Monuments in Abbots Langley Church, Hertfordshire

Abbot’s Langley is a few miles, or a short bus ride from Watford, in the southern part of Hertfordshire. The Church of St Lawrence is not so prepossessing from the outside, consisting of a stubby buttressed tower, short nave with a roof almost as high as the tower, then an extension, and aisles on the sides. The materials are a mix of flint, flint and stone chequer work, and brick, and apart from the tracery of some of the windows and the odd weathered corbel, there is no sculptural decoration at all. But it is old – the nave, as can be seen from the interior, is Norman, late 12th Century, the tower dates from around 1200 and later, with the parapet at the top being modern. Other parts of the Church are from 1400 and later.

St Lawrence Church, Abbots Langley.

Inside is more interesting than the plain exterior. Solid pillars divide the narrow nave from the aisles, with Norman, dog-toothed arches between (see top of page). And the dominating feature on entering the Church are the two grand monuments against the nearer wall, by the eminent and skilled sculptors Henry Cheere and Peter Scheemakers. We start with these two, and then consider the rest in date order.

Henry Cheere's monument to Baron Robert Raymond, d.1732.

Robert Raymond, Baron of Abbots Langley, d. 1732, with a long Latin inscription. The Baron is shown reclining, Roman fashion, but in full wig and clothing of his time, including ruffs at the wrists and a mantle on which rests some chain of office, though his long robes are treated in a sort of Baroque Hellenistic Classical manner. One hand gestures expansively, the other holds an unrolling scroll; the whole figure is imbued with pride and satisfaction and pomp, and is a splendid piece of virtuoso carving by Henry Cheere. To the left is seated the Baron’s slender and youthful wife, who is wearing proper drapery, again treated in Baroque fashion, with the usual light upper garment and heavier folds of cloth over her legs; a gathering of her cloak is draped over one arm. One hand touches her breast, indicating her heart, the other holds a portrait roundel, presumably of her husband when younger, in relief, held so that the full statue of the Baron could gaze upon it. She too is proud in stance. On the other side of the monument, at the Baron’s feet, stands a naked putto, with little wings and holding out some coronet towards the outstretched hand of the Baron. The inscription is underneath, on what is carved as the side of a long tomb chest upon which the Baron reclines with his attendant figures. Behind, a tall black obelisk rises, which bears the family’s coat of arms, with the supports as two free-standing eagles wearing collars; a coronet with little dragon floats above, and the family motto is written in fine script underneath. The monument is also signed by the architect, Westby Gill. Truly a flamboyant monument worthy of a great cathedral.

Lord Raymond, d.1756, by Peter Scheemakers.

Lord Raymond, d.1756, who is, I understand, the son of Robert Raymond. The second grand monument in the Church, by the sculptor Peter Scheemakers, alas with the front covered in when I visited. This again has a tall, dark obelisk, and here this is more of a feature of the monument; in front of it is the end of a table tomb, with upon the front a wreath with crossed flaming torches across a wreath carved in relief. Seated atop the chest is a cushion which bears the coat of arms, as we have seen it on the earlier monument with the two large supporting eagles, but here rather low down on the backing obelisk. To each side is full sized female figure in white marble. On the left as we look at it is a girl mourning, handkerchief to her face, though her elbow is in casual 18th Century fashion resting on the edge of the tomb. Her other hand rests on her leg and upon a cornucopia from which emerges a large bunch of fruit. She wears classical drapes of course, her cloak hanging away from her body above to emphasise her slender figure, and her long skirts giving a satisfying sweep of drapes at middle height, and with her sandalled feet peeping out at the base; she is seated upon a rock. The figure as a whole consciously echoes the pose and drapery of Henry Cheere’s female on the older monument, most satisfying to the viewer. On the other side of the monument is our other female figure. As with the first figure, her legs face outward, her head turned inward, but the pose is rather different, with the feet somewhat more apart giving a bold composition to the legs. She has one hand across her chest, indicative of her heartfelt feeling, the other holds a small anchor resting upon her knee. Her face is youthful, her hair beneath a crown of flowers is pushed back so as to expose her neck to the full; we see that this neck, and her exposed arm, are gently muscular in an understated fashion. Again, an altogether excellent thing. To have a monument by one of the great 18th Century sculptors is to be praised; to have the work of two is really rather special.

On to the rest of the monuments, which include some figural work and some simpler panels. We take them, as is the convention on this website, in date order:

Also in the Church:

Stained glass in Abbots Langley: angels, cave with stalactites, and light falling on a ledger stone.

Outside, an extensive atmospheric churchyard surrounds the Church, with various of the usual types of monument, headstones of Gothic and Classical design, many crucifixes, a wooden board monument, raised ledgers, and so forth. There is a war memorial in the form of a tall Churchyard cross, stone and bronze, but no sculptural detail.

Nearby the Church, by the library is a chunk of the local building stone, Hertforshire puddingstone, collected by Frank Cooper, d.2006, of which the stone is a memorial. Round the corner, the Catholic Church has a large modern sculpted mural with central Christ figure, quite austere, and the symbols of the four evangelists. It was made by David John of Reading, an ecclesiastical sculptor, whose work may be found for example at the church of St Luke (also R.C.) Pinner - see bottom of this page.

With many thanks to the Church authorities for permission to show pictures of the monuments inside; their website is http://abbotslangley.org.uk/about-us/church-history/.

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Also in Hertfordshire: monuments in other Hertfordshire churches, including King's Langley Church, Watford Church, Wheathampstead Church, Tring Church, Aldenham Church and Aldbury Church

Monuments in some London Churches // Churches in the City of London // Introduction to church monuments

Angel statues // Cherub sculpture

London sculpture // Sculptors

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