Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Houses with history in Hoddesdon

Walking back to High Leigh in the mid-summer sunshine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

I am staying the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hertfordshire, where I am attending the annual conference of USPG. The house dates back to at least the 1870s, when it was bought by the Barclay banking family. But the nearby village of Hoddesdon has many older buildings, and the High Street is lined with timber-framed, black-and-white Tudor houses and pubs, dating back to the mid-16th century.

Rawdon House, Hoddesdon, built in 1622 and extended and restored 1879-1887 ... seen through the Victorian arch on the north side of the house (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

I took some time off this afternoon. Well it is Mid-Summer’s Day, and the sun was shining. One of the houses I wanted to see again is a 17th century house at No 38 High Street, Rawdon House, which was built in1622 by the merchant adventurer, Sir Marmaduke Rawdon (1582-1646).

The town benefited from his philanthropic provision of a new water supply and repairs to the town chapel and the town hall. He put money into building the New River, he gave the town its fresh water supply, flowing from the urn of a statue known as the Samaritan Woman, and he helped to build a Market House.

After fighting as a royalist in the English civil war, he died in 1646. After the war a monument was erected in Faringdon church with a Latin epitaph: “Who lieth here? Rawdon, that Name suffices, What worth can comprehend, this tomb comprises.”

During the rest of the civil war, and throughout the Cromwellian era, his widow Elizabeth Rawdon remained firmly in residence at Hoddesdon.

In the mid-19th century, Sarah Stickney Ellis (1799–1872), a campaigner for women’s rights and educational reform, established a short-lived school at Rawdon House for the education of women in 1847. She described her principles and experiences in books such as The Wives of England, The Women of England, The Mothers of England, The Daughters of England and – of course – Rawdon House.

After her school came to an end, the red-brick mansion was extended and restored between 1879 and 1887 by Ernest George and Peto for Henry Ricardo, who was the owner of Rawdon House from 1875 to 1892. The house was sold to CP Christie in 1895 and remained unoccupied for three years.

In 1898, Rawdon House was bought for the Order of the Nuns of Saint Augustine and was renamed Saint Monica’s Priory. The nuns were canonesses of the Augustinian order, and during their time many of the original fittings were sold about a century ago, and three of the fireplaces bought by Sir Charles Wittewronge were set up at Rothamsted House in Harpenden.

The name of the convent survives in the neighbouring Roman Catholic parish church. Rawdon House is now used as offices, and despite the vandalism of the past century, many of its original Jacobean architectural features survive and there are traces of a knot garden to the rear.

Rawdon House, an L-plan building, is built of red brick, with stone dressings, and machine and terracotta tile roofs, and imitation Tudor chimney stacks. The Jacobean wing is five bays and is three-storeys high. The square porch is rusticated at ground-floor level with detached Doric columns on pedestals and the brick upper floor has Ionic columns.

There are canted two-storey window bays on each side with mullioned and transomed casements, crenellation and a continuous entablature. There are shaped gables to the attic, with the centre one is raised and pedimented, bearing a terracotta date plaque.

The rough-cast rear elevation has a full-height, square, central staircase tower. There are Tudor hood moulds and an arch-headed door with a scrolled date plaque. The much-restored 17th century interior includes a 19th century restored staircase with carved beasts on newel posts and figured strap-work panels. There is a good Ionic door-case on the first floor landing with strap-work pilasters and pedestals. There are also strap-work plaster ceilings to the ground and first floors. In the entrance hall, there is a Jacobean revival fireplace.

The Victorian wing of Rawdon House is a four-window, two-and-a-half storey wing with a south-facing elevation. One of its most visible features is a wide, rusticated carriage arch with detached Doric columns.

Historic public houses

Rathmore House ... where did it get such an Irish-sounding name? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Across the street from Rawdon House, the Golden Lion public house has a blue plaque and a sign proclaiming it dates back to the 1530s.

Further along High Street, Rathmore House (No 56) dates from the 1715, but there is no sign explaining why it has such an Irish-sounding name. This is a three-storey over cellar red-brick house with rubbed brick dressings, and an old tile hipped roof. The ornate Doric doorcase has fluted pilasters, triglyph frieze with patterned metopes – one with the date 1715.

The Conservative Club (No 76) has fine Tudor-style and timber-framed features. This Grade II listed building was built in 1635, but parts of it date back to the 16th century and the house was known in history as The Stanboroughs.

The Rye House plot

The most famous incident in the history of Hoddesdon may have been the Rye House Plot, which was a conspiracy in 1683 to assassinate King Charles II and his brother, the Duke of York, later James II, who had become a Roman Catholic.

The 1681 Exclusion Bill sought to exclude James from the succession, but Charles out-manoeuvred his opponents and dissolved Parliament. Many of those opponents were in disarray, and some fled to Holland.

Rye House, a manor house north-east of Hoddesdon, was owned by a well-known republican, Richard Rumbold, and it was said he planned to hide 100 men in the grounds of his house and ambush the king and the duke on their way back to London from a day at the races at Newmarket. But a fire in Newmarket forced the cancellation of the races, and the attack – if it had ever been planned – never took place. This did not stop Charles ordering the arrest of the suspects, many of whom were minor Whig leaders.

The Duke of Monmouth escaped to the continent, but Lord Russell, a son of the Earl of Bedford, Algernon Sidney, and Sir Thomas Armstrong were executed, Lord Grey escaped from the Tower of London, and the Earl of Essex died by suicide in the Tower. However, the whole plot may have been a fabrication of Charles II or his supporters to allow the removal of most of his strongest political opponents.

The judge at the trial was the “Hanging Judge,” Sir George Jeffreys, who has gone down in history with notoriety. James II eventually succeeded to the throne in 1685, but the excessive reactions to the Rye House Plot helped create the climate that led to the Revolution of 1688.

The White Swan ... a good place to sit reading the newspaper (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Through pubs and pathways

After my stroll through history along the High Street, I sat for a while in the White Swan, reading the Guardian. This is one of the many pubs in Hoddesdon dating back to the mid-16th century.

I strolled back up to High Leigh in the mid-summer sunshine through the public pathways by the river and through the woods and farms on the west of the town.

‘The world wants to see the Gospel in action and not just to hear about it’

The High Leigh Conference Centre in Hertfordshire ... the venue for the USPG conference, ‘Pushing boundaries’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Wholeness and healing were the focus of this morning’s [Tuesday’s] discussions at the annual conference of USPG – Anglicans in World Mission. Dr David Evans said USPG’s overall policy and programme direction: the revitalising of primary health care (PHC).

The Bishop of Cairo, the Right Revd Dr Mouneer Anis, who spent 26 years in medical practice before becoming a bishop, drew on his own experiences as a doctor and a bishop in Egypt.

A pressing need in the 21st century is the need for health care, which is a basic human right and which underpins the millennium development goals. As Anglicans, he said, we need to be involved in restoring wholeness, and to follow in the steps of Jesus who sent his disciples to heal the sick and preach the kingdom.

Bishop Mouneer pointed out that the healing ministry of Christ was linked with his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, and the outcome of healing always was that people give glory to God. When the Church offers healing, we walk in the steps of Christ and fulfil his mission, offering a practical response to the command to love our neighbour.

He recalled the beginnings of the medical mission of the Anglican Church in Egypt., which is traced back to Dr Frank Harpur (right), a TCD-trained doctor and CMS missionary from Ireland who is well known for eradicating the parasite enclostomi in Egypt.

Dr Harpur began working on the Nile on a floating house boat that he used as a hospital, visiting villages on the banks of the Nile and in the Nile delta, treating villagers. From this work, the Harpur Memorial Hospital was built in Menouf in 1910. “And they are still talking about Harpur,” said Dr Mouneer, a former director of the hospital.

Providing figures on the state of the health of the world’s children, he said: “Looking at all these sad figures, the Church cannot be silent.” The work may be like a drop of water in the ocean, but we should do our best to relieve the suffering of people, in that way becoming partakers in Christ’s mission and compassion, he said.

We need to translate the good news of the Gospel into action Bishop Mouneer said. “There is an abundance of preaching in the Church, but the world wants to see the Gospel in action and not just to hear about it.”

He said health care is showing the Gospel in action. He recalled that he is asked frequently by Muslim friends in Egypt when they see the work of Christian-run hospitals, why Christians care in such a way. He answers because Jesus taught us to love everyone, and because he loved everyone. Love involves action and sacrifice. Healing and health are not only physical but holistic. The healing ministry is a vocation and not just a job, and practising medicine is a calling and not a job.


Bible study

This morning’s Bible study was led by the primate of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil (IEAB), Archbishop Maurício de Andrade, who introduced us to John 6: 1-15, the story of the feeding of the 5,000.

John 6: 1-21

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

When Jesus realised that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

‘Vulnerability and communion’

Before we read this passage, we were asked two questions:

● What do I have to offer in my life?

● What do I need to better serve the Lord?

After the passage was read twice, we were asked what word came to your attention, and to share this. And we were asked to consider the vulnerability of the boy in the story.

Archbishop Maurício pointed out that the answer to the problem that day came from a boy, not from Christ or from the Disciples. The Disciples did not have the answer, boy element of surprise for the miracle, with bread and fish leading to solidarity and communion. No-one expected anything from a boy, but he shared barley bread, the bread for poor people, and fish. He offers all he has, from the periphery and from the marginalised. Sometimes the solution comes from the periphery and not from the centre, he said. Food comes from creation, and we need to recognise the opportunities for miracles.

After Archbishop Maurício shared images from his dioceses in Brazil, we shared in the prayer, “Bakerwoman God,” by Alla Bozarth-Campbell:

Bakerwoman God,
I am your living Bread.
Strong, brown, Bakerwoman God.
I am your low, soft, and being-shaped loaf.

I am your rising bread,
well-kneaded by some divine and knotty pair of knuckles,
by your warm earth-hands.
I am bread well-kneaded.
Put me in fire, Bakerwoman God,
put me in your own bright fire.
I am warm, warm as you from fire.
I am white and gold, soft and hard, brown and round.
I am so warm from fire.

Break me, Bakerwoman God!
I am broken under your caring Word.
Bakerwoman God,
Remake me.


The conference session this morning began with an early Eucharist, celebrated according to the rite of the Church of Bangladesh, presided over by the Moderator of the Church, Bishop Paul Sarker. During the day, we also received a message on a video clip from Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

We were also joined today by the Revd Dr Alan McCormack, who is a former Dean of Residence at Trinity College Dublin, and chaired the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission when I was secretary. He is now the Rector of Saint Botolph-without-Bishopsgate and Saint Vedast-alias-Foster, Foster Lane, and the Archdeacon of London’s nominee on the council of USPG.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a director of USPG Ireland and USPG Northern Ireland. He represents the Church of Ireland on the council of USPG.

Pushing boundaries ... in mission and in the Middle East

Patrick Comerford with Bishop Mouneer Anis of Cairo at the USPG conference, ‘Pushing boundaries,’ in High Leigh

Patrick Comerford

This year’s USPG annual conference is taking the theme ‘Pushing boundaries’ and is focussing on leadership, development and health, with talks and seminars exploring new thinking in Anglican global mission.

The High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon in rural Hertfordshire is the venue for this year’s conference of USPG – Anglicans in World Mission.

There were introductions yesterday afternoon [Monday 20 June] from Canon Linda Ali, chair of USPG, and we began with worship and music led by Canon Rob Jones, a council member from the Diocese of Worcester.

The past year has been a difficult, if not traumatic, one for USPG, with upsets, changes and new opportunities, and there was an honest exchange of views when the we moved on to an open forum on the topic ‘This is USPG.’

Dr David Evans, who has been Director for Health since last September, comes to USPG with a background in medical research, developing vaccines and looking at HIV antibodies. Anthony McKernan has been Director of Donor Engagement since January and he has a background in social research and marketing. Behind them as they spoke was the slogan: “More than an aid agency.”

They spoke of an “Old USPG” that was unsustainable, and that was relying on small “loose change,” and of the “New USPG” that must be sustainable, with larger programmes and attracting larger donations.

What has not changed, however, they said, is USPG’s commitment to “God’s holistic mission.” But this was more than freshening up the image of USPG, and they spoke about a mission agency that must be more collaborative.

Canon Edgar Ruddock, USPG’s Director of Leadership Development, said taking stock over the past year or so involved listening, and facing up to new opportunities in their contexts, with consultations with 16 partners in 10 Anglican provinces or autonomous churches, revising policies and priorities, and developing new relationships.


Later in the afternoon and in the evening, we broke up into interest groups, and I went to hear the Most Revd Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt and President Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, speak about the recent upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa.

He was asked frank questions about the current conflict in Libya, the present state of affairs in the ‘Holy Land,’ and what Anglicans can do.

Bishop Mouneer has visited Libya many times, and in recent years Colonel Gadafy handed over to the Anglican Church “a wonderful 16th century church” in Tripoli that had been renovated at a cost of $1 million.

Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said that Jerusalem has been at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict not for past 63 years since the Israeli state was declared in 1948, but from very early on. Jerusalem is at the heart of the issue and at the heart of the conflict, he said, and we cannot ignore the place Christians either. All three faiths have rights in the city. This is an international city, to which these three main religions should have free access. Both Jews and Muslims want exclusive access to Jerusalem, but a common-sense solution is required he said.

He spoke openly of the role of Anglicans as a small church in every part of the Middle East. We have a bridging role between the Churches, as is being experienced in Egypt and Jerusalem, and in the Gulf, but also have a bridging role between Christianity and Islam, and he believes Anglicans are the most active Church in dialogue in the region.

He provided an interesting analysis of the different Islamic groups in the Middle East, but pointed out that majority of Muslims in the Middle East are peaceful, peace-loving moderate people, who have co-existed with Christians and Jews in the region for the past 14 centuries.

He offered interesting insights into the recent developments in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Yemen Jordan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq, and spoke with compassion and passion of the experiences of young people and of women.

He pointed out that the Coptic Orthodox Church, with 12 million members, is not only the biggest Church in Egypt, but is also the biggest Church in the Middle East. They are paying a heavy price, he said, and they remember that they were martyred in the first centuries and after the Islamic conquest, that have suffered in the past, and that they have paid the price.

He offered interesting insights into the potential role of Turkey as a good model, influencing many thinkers in Syria, Egypt and Tunisia and pointed out that Islam in Turkey is different, more moderate and more peaceful, Arab countries are watching Turkey, and thinking Turkey’s model could be a good one, he suggested.

The High Leigh Conference Centre ... the venue for the USPG conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

During the day we also heard that Clare Amos is moving on to work with World Council of Churches on interfaith dialogue.

After dinner, I took part in an interesting workshop on music and liturgy led by Canon Jones. This morning [Tuesday, 21 June], we begin with the Eucharist, according to the rite of the Church of Bangladesh, celebrated by the Moderator of the Church, Bishop Paul Sarker. Our speakers include Bishop Mouneer and Bishop Trevor Mwamba of Botswana, and there is a meeting of the Council of USPG in the evening.

Five people from USPG Ireland are taking part in the conference. Also here are Linda Chambers de Bruijn and, Jan de Bruijn, and two students from the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Colin Darling and Iain Jamieson.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a director of USPG Ireland and USPG Northern Ireland. He represents the Church of Ireland on the council of USPG.