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Church history

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


The Rider Memorial

The altar tomb on the south side of the graveyard at Holy Trinity Church in Littlebury was uncovered in 2008 from its dense covering of ivy. It is constructed of a brick base covering the grave itself and topped with a rectangular stone table inscribed with the family names, railed on all four sides. This type of monument is relatively unusual in country graveyards on account of the expense and labour involved in its construction, and therefore was reserved for the well to do amongst the community. Joseph (1756-1829) and Ann Rider (1760-1827) lived in Littlebury where they raised their two sons, Charles and James. The older brother, James (1781-1864) lived to his 83rd year and was a gentleman of independent means. Charles (1788-1858) was a farmer and worked Green Farm in Littlebury Green for many years. He was resident for both the censuses of 1841 and 1851, and by 1861 the Rider name was so associated with the Green Farm property that the census notes the property simply as ‘Rider’s’, although he had died 3 years earlier. For most of his working life, Charles Rider was the farming tenant of the rector of Strethall, and is named in the insurance documents of 1835 relating to properties in the area. The rector was one of the wealthiest landowners in the district and owned properties in several parishes in the neighbourhood.

The earliest Rider will recorded in Littlebury was of James Rider, a yeoman who died in 1793.  A later descendant was William, a Littlebury farmer who died in 1835, winner of Lord Braybrooke’s allotment prize in 1829. There are several less showy graves of the Rider family on the North side of the churchyard also, no doubt cousins of those whose memorial we uncovered. Although there were many other family relatives bearing the Rider name in the surrounding area, neither Charles nor James appear to have had surviving children. The tomb is inscribed with the names and dates of Joseph and Ann with those of their two sons and a line from psalms.     

Oriel Williams


John Aldam Heaton: the Pre-Raphaelites, Titanic and the chancel arch at Holy Trinity


Chancel arch: Gordon Ridgewell. John Aldam Heaton: courtesy Dr Michael Winstanley

“A beautiful painting on the Chancel arch, designed and executed by Mr J. Aldam Heaton of Bloomsbury Square, London has just been added to the church. It is dedicated to the glory of God and in loving memory of the ever-lamented wife of the Vicar.” This euphoric report appeared in the 1881 July edition of the Saffron Walden Parish Magazine that covered parochial news from the town and many of its surrounding villages.

The church had undergone major changes between 1870 and 1874; to the people of Littlebury it must have seemed almost unrecognizable within. Amongst many other alterations, the rebuilt chancel and chancel arch, new Caen stone pillars and reredos, and eight new Gothic windows had transformed the old building within into a modern devotional Victorian interior. Commissioned by Rev. Joseph Wix in 1879 and dedicated in 1881, Heaton’s painting covers the whole of the chancel arch and is executed with a full palette in a dark tonal range. Based on the crucifixion it has a distinct Pre Raphaelite feel with decorative lettering encased in spiralling gold ribbons descending on either side.

John Aldam Heaton (1830 - 1897) worked in his early adult life as a wool and textile manufacturer at Beehive Mill in Bradford, moving in 1860 to Woodbank, an ancient farm near Harden, Bingley, in Yorkshire. Influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement and counting Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Burne-Jones, William Morris, and Norman Shaw among his friends, Heaton became fascinated by all areas of art and interior design, in particular furniture, stained glass and wallpaper design. Several of his wallpaper designs are kept at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Heaton invited Rossetti to paint a portrait of Ellen, his wife, and the artist stayed with them at Woodbank for a month between November and December 1861 to carry out the commission. The portrait, known as Regina Cordium (Queen of Hearts), a portrait of Mrs Ellen Heaton, subsequently formed the basis of a stained glass window for the house; this work was one of the first undertaken by William Morris’s studio. In 1862 Heaton recommended the medievalist Morris to make thirteen stained glass panels required for the entrance hall and staircase at Harden Grange near Bingley, where a successful textile entrepreneur Walter Dunlop was then living as a leasehold tenant. The Bradford Art Galleries and Museums later acquired them in 1917.

Morris’s panels were based on Tristram and Isoude’s story in Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, newly re-popularized particularly by Wagner’s 1859 opera: Tristram and Isolde. Subsequently in1863, once again recommended by Heaton, Morris’s studio, later to be called Morris & Co, was commissioned to create an arrangement of stained glass lights in Bradford Cathedral, now known as ‘The Morris Windows’. Several artists including Edward Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown and Rossetti, worked on the project, in a large part of Morris’s design of seven lights divided by a transom and surmounted by three rows of tracery.

A member of the Neo-Classical Arts and Crafts movement, Heaton was forthright in his views and published several books about art and design. These included Beauty and Art in 1889, a critique of taste, and Furniture and Decoration in England during the Eighteenth Century in 1890, a work that acclaimed the work of Chippendale, Sheraton and Heppelwhite among others. In 1895 he designed and published the lengthily titled Chimney-pieces, Ornamental Lattice, Wall-papers, Frieze Painting, Blinds, Carpets, Furniture, Designs for Needlework, Embroidery, Curtains, Church Work, Stained Glass, Painting, that undoubtedly indicated the breadth of his interests.

Heaton set up workshops in Bloomsbury in order to undertake more prestigious commissions. He collaborated with many important artists as well as the architect Richard Norman Shaw who believed that architecture should be considered an Art. Working with Shaw, Heaton’s company produced lavish interior designs and furnishings for the White Star Line liners, the first being for the Olympic in which many different historical styles were used. Aldam Heaton & Co became part of White Star and, some years after Heaton’s death in 1897, designed interiors for the Titanic that, according to plan, closely resembled those of the Olympic

A spiritual man, John Aldam Heaton strove, among his other commissions, to enhance church interiors. Since he often worked in tandem with architects it may be through those connections that he came to paint the chancel arch at Littlebury in his early fifties. Recently Holy Trinity has once again undergone many improvements and alterations, including new lighting that enables the painting in the chancel arch to be seen much more clearly, providing an opportune moment to take a look at the life and artistic milieu of its creator.

 Lizzie Sanders

References: Anne Walleans, Designing liners: a history of interior design afloat,Routledge, 2006, 61., 300.htm,

Many thanks to Dr Michael Winstanley of Lancaster University (probably only very distantly related to Henry as far as he knows) for the image of John Aldam Heaton above, the information that Beauty and Art is available online and this link where Aldam Heaton's Arts and Crafts leaning is clear to see.


Vicars of Holy Trinity Church

 Until the mid 19th century the appointment of a rector for Littlebury was in the gift of the Bishop of Ely, a relic of the time when the bishopric had owned the manor of Littlebury. The office of rector was a sinecure; that is, the holder drew an income from lands in the parish (Rectory Farm, now known as The Old Rectory, to the north of Littlebury village on the east side of the road to Little Chesterford) but was not tasked with any actual parish duties at all. These were instead performed by a vicar appointed by the rector and paid a fixed salary by him and a curate often assisted the vicar. The former vicarage now forms two dwellings: North House and South House, a 16th century timber-framed building next to the church with a mid-19th century rear extension built to house Rev. Wix’s large family.

The list of vicars and dates below is drawn from a number of sources, notably Richard Newcourt’s ‘Repertorium’ of 1710.  These articles are based on material from ‘Littlebury: A Parish History’ where some of the vicars are covered in more detail.   

Gillian Williamson 

1285    Roger Garton                   

           Thomas de Soham

1331    Roger de Sovekyn   

1339    John Kyng                

1361    John Sad               

1400    Thomas Bryan

           John George

1434    Thomas Caly

1438    William Breenge

1462    John Everard

1486     Reginald Haselbeche           

1504    William Robinson           

1516    John Ashwell

1541    Richard Wilkes

1544    Thomas Cottesford

1553    Richard Clapham

1557    Christopher Bland

            William Broughton

1570    John Hellie

1596    John Hutton

1615    Richard Parker 

1629    Henry Tucker

1648 - 1656  Vicars of the Commonwealth period

1648    Henry Prime                    

1650     Return states ‘no settled minister’     

1656    Isaac Wells (Presented by the Protector)

1660    Henry Tucker

1667    John Hammond       

1669    John Baldock

 1671    Richard Bainbrigg 

1673    John Bennet

1692    Will Kilbourne

1743    John Taylor

1760    James Hicks

1761     William Gretton

1813    Henry Bull

1840    Joseph Wix

1889    Ernest Edgerley

1936    A. Goodhart

1945    Philip Wright

1955    C. P. Newton

1960    Canon Griffin

1965    John West

1974    John Pratt

1979    Ian Coomber

1983    Richard Carlill

1990    Shamus Williams

2000    Laurie Bond   

2004    Michael Lovegrove   

2008    Christopher Warren        

2014    Jeremy Parsons

2017    Interregnum

2018    Alex Jeewan

Rev. Joseph Wix: vicar of Littlebury

Stephen Ingram writes: "An old friend who is 90 years old this year is the great grand son of  Rev. Joseph Wix who was vicar of Littlebury for 47 years until 1888.

He has a beautiful silver bowl presented by the villages as an appreciation of his 47 years service. I am enquiring, obviously a long shot, if anyone knows of any portraits or photographs of him.It has been interesting during my recent research to discover that his wife Hannah was the daughter of John Gibson of Tradeger House, Bow: a renowned chemist and fossil hunter. If you could please pass my message on to anyone you may feel may help. Many thanks for your time." If you have any information please 'Contact Us'.