TIMES REMEMBERED – The Flemish Connection
I was assisted in my quest for the connection between Ralph Lindsay Esq. of Norwood and Ralph de Limesy the founder of our church by the published work of a modern historian named Beryl Platts who has made a study of the Continental invaders of Britain in 1066 and their subsequent settlement here. It was from her authorship that I learned the surprising news that Ralph de Limesy died before 1100 AD. This raised a question in my mind. In every published historical work which includes a reference to our church it is described as a twelfth century building with fourteenth century addition founded by Ralph de Limesy, one of William the Conqueror’s barons. So how did it come to be built by somebody who was dead before the twelfth century?
I posed this question in a letter to Beryl Platts and I quote from her reply. “For some reason unknown to me (but perhaps because they equate the 11th century with Anglo-Saxon builders) architectural historians are very reluctant to date buildings they call ‘Norman’ as any earlier than 1100. In fact there is a wealth of information about the East Midlands churches, and especially those in small parishes, to show that they were at least begun by the Flemings before the Domesday catalogue of their manorial possessions appeared in 1086. I have no doubt that it was Ralph de Limesy who started building the church in Pirton, perhaps as early as the ten eighties. He left three sons by his wife Howisa – Alan, his heir, who seems to have lived mostly at the family seat at Wolverly in Warwickshire; Geoffrey, who apparently inherited their lands in the Seine Valley and Reyner, who appears to have been the heir in Hertfordshire. If Ralph’s work on the church was not completed by his death, then either Alan or Reyner would have finished it and no doubt their heirs would have added to, or even rebuilt parts of it”. This is the first time I have discovered any clue to the church’s foundation date apart form the statement by Pearson the architect who restored it in the ninteenth century, that he dated it not later than 1135, and it makes the church even older than we thought!
Another unresolved mystery arose when I read The Victoria History of Hertfordshire’s description of our church, written in the 19th century,“ …….new windows were inserted in the nave in the 14th and 15th centuries. The south wall had one of each, similar and similarly arranged to those on the north wall. In the easternmost window are fragments of 15th century glass with the arms of Lindsay!”. These fragments are no longer there but when the East Herts Archaeological Society surveyed the church in 1910 Geoffrey Lucas, referring to the same window recorded that “ …..some fragments of old glass still remain in this window”. Were they the same fragments depicting the arms of Lindsay? Probably so.
As far as we are aware the only Lindsay to display an interest in Pirton church subsequent to medieval times was Ralph Lindsay, who bought the patronage in the eighteen forties; but was he the first, or could there have been an even more interesting explanation for these fragments of old glass? Another thing I learned during my researches was that the arms of de Limesy and de Lindsay were the same (since they were all the Ghents originally) up until the end of the 13th century – a golden eagle displayed, on a field gules. By that time the de Limesy family line had failed due to the death of Ralph de Limesy’s great-grandson, John, without issue. Thereafter the Lindsays adopted the fess checky argent and azure on a field gules, with the eagle as a supporter. Later generations of Lindsays abandoned the eagle in favour of two lions gules as supporters, with the head of an ostrich as a crest and the oldest of Scottish mottoes, the grim word ‘Endure’.
I would dearly love to know the composition of the arms that reposed in that window? Were the fragments actually 15th century glass or were they even older? Only an expert in glass would have known. Could they have been the original arms of Limesy/Lindsay, installed in the church at its foundation, or soon after, and transferred into the new 15th century window inserted to let more light into a gloomy nave? Or where there previous Lindsay patrons in the fifteenth century. Who knows? Perhaps somebody reading this will be drawn to further research the history of our ancient church.