St Mary the Virgin, Great Wymondley, Hertfordshire

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Feature Sets (4)


Great and Little Wymondley are a pair of villages in the arable farmland to the E of Hitchin in North Hertfordshire, on the W side of the A1(M). Great Wymondley, to the N, is now the smaller of the two and St Mary’s church stands at the E end of Church Green in the village centre. It consists of a 12thc nave and apsidal chancel; the latter with pointed lancets indicating a 13thc remodelling. The nave has a timber-framed S porch, and a N vestry, both built in Joseph Clarke’s restoration of 1883-84. The nave was heightened in the 15thc and a parapet added, and the 4-storey W tower dates from the same period. Construction is of flint rubble with limestone dressings. Romanesque sculpture is found on the S nave doorway.and the chancel arch, and there is a late-12thc piscina.


8 hides in Great Wymondley were held by the church of St Mary, Chatteris before the Conquest, but the manor was taken from that church by Earl Harold, c.1063 and attached to his own manor of Hitchin. A further 3¼ hides were held by Swen, a man of Harold, before the Conquest. In 1086, King William held the 8 hides and the smaller manor was held by Goisbert de Beauvais.

Before the end of the 11thc, the entire estate was given to Reginald de Argentein, and it remained in this line until the 15thc.

The church was originally a chapel to Hitchin.  The Abbess of Elstow claimed, in 1199, that it had been granted, with Hitchin and its church, to her abbey, a claim opposed by Reginald de Argentein on the grounds that his ancestors had already presented to the church. Reginald’s son Richard acknowledged the right of the Abbess of Elstow to present to the church, which she appropriated around this time, and the church remained with Elstow until the Dissolution.


Exterior Features


S nave doorway

Round headed and of 2 orders with a tympanum. The doorway is whitewashed overall.

Height of opening 2.04 m
Width of opening 1.14 m
Height of tympanum (radius) 0.83 m
Thickness of tympanum 0.15 m
Width of tympanum (diameter) 1.54m
1st order

Plain square jambs carry heavy chamfered imposts decorated on face and chamfer with heavy chip-carved crosses in lozenges (stars). The tympanum is diapered with similar chip-carving.

2nd order

Engaged nook-shafts on worn cushion bases with roll neckings. The block capitals take the form of simplified human heads; not identical but both set frontally to the main angle of the capital, with protruding ears, round eyes drilled for pupils, wedge-shaped noses and thin closed mouths. Imposts are as the 1st order, and the arch has a fat angle roll. There is no label.

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

The arch is round headed with a single order to W and E.

1st order, E face

Plain, unmoulded jambs and arch, with imposts as the W face and continuing below the arch.

1st order, W face

Engaged nook-shafts on cushion bases with plain roll neckings. The capitals are of the simplified volute type, basically cushions with an angle tuck and non-projecting volutes carved on the main angles only.

The imposts are chamfered with a thin  roll at the bottom of the face. The arch has a plain angle roll.


Piscinae/Pillar Piscinae


The piscina is a recess in the curved wall of the apse, on the S side. The rectangular recess is flanked by detached en-deli nook-shafts that support a heavy lintel decorated with a roll above the opening. The lower sill is flat on its upper surface with no basins surviving, and hollow chamfered on its lower edge. The nook-shafts are cylindrical, on water-holding bases with a flattened torus profile. Capitals are of the flat-leaf type with keeled leaves terminating in ball tips. The neckings are plain. The piscina is of clunch.

Height of bases 0.040
Height of capitals including necking 0.075 m
Height of shafts 0.305 m
Height of shafts with capitals and bases 0.415 m
Max. width of capitals 0.12 m
Height of opening 0.47 m
Overall height of piscina 0.73 m
Overall width 0.88 m
Width of opening between shafts 0.54 m


RCHME, VCH and the List Description date the S doorway c.1120. The church of St Leonard, Bengeo also has an apsidal E end. The chancel arch at Great Wymondley is contemporary with the doorway, and the ipiscina with its flat-leaf capitals must date from the 1170s or '80s. The simple volute capitals of the chancel arch may be compared with examples at Reed and on the chancel arch at Bengeo within the county, and over the border at Pampisford in Cambridgeshire..


  • Historic England List Description (English Heritage Legacy ID) 162757

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Hertfordshire, Harmondsworth 1953, 102-03.

  • N. Pevsner and B. Cherry, The Buildings of England: Hertfordshire, Harmondsworth 1977, 153-54.

  • RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Hertfordshire, London 1910, 105-06.

  • Victoria County History: Hertfordshire vol. 3 (1912), 181-85.

Exterior from SE
Interior to E


Site Location
Great Wymondley
National Grid Reference
TL 215 285 
now: Hertfordshire
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Hertfordshire
medieval: Lincoln (Dorchester to 1085)
now: St Albans
now: St Mary the Virgin
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Parish church, formerly chapel  
Report authors
Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
21 September 2017, 21 September 2018