note such as the Victorian stained glass, Minton floor tiles in the sanctuary and the carved heads of the Bishop of London and Queen Victoria on either side of the chancel arch.

Subsequent generations of worshippers have also added to the building both for ornament and practical purposes. The chancel arch wallpainting represents the crucifixion and was completed in around 1879 as a memorial to his wife by Rev. Wix, vicar from 1840 to 1889. Local resident Herbert Burrell made the carved and inlaid screen to the organ chamber in 1911. There are memorials to the servicemen and women from Littlebury who died in World War I and II in the church itself and in the churchyard. The most recent addition is a small kitchen and toilet facilities. 

Gillian Williamson