The Church of the Boar’s Head
by MARY S. F. GEORGE
Years ago a bullet fired from a window of the Green Man Inn at Eversholt found its billet in the tail of the weathercock on the church tower opposite. But such excitements were exceptional in the quiet history of this pleasant little village of many widely-separated ‘ends,’ on the borders of Wobum Park. Today you may catch glimpses of the Duke of Bedford’s rare deer in the park, but in Saxon days Eversholt must have been a haunt of the wild boar, for its name is Eofor’s Holt, or ‘Boars’ Wood,’ and set into the walling of the priest’s vestry in the church is a stone boar’s head of considerable antiquity.
Totternhoe stone was used to construct the church, in which features dating back as far as the twelfth century survive amid its generally Perpendicular architecture. The tower, which belongs to the main period of work, contains six bells. Four are old—two belong to the seventeenth century and one of the two eighteenth century ones is inscribed:
Handel, when driving through the village in Georgian days, is said to have stopped his coach and paused a-while to listen to their melodious chimes.
The clerestory windows looking out over the roofs of the aisles were added at the same time. Slim and lovely crocketted pinnacles crown the corners of the fine south porch.
Inside, the north aisle is the best feature, excellent early pointed work where, in the short space of four arches, is displayed distinctive work of three periods — late Norman, Early English and Perpendicular. There is an interesting corbel cap to the east respond, and good leaf ornament on the column supporting the third bay. Later, in the general Perpendicular rebuilding of the nave, they had the good taste to make the south arcade correspond with the earlier work opposite.
The chancel is Decorated work of the fourteenth century. Its arch, possibly of the same date, with a slight and stilted outer member, is an uncommon but unsatisfactory feature springing awkwardly from thickening jambs in the walls. The font, with cylindrical bowl and four detached shafts, is seven hundred years old.
In 1864 Sir Gilbert Scott was engaged to restore the building. During the work two interesting discoveries were made—a brass of the mid-fifteenth century depicting six children, and a corbel exactly matching some at St. Albans Abbey.
But dominating the architecture and fittings are the great pictures on the walls. It is these that insistently draw the visitor’s eye. In a vast hall or cathedral they might take a proportionate place but in this small church their effect is almost overwhelming. Above the chancel arch is a huge representation of Christ Enthroned, and turning west to the tower arch the visitor will see Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. In the spandrels between the arches of the nave are medallions representing Moses, Elijah and the Evangelists. All are the work of a Victorian craftsman and artist who lived on into the present century.
Edward Aveling Green (born at Woburn in 1842) was the sixth son of ‘Lawyer’ Green of Woburn and Ampthill. Colonel Green, of the old Ampthill Brewery, was his brother. Edward Green embarked upon an engineering career, but love of the fine arts led him to abandon it and spend several years at the Royal Academy Schools and later to travel the continent, particularly in Italy, studying the works of the great masters of painting and design. He set up a studio at Haverstock Hill, London, from which he produced work for several churches— painted glass for Sudbury, bench ends for Budleigh Salterton, a stone figure for St. Michael’s, Derby.
Several months of each year he spent at his sister’s house, Berrystead, at Eversholt, and in his later years converted an old tithe barn there into a studio. Early this century he persuaded the rector to allow him to embellish the church interior according to his own ideas. Too infirm to scale ladders or spend long hours on scaffolding he decided to paint his huge decorations on canvas and transfer them to the church by instalments. By an ingenious method he succeeded in affixing them to the walling in such a way that they look very like real murals.
That he possessed considerable artistic and technical ability is undoubted. His colouring is subdued and harmonious, his designs strong and rhythmic, the faces of the Evangelists are finely portrayed and their emblems correctly displayed. But the paintings are of his time and show the romanticizing and emasculation typical of sacred art in Victorian days. In the legends the angels are blazing and terrific men, messengers of the Almighty. In Green’s Christ Enthroned in Majesty they have become serried ranks of conventional winged females in flowing robes, good of their kind, but sweet, serene, sentimental, and alike—in fact an Eversholt girl was the artist’s model, and hers is the face of all of them. Not that there is not power in the painting—his figures are well drawn and well placed, though the play of light and shadow is sometimes uncertain. Similarly, in spite of a stern Avenging Angel and a sinister coiled Serpent of olive and blue in a tropical Eden, Adam and Eve are in the Victorian romantic tradition, calm and gentle, and unalarmed at their violent expulsion from paradise.
Few of the writers of guide books have mentioned Green’s work, probably because it is overpowering and unsuitable to a small church. Nevertheless it is worth inspection. His stencilled decoration of the nave walls might well be obliterated, with improvement to his impressive roundels, and opinion will be divided about the merits of his glass in the east window—an ultra-dramatic Crucifixion with a piercing blue background. But as a craftsman-artist he has produced a fine carved oak reredos in bold relief of The Last Supper, and a delightful wood figure of St. John the Baptist, the church’s patron saint, surmounting a tall pedestal.
In 1921 the aged artist made his home permanently at Berrystead, and he died in 1930 in his 89th year. In the churchyard can be seen one of his last achievements, a bronze St. Michael, above the parish war memorial.
Also in the churchyard, and humble enough in their way, though interesting because few are left, are a series of mass produced ‘tomb-stones’ cast in iron in the later years of last century.