Leyton Parish Church, St Mary the Virgin

Leyton Parish Church, St Mary the Virgin, is mostly 19th Century or later, but some of the fabric dates from the 17th Century, notably the tower, and the monuments mostly predate the 19th Century work. While the Church is of some antiquity, with one of the bells originally being 14th Century, its history is that it started very small, and in several phases was effectively extended with aisles on the side and additions at the ends until not much of the original remained. The early 19th Century enlargement (1822) was by the architect John Shaw, with Thomas Cubitt as his builder. War damage and repair led to the church we see today, which is bright and airy, and still contains interesting early monuments.

This site does not usually note the people associated with the churches, howsoever eminent they may be, but it must be said here that John Strype, the historian who published the most extended version of John Stow’s Survey of London, was a minister here for something like 50 years.

Sir Michael Hickes, Lady Elizabeth Hickes.

A small chapel now contains the two showiest of the monuments in the Church, to members of the Hickes family. On the south wall is the lengthy monument to Sir Michael Hickes, d.1612, and wife Elizabeth, d.1635. We see a pair of effigies of the husband and wife, in alabaster, with some painting, almost foot almost to foot, against the wall, each leaning on a cushioned elbow, thus facing the viewer. Early monuments with recumbent figures invariably have them on their backs, and later ones are often shown in a relaxed side-on position, as if lounging Roman patrician style, next to the bath – see William Hickes below. But the Hickeses are shown in the sideways pose but stiff, he more so than her, and would seem to be of the intermediate style, during which effigies were rolling over and sitting up, as it were. We might mention George Snygge, d.1617, in St Stephen’s Parish Church, Bristol, as a similar stiff effigy.

Sir Michael Hickes is shown as a seemingly elderly man, in full armour, richly designed, with high ruff on his neck and with a trimmed beard and moustache. Belted on his upward side is a sword, or perhaps some sword-like staff, and in his hand is a small book. His figure is slender. Elizabeth Hickes is in a black robe which envelopes her body in the usual 17th Century way, and wears a broader ruff, a cowl, and has turned up sleeves. She too holds a small book. She is shown rather younger than her husband. Rather more conventional than her husband, were she a kneeling figure she could be slotted in without stylistic problems into many dozens of other monuments of the period. Behind each figure is a shallow recess with inscription, and underneath, a long table with two heavily carved coats of arms among decoration.

The monument has been moved twice – originally against the east wall of the church, it was moved to the south wall of the chancel when that was built in 1693, and in 1853 it was moved to the current position. Apparently the monument was originally as an altar tomb but the parts rearranged later – if this is so, with the couple reclining next to one another, then it is hard to see how it could have stood against a wall, as the inner recumbent figure would have been facing the wall.

William Hicks monument.

Opposite in the chapel is the monument to Sir William Hickes, d.1702, erected in his own lifetime. There are three figures, in marble this time: the recumbent one is his father, Sir William Hickes, Baronet, d.1680. The standing figures are Sir William Hickes, and his wife, Lady Marthagnes, d.1723. Mrs Esdaile, the first modern writer who visited many English churches and described their monuments, apparently ascribed the work to an obscure sculptor called Benjamin Adye (another Adye, Thomas, is better known), but later writers do not seem to have credited this. The reclining figure of the Baronet is shown as supremely self-pleased, and is certainly relaxed in his pose. We note that his drapery, for he wears a long robe above his open waistcoat, shows the downward force of gravity, unlike the case with the earlier figures noted above. His many buttons are mostly undone up the chest, and around his neck is tied a scarf of some thin material. He wears a full wig, and the sculptor has obviously taken some delight in the rendering of the curls, as well as the sardonic expression of the portrait. The hands, too, are finely rendered, and in all, this is a figure of considerable force and distinction.

What a contrast to the standing figure of the younger Sir William. The first impression, unfortunately, is of the oversized head, which with the wig gives a considerable and disproportionate mass. A shame, for the individual parts are good, as is the pose, which shows him in the act of striding forward, one foot sideways, one forwards, upper body and neck progressively twisted in the direction of movement, one hand eloquently on the breast as if declaiming, the other hand, damaged, once presumably on the pommel of a sword. His face is upturned, eyes closed, aspect rather haughty, and apart from the wig, he wears Roman costume, with armoured kilt and chest, swathe of heavy drapery around his torso, over the arm and behind, and Roman open sandals. If only the head were a bit smaller.

The statue of Lady Marthagnes is more satisfactory. We see a Classical figure, Roman baroque, though with certainly not a Classical face, standing with one knee bent, with in one an open book, the other raised, palm out. She is wearing a cowl across her head, and generally rather thin drapes except for a heavier twist from her robe which goes across her front, around her arm, and then hangs in graceful folds to her side. A sad, rather unflattering expression, and the neck too columnar, the treatment of the hands however being excellent. Her drapes fall to the ground so we cannot admire her feet. The composition as a whole, with the two standing figures flanking the reclining one, is good, and incorporates a broad oval window behind.

Now to the rest of the monuments:

17th Century:

Anne Tench, d.1696.

18th Century

19th Century, and one 20th Century

On either side of the chancel is an outdoor tombstone brought indoors, to Sir Thomas Want, d.1785, and Thomas Want Jr, d.1789. Each has a low relief carving at the top, of a flying angel, male, the one holding a flower and ribbon, the other a small figure, presumably a soul.

We may note a few fragmentary ancient brasses, to Elizabeth Wood, d.1626 and husband Toby Wood, with a number of inscribed figures, a single figure of a standing female, praying, with long hair, an inscription to Sir Edward Holmeden, d.1598 and his wife, Elizabeth, and one long inscription dated 1557. Also a number of 19th century revival brass memorials, characteristic of the times, for example to James Innes, d.1874, shaped as a trefoil window, with ornamental black lettering, and a border and top in red and black, showing leaves and flowers.

There is in the church, apparently, a font dating from the 15th Century, apart from the pedestal, but I would not have assumed that the octagonal one which I saw was medieval.

Finally in the interior, we should note two small stained glass windows from the 1930s, gifts to the children of the Parish, showing seated girls or female saints, nicely done and in beautiful glowing colours - one is pictured above.

There is a goodly sized churchyard, particularly extending to the rear with some ancient cottages alongside. Among the usual headstones are a couple with figures, various tomb chests, and the odd more architecturally significant tombs, as shown below.

18th Century tombs in the churchyard.

Grateful thanks to the Church authorities for permission to use pictures from inside the Church: their website is at http://www.leytonparishchurch.org.uk/welcome.htm.

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Just south to Leyton Town Hall

Nearby Walthamstow Church (2 miles north) // and West Ham Church (1 1/2 miles south) // East to Dagenham Church // and then Hornchurch

Also South, to former Passmore Edwards Museum // or along Romford Road

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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