Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Craven Chapel at Ashbury Church

When it comes to the letter "C" I admit that I am once again spoiled for choice on Ashdown related topics. There is Craven in Yorkshire, where the Craven family originated. There is the family itself. There is Coombe Abbey, the family seat in Warwickshire. There is the Ashdown cricket team, the chapel, Carpenter, Lord Craven's horse, the chalk out of which the house is built, the cupola on the roof, Princess Charlotte, daughter of Elizabeth of Bohemia, and King Charles II, Elizabeth's nephew... It seems to me that I will have to return to a number of "C" topics! But for now "C" is for the Craven Chapel at Ashbury Church.

The first church at Ashbury was built for the Abbot of Glastonbury sometime before AD 947 when it is mentioned in the abbey chronicles. A number of monks from Glastonbury lived at Ashbury when it was a monastic grange and the manor house in the village dates from Glastonbury tenure. Subsequent to the Saxon church a Norman one was built on the same site. The earliest parts of the current church date from the 12th century. Local legend has it that there was a prehistoric stone circle in the field behind the church and that some of these sarsen stones now form the bank between the churchyard and the old holloway to the south.

In 1926 the chapel in the North Transept was furnished as a memorial to Evelyn, Dowager Countess of Craven, widow of the 3rd Earl of the 2nd Creation and the last member of the Craven family to live at Ashdown House. It is said that the Countess would ride over the Downs from Ashdown on the path that leads directly from the church to the house and would enter via the old Norman door in the south wall.

The chapel is dedicated to St Hubert, Bishop of Liege, who died in 727 and is the patron saint of hunters. The stained glass window is based on a print by Albrecht Durer and shows a scene from Hubert's life. Also inside the chapel are delicate and beautiful pieces of lacework worn by Evelyn Craven at her wedding. A tablet on the wall records all those who contributed to the memorial, including Evelyn Craven's daughter-in-law Cornelia Craven, her sister Lady Haldon and niece the Honourable Florence Palk and her sister-in-law Lady Emily Van de Weyer. Possibly the most interesting name on the list was that of the People's Refreshment House, an association started in 1896 by the Temperance Movement to encourage the serving of soft drinks in inns and public houses. I wondered whether the Rose and Crown in Ashbury had at the time been managed by the People's Refreshment House, as many pubs on estates were. Also fascinating is a list of the eighteen members of the Ashdown House chapel choir at the time of Evelyn Craven's death in November 1924.

Outside the chapel in the main body of the church are two stained glass windows that were apparently taken from the chapel at Ashdown. One of these windows is dedicated to the memory of George Grimston Craven and dates from the late 19th century (George Grimston Craven died in 1883). The other window, more mysteriously, is said to be 15th century. If this came from Ashdown chapel it would be fascinating to know where it was originally, before the chapel was built.

The Church of St Mary's in Ashbury has a wonderful timeless and peaceful quality about it that one finds in country churches that have been standing for hundreds of years on the spot where other places of worship stood for thousands of years. Evelyn, Countess of Craven, a local girl from Shrivenham originally, is part of that fabric of history. As far as I know no member of the Craven family was buried at Ashbury so it is even more special to have the little chapel dedicated in the Dowager Countess's name.

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