27 June 2019

Lady Margaret Beaufort’s
gatehouse is restored at
Christ’s College, Cambridge

The gatehouse at Christ’s College, Cambridge, has been restored and repainted in a project that took four years to complete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Strolling through Cambridge before and after this week’s USPG conference in High Leigh, it was a delight to see how one of the majestic college gates in Cambridge has been restored recently.

The restoration work at Christ’s College has taken four years to complete.

This Gatehouse on St Andrew’s Street is the main entrance to Christ’s College and is highly visible to tourists and shoppers in Cambridge. But the heraldic detail, dating from the early 1500s, had not been painted for many years and had become dull faded. The four-year project included research into the original colours and methods used, repairs, and the painting itself.

Lady Margaret Beaufort’s coat of arms on the gatehouse at Christ’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The gatehouse was built by Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII and grandmother of Henry VIII, who refounded the college in the early 16th century.

Christ’s College was originally established in 1437 by William Byngham, who called his new college God’s House. The college moved to its present location in 1448 after Henry VI decided that he needed the original site for his new King's College.

In 1505, God’s House was re-dedicated as Christ’s College under the patronage of Lady Margaret Beaufort. She was the only daughter of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, and was married four times. With her marriage to Edmund Tudor, the mother of Henry VII, she became a key figure in the Wars of the Roses as the matriarch of the House of Tudor.

Lady Margaret is revered as the founder of not one but two Cambridge colleges, refounding Christ’s College in 1505, and before she died in 1509 beginning the development of Saint John’s College, which was completed posthumously by her executors in 1511. Lady Margaret Hall, the first Oxford college to admit women, is also named in her honour.

The Chapel of Christ’s College was consecrated on or around 1 June 1510 by the then Bishop of Ely, James Stanley, a stepson of Lady Margaret Beaufort. A pious woman, it is said that even before the chapel was consecrated she heard Mass from a gallery now represented by a window in the south wall of the chapel, although the chapel was not formally consecrated until a year after her death.

The chapel survived the Reformation and now stands as a spiritual presence at the front of Christ’s College, tucked away beside the Master’s Lodge. Much of the original chapel fabric is still visible and its original construction is almost entirely intact.

Lady Margaret Beaufort’s statue on the gatehouse at Christ’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Lady Margaret’s contribution to re-founding Christ’s College is celebrated in a number of statues, heraldic emblems, and other architectural features around the college buildings. The college is entered through the imposing 16th century gatehouse, which still boasts its original oak doors. Above the entry is a statue and the coat of arms of Lady Margaret Beaufort.

Much of the fa├žade, including the late 16th century oak doors, remained largely unchanged until the masonry was refaced with harder stone in 1714. A statue of Lady Margaret was added in the 19th century.

Christ’s College is laid out in a series of four courts. First Court is the oldest part of the college, dating to the 15th century. The range between the Gatehouse and the Chapel formed part of the original God’s House and were built between 1448 and 1452. The buildings in First Court do not look their age as they were refaced with stone in the 18th century.

The Dining Hall is an early 16th century building. Although it was remodelled in the late Victorian period, the hall retains its original roof and a 16th century portrait of Lady Margaret Beaufort.

Second Court gives access to the Fellows’ Garden, arguably the finest such garden in a Cambridge college. The site has been owned by the college since 1554, but the present garden dates from 1825.

Milton’s Mulberry Tree was planted in the garden in 1608 – the year Milton was born – as part of an attempt to encourage the silk industry in England. Legend says Milton composed Lycidas under the tree. A bathing pool and summerhouse nearby have stood there since at least 1763.

The Old Library houses an excellent collection of mediaeval manuscripts and early printed material.

The notable alumni of Christ’s College include the Poet John Milton and the naturalist Charles Darwin.

I preached in the Chapel of Christ’s College, Cambridge, ten years ago [1 February 2009] at the Solemn Orchestral Mass for the Eve of Candlemas. The sermon was part of the Lent Term series, ‘The ears of the heart …,’ organised by the then chaplain, the Revd Christopher Woods.

I stayed in Christ’s College again in 2010 for a weekend before moving to rooms in Sidney Sussex College, where I was taking part in a summer school organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

Recently, people at Christ’s College realised that it had been many years since the gatehouse had been repainted and redecorated. It took about four years to research the right colours to be used, to restore wear and tear to the stonework and then to complete the repainting itself, which was undertaken by skilled craftsmen and women.

The restoration was carried out by Brown and Ralph, based in Longstanton. The firm believes the conservation of the stonework is going to increase its natural life, but also brighten the Cambridge streetscape.

Lady Margaret Beuafort’s coat of arms at the gatehouse at Saint John’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

There is a similar gatehouse at Saint John’s College, Cambridge. Anyone interested in architecture, Tudor history and heraldry can catch an alternative glimpse of what the gatehouse at Christ’s College might look like should visit Saint John’s.

There however, the heraldic emblems of Lady Margaret are displayed in a burnished gold, and instead of a statue of Lady Margaret above her coat of arms, the gatehouse displays a statue of Saint John the Evangelist holding the poisoned emblem associated with him in many legends.

The gatehouse at Saint John’s College is similar in many ways to its counterpart at Christ’s College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

High Leigh: a house
with connections with
a missionary family

High Leigh, once the home of the Barclay family, could easily be a setting for any TV period drama (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The High Leigh Conference Centre on the edges of Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, where the USPG conference took place this week, is a beautiful Victorian country house, set in extensive parkland and landscaped gardens.

The garden at High Leigh is set with 40 acres of some of Hertfordshire’s most beautiful countryside, and the parkland is dotted with formal areas, woodland, lawns and ponds. Some of these features were created by the Pulham family of landscape gardeners in Broxbourne, just over a mile from High Leigh. The house could easily be a setting for any TV period drama.

The house was built in 1853 by Charles Webb, a gold lace manufacturer, and was bought in 1871 by Robert Barclay, a member of a well-known banking dynasty and a committed Christian, who renamed it High Leigh.

For generations, members of the Barclay and the Pulham families had been leading Quakers, and they may have attended the same Friends’ Meeting House on Lord Street, leading from Hoddesdon out to High Leigh. Although the Barclay family were once one of the leading Quaker families on these islands, by the time they came to live at High Leigh they were committed Anglicans, and their family story also has interesting links with Anglican mission work in the Far East over a century ago, and with the Diocese of Lichfield.

The impaled Barclay coat-of-arms with an episcopal mitre at High Leigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On the stairs to the room where I was staying in High Leigh this week, the walls are lined with Victorian photographs of the Barclay family and their staff, and a stained-glass window in the original parts of the house shows an impaled Barclay coat-of-arms that has a bishop’s mitre as one of the two crests.

Robert Barclay was born on 13 December 1843, in Walthamstow, Essex, the son of Joseph Gurney Barclay and Mary Walker Barclay. Over the generations, his ancestors had married into many other prominent banking families, and he was responsible for merging 20 banks into Barclay and Company Ltd.

Robert was an Anglican, and his immediate family played key roles in the life of the Church of England. He married Elizabeth Ellen Buxton (1848-1911), a granddaughter of the 19th century reformer and campaigner against slaver, Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, and they had a large family that included CMS missionaries.

One son, Joseph Gurney Barclay (1879-1976), was born at High Leigh on 9 February 1879 and was baptised in Stanstead Abbots, Hertfordshire. He was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, and married Gillian Mary Birkbeck (1882-1909) in 1905.

Joseph entered the family banking empires. But he left Barclay’s Bank to be become am Anglican missionary. Joseph and Gillian were in Japan with the Church Mission Society (CMS) when Gillian died in Kobe in 1909.

Joseph remarried and returned to England in 1926. He was working on the staff of CMS in London while he lived in Rose Hill, close to High Leigh. When he died on 15 April 1976 at Troutstream Hall in Chorleywood, Rickmansworth, he was buried in Saint Augustine’s Churchyard, Broxbourne. His obituary in The Times was written by his nephew, Bishop Robin Woods of Worcester.

Joseph Gurney Barclay’s son, Sir Roderick Barclay (1909-1996), was born in Kobe, Japan and educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge. A career diplomat, he was the British Ambassador to Denmark (1956-1960) and Belgium (1963-1969).

The house at High Leigh faces onto open, rolling Hertfordshire countryside (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Another son of Robert Barclay, the Revd Gilbert Arthur Barclay (1882-1970), was born in High Leigh, baptised in Stanstead Abbots, and educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge. He was a vicar in Cumbria (1912 -1915), and during World War I he became an army chaplain in Flanders (1915-1916) and a hospital chaplain in London and Leicester (1916-1919).

Later he was a vicar in Leicestershire and a rector in Essex. His wife Dorothy Catherine Topsy Studd, who was born in Chin Shih Fang, Luanfu, Shanxi, was the daughter of pioneering missionaries in China, Charles Thomas Studd (1860-1931) and Priscilla Livingstone Stewart (1864-1929), who was born in Belfast.

A daughter of Robert Barclay, Rachel Elizabeth Barclay (1885-1932), who was born in High Leigh, worked as a CMS missionary in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). She is buried at Saint Augustine’s Church in Broxbourne.

Sir Jacob Epstein’s sculpture of Edward Sydney Woods, Bishop of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Rachel Barclay was a sister of Clemence Rachel Barclay (1874-1952) married the Right Revd Edward Sydney Woods (1877-1953) in Hoddesdon in 1903. He was a son of the Revd Frank Woods, but also had a long line of Quaker ancestors through his mother, Alice Octavia Fry, a granddaughter of the prison reformed Elizabeth Fry.

Edward Woods was the Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge and Suffragan Bishop of Croydon, before becoming the 94th Bishop of Lichfield (1937-1952). Their daughter, Josephine Priscilla, married the Revd John d’Ewes Evelyn Firth in Lichfield Cathedral in 1939.

The war-time story is told of how Bishop Woods survived a German air raid by hiding under a dining room table with Ann Charteris, the future wife of Ian Fleming.

Clemence and Edward Wood were the parents of an archbishop, a bishop and an archdeacon.

The Most Revd Frank Woods (1907-1992), who was born in Davos, Switzerland, became the Archbishop of Melbourne (1957-1977) and Primate of Australia (1971-1977). He died in Melbourne in 1992.

The Ven Samuel Edward Woods (1910-2001) was the Archdeacon of Christchurch, New Zealand. His son, Canon Christopher Samuel Woods (1943-2007), was a Canon of Liverpool Cathedral.

The Right Revd Robert ‘Robin’ Wilmer Woods (1914-1997) was born in Lausanne, Switzerland. He was the Archdeacon of Sheffield, Dean of Windsor and Bishop of Worcester.

Robert Barclay continued to live at High Leigh until he died in 1921. His family then sold the property on favourable terms to First Conference Estate, a company he had been a director of, so that the house could become a Christian conference centre. The generosity of the Barclay family is celebrated in a plaque in the Oak Room, where I was taking part in two workshops on Tuesday afternoon.

A plaque in the Oak Room recalls the Barclay family’s connection with High Leigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)