Wheathampstead Church, St Helen's, Hertfordshire - Monuments

St Helen’s Church, Wheathampstead, is most distinguished by its spiky steeple, with the roof shallower at the base, then sharply vertical, or almost so above – called a broach spire; it is placed on a short tower that is placed centrally on the Church, beneath is a nave with wide transepts so that it appears effectively cruciform from many viewpoints, though it is not. Built of flint with stone dressings, the different parts of the Church date from the 13th Century through to the 19th, with the tower itself being of the late 13th Century with a Victorian rebuild of the spire. Inside, the Church is broad, with nave, aisles, vestry and two porches. The dates are mixed, the evolution of the Church being described as gradual and continuous, and what we see today is an interesting and explorable space of pillars and arches, unified by Victorian makeovers which added fine tiling, a degree of restoration, and the repainting of the splendid chancel ceiling.

Wheathampstead Church, St Helen's.


There are two grand monuments with reclining figures, and a dozen and a half panels, some with sculptural decoration. We start with the two recliners, of the 16th and 17th Centuries, and epitomise two rather different styles, The earlier one is to Sir John Brocket and Dame Margaret, his wife, with his date of death being 1558. The pair of figures lie side by side on an altar tomb, and represent late examples of a long tradition of medieval monuments of this type, the stone figures gradually becoming more lifelike, as here, but still mannered and conventional in their praying pose. What a contrast to the later monument, to Sir John Garrard, d.ca.1637, and his wife Lady Elizabeth, and Isabella Garrard. Here the figures of Sir John and Lady Elizabeth are turned on their sides, leaning on their elbows. There is still a stiffness, and odd touches – the drapery, however skilful, falls down Lady Elizabeth’s legs rather than vertically down towards the floor – but there is a liveliness too. Each figure has their hips angled, to allow the upper leg to swing backwards and rest more easily; Sir John has one elegant hand on his sword, whose tip rests conveniently over his ankle; and Lady Elizabeth holds a book, as if she has just stopped reading. The details are finer, richer, and there is a sense of swagger to the monument missing from the earlier piece.

Sir John Brockett, d.1558, and wife Dame Margaret

Sir John Brockett, d.1558, and wife Dame Margaret [Benstede] Brockett. A great altar tomb, with a pair of life size effigies on top, lying back supported with their hands in prayer. Around three of the sides of the altar tomb are panels with figures; the side behind the effigies’ feet is against the wall. Sir John wears full plate armour, and has two necklaces or chain. His face is gaunt, deep sunk eyes in rounded sockets, a thin nose, haggard cheeks, and a beard, damaged, which emphasises the length of his face. He is bare-headed, his helmet being his pillow, and his hair is quite long at the back, monklike at the top over a rounded forehead. We can see the remnants of a sword by his side, and his armoured feet rest on a small lion. Though there is some damage to the figure’s face and hands, Sir John’s armour remains in extremely good preservation over 450 years on.

Sir John Brockett and Dame Margaret Brockette, mid-16th Century.

Dame Margaret is in poorer state, with damage to the head, and arms broken above the elbows. Her face looks old, made more so by her skullcap, but we still see some femininity around the mouth and above it, and in the curve of the chin. Her head rests on two tasselled pillows. She wears a long, light robe, caught at the waist by a broach, otherwise open, under which her shirt has a wide, soft collar, with two ties at the front; the sleeves are puffed out at the top. She wears longs skirts down to her feet, damaged again and resting on the remnants of some ruined beast, and under her is a an outer cloak caught at the shoulders. Battered as the figure is, the viewer is struck by the slenderness of her waist and curve of her body, a slight figure indeed next to her husband, though not much less tall. Set on the wall behind the figures is an alabaster plaque bearing two shields of arms in separate panels separated by small pillars with spiralling grooves, and a shelf above.

The small figures on the sides of the tomb are also worth study. There are eight in all, each standing and holding a heraldic shield. The two on the short side are miniature versions of the statue of Sir John, with the same style of armour, two chains round the neck, and a long sword by the side (picture below). On the south side, that is to the side of Sir John above, are three more standing men, robed rather than with armour, two together, one apart, really rather damaged. To Dame Margaret’s side, northwards, are three more statuettes, this time female and dressed rather like her, with the same open outer garment and puffed sleeves, and in a better state of preservation than the other small figures - one is shown above right. They wear some sort of headgear, or tightly curled locks, and this may be what Dame Margaret originally had on her head.

Sir John Garrard, Lady Elizabeth, and Isabella Garrard

Sir John Garrard, d.ca.1637, his wife Lady Elizabeth Garrard, and Isabella Garrard, d.1677. A grand monument against the wall, centred on the figures of Sir John and Lady Elizabeth, he behind, she in front lying a little lower so that both figures can be seen. Above them is a vast alabaster canopy held up on dark-shafted marble pillars to the sides, with a central arch over the figures and containing the lengthy inscription. Above this, a heavy entablature decorated with shields of arms, and a large, baroque pediment, broken in the centre, curved and raised, with further figure sculpture and heraldic devices. Below the main figures on the front of the sideboard like structure underneath, kneel the ranked children of the couple, 14 in all.

As noted above, the figures lie on their sides, and there is a compositional relationship between them – their poses are very similar, giving a harmoniousness to the couple, and her gaze is upwards, his forwards, as if they are in conversation. The two statues are almost identical in length, but we can contrast her more shapely figure with his more powerful masculine one, and her soft and richly decorated clothing with his stiff armour.

Beneath, the small figures of their children are more conventional kneelers, each boy similar to his brothers, differing only in size, and all the girls with sisterly similarity, and almost identical pose, showing a gradual aging from the plump infant in front – she died an infant, for she carries a skull – to the lengthening faces, more abrupt noses, more solid necks and more receding hairlines of the older girls.

Sir John and Lady Elizabeth Garrard, 17th Century.

The other figure sculpture is good too: in the spandrels (triangles above the arches) are alto relievo figures of a female angel with nice drapery, and a grinning winged skeleton with arrow and hourglass. On the edges of the pediment are seated putti, plump and naked, and at the very summit is an allegorical figure of Time, old, bearded and winged. Monuments do not come much grander than this.

Other monuments