*  Of interest to Family Historians - Hertfordshire Church of England Parish Registers from 1538 are now available online - only most recent registers are held at the church   *
The pulpit


The pulpit at St Mary’s probably dates from the time of Queen Elizabeth I, although it is a Victorian reconstruction.

The side panels are Elizabethan or Jacobean, and may have originally been used as wall panelling. The patterns popular at that time were often copied from pattern books from Holland or Flanders.

The rose was a popular motif in Tudor times, the Tudor rose being a combination of the white rose of York,and the red of Lancaster. The strapwork shown was often used in decoration, and can also be seen at Hatfield House. The base is Victorian.

In the Middle Ages the Mass was celebrated behind a screen, and there was no seating in the nave. (The Orthodox Churches still follow this format). Some churches had stone benches at the foot of the walls, hence the expression ‘the weakest go to the wall’. Sermons were rare. Few medieval churches had pulpits, and those that did were mostly built of stone and of a wine-glass shape, sometimes with painted panels depicting the four evangelists.

After the Reformation there was much greater emphasis on communication between the priest and the people, and preaching became more important. Many pulpits had a ‘sounding board'or tester above to amplify the vicar’s voice.

By the 18th century pulpits were often two-or three-decker, with seating for the parish clerk on the lower part and perhaps another tier with a reading desk incorporated as well. Sermons could be very long, and some pulpits had an hourglass attached to remind the priest (and possibly the congregation!) of the time.

In some churches the pulpit was moved to the nave and seating rearranged. In Great St Mary’s Church in Cambridge the pulpit is movable, swinging from the side of the nave to the centre as required!

Some of the 17th century churches have a very grand stair up to the dominant pulpit, as is the case in many non-conformist churches. By the 19th century the priest was conducting the service from the chancel, and pulpits were simplified, although some of the earlier ones remain.


Some years ago, Patricia Cook, a former Churchwarden at St. Mary's, wrote a series of informative articles on interesting aspects of the fabric of St. Mary's for the Parish Magazine. These are reproduced here, together with line drawings by Jean Atkinson, a well known local artist, who has been closely involved with St. Mary's for many years, including serving on the PCC.

The Amber Tankard Holy Water Stoup The Mass Dial
Seating over the years A hidden gem Gargoyles, Corbels or Label-stops?
Decalogue Board A rare tomb Elephants and Royal Arms
Pulpit Kesteven Brass The Somers Memorial
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