History of All Saints

As well as being a lovely church in a beautiful village setting,  All Saints has an historic foundation. Parts of the present building date from the late 12th or early 13th century but there may have been an earlier Saxon church on or near the site.  A leaflet detailing the history, architecture and interesting features of the church can be read below.  Hard copies of the leaflet are available from the church.



All Saints Church is in a prominent position almost in the middle of Datchworth parish situated roughly half way between Bragbury End to the north and Burnham Green to the south.

The site was part of land granted to Westminster Abbey by the Saxon King Edgar in 969. This date suggests that the parish may have already existed and so the current church probably had a Saxon predecessor.

Immediate vicinity
Close to the church on the north side was Datchworthbury manor house which was demolished sometime in the mid-nineteenth century. Both the church and the manor house were originally surrounded by a moat shaped roughly in a figure of eight, fragments of which still survive.

The structure of present church
The NAVE was constructed in the late 12th or early 13th century but the entrance doorway is the only visible relic of this Norman period. The original church probably consisted of a nave and a simple sanctuary built of flint rubble and stone.

The NORTH AISLE was built in the late 13th century necessitating the removal of the north wall of the nave and replacing it with an arcade of four arches. In time it became apparent that the pillars were no longer perpendicular and in 1886, in order to maintain stability, an internal strut was added together with an external buttress [B on the plan].

The CHANCEL ARCH is late 15th century leading to the CHANCEL that was rebuilt in approximately 1600. The PORCH was added at about the same time.

Adjacent to the north side of the chancel is the mid 19th century VESTRY and next to it is the ORGAN.

Adapted from a ‘barrel’ organ to a ‘finger’ organ in 1860, it was originally in a gallery at the west end of the nave. When the gallery was removed in 1870 the organ was placed in the south-west corner of the nave obscuring a window. It was eventually moved to the early 20th century ORGAN CHAMBER and has been modified several times since.

The TOWER at the west end of the church was constructed in two stages. The lower two storeys were built in c1380 along with the fine archway that separates the tower from the nave. The third storey is said to have been added in the 17th century. During architectural investigations before a major restoration in 1869-70, this top section was deemed to be unsafe and so was reconstructed. It was also advised that the west doorway should be filled in and the turret staircase ‘built up’. In addition the removal of the ringers’ floor was recommended.

At the same time the spire was added. When erected it was described as having 16,000 oak shingles. Nowadays the shingles are made from cedar that unfortunately has a special attraction for woodpeckers inevitably leading to the need for increased maintenance.

In the Chancel: The east window is in three sections and depicts the brazen serpent, the Passover and the sacrifice of Isaac. This window was originally in the chancel of Watton-at-Stone church opposite Mrs Abel Smith’s seat and according to the Rev William Williamson, ‘she did not like it’ and so it was extracted and replaced. Eventually the window was presented to the Rev Williamson and inserted in All Saints’ chancel in 1861.

East window

There are two windows in the south wall of the chancel both relating to the Williamson family. The easterly one [W1] shows the deposition and resurrection and was erected in 1863 in memory of Jane Williamson, wife of William Williamson. The Rev Williamson died in 1875 and the westerly window, depicting Christ’s charge to St Peter and the resurrection, was installed in his memory in 1876.

In the Nave: Of the two windows in the south wall of the nave, the easterly one shows Mary Magdalene and Christ and was erected in memory of Mary Green of Bragbury End who died in 1877. Outside this window in the churchyard is a tomb surrounded by iron railings in memory of members of the Green family from 1838 to 1877 [GT on the plan].

In the North Aisle: At the west end of the aisle is a window with a rural theme showing the sower and the reaper accompanied by an inscription explaining that the window was given by Mary Pennyfather wife of Daniel in memory of the Pennyfather family, long residents of this parish.

Moving clockwise, the next window has a story attached. Originally this space was occupied by a door and in the churchyard there was an alehouse, called The Tilbury. Parishioners would position themselves in the north aisle so that they could nip out to the Tilbury for a quick refresher and be back before the sermon had finished. Eventually one of the rectors was so irritated by this practice that he had the door removed, the lower half filled in and the upper part made into a window. The current window was designed by Maria Glenn to mark the 2000 millennium.

Millennium window

The window at the east end of the north aisle celebrates the formation of the Team Ministry in 2005. It is also the work of Maria Glenn and, entitled ‘I am the vine and you are the branches’, it shows the link between the five churches that were involved at the time, St Mary’s Welwyn, All Saints’ Datchworth, St Peters Tewin, St Michael’s Woolmer Green and St Peter’s Ayot. All five churches are depicted.

Team Ministry window

An inventory taken in 1552 by the commissioners of King Edward VI indicates that there were four bells at the time hung in the lower section of the tower. These were destined to be confiscated and their value realised by the Protestant King Edward but it seems that this did not happen at Datchworth.

These four bells were recast in 1673 by Anthony Chandler who cast a fifth bell in the same year. By this time all five were hung in the upper section of the tower.

However the smallest had to be recast and a sixth bell was donated by Daniel Pennyfather in 1875 as recorded on a board at the base of the tower.

In the south wall of the nave there is an arched recess containing a coffin lid [C on the plan] with a foliated cross dated as c1300. It may have been originally in the chancel and moved to its present site when the chancel was rebuilt c1600. Nearby is the pulpit donated by the Rev William Williamson in 1860.

Chancel screen: One of the most striking memorials in the church is the chancel screen that was erected in 1901 in memory of William and Martha Lawrance by their three sons each applying his own craft. William, the timber merchant, provided the wood which was sent to Jack the wood carver in Leeds. Jack made the screen in sections which were sent from Yorkshire by rail and erected in the church by Fred the builder. The Lawrance family was employed in the major restoration work in 1869-70 so the construction of the screen was a fitting memorial. There had been an earlier screen that was removed in 1824-5 (p9).

An unusual memorial may be found on the floor in the sanctuary near the altar. It is to the Rev William Paine.

There is a Latin inscription on the brass plate, a translation of which is given below:

One whom an illustrious nature bore, prudent virtue nourished, the choruses of Muses taught. Here lies William Paine, glorious in life, art and devotion. Cruel death, earth and the heavens have snatched him away. As he lived thrice fortunate, so three times gracious was his death, his mind filled with the threefold blessings of heaven.

There is no date on the plaque, but an inventory of his goods dated 30th March 1622 exists and would have been compiled soon after his death.

On the north wall of the chancel there is a memorial to the Rev William Hawtayne who was rector for 39 years [H on the plan]. The Latin inscription reads as follows:

Here lie the remains of William Hawtayne MA, who, always mindful of the poor and a despiser of riches, conscientiously exercised his pastoral ministry in the parish for 39 years. From this life of troubles he passed to the life of blessedness.
Jan 2nd 1747, aged 69.

There are several other plaques mounted in the chancel to past rectors and, of course there is the memorial window [W] to William Williamson, already mentioned.

Nineteenth century changes to the interior
The Rev William Williamson wrote a detailed notebook about various changes that were made to the church. Some of his notes refer back to the 1820s describing alterations made before his incumbency and the rest were made during his time as rector 1849-1876.

Changes 1824-5 quoted from Williamson’s notebook:
‘The chancel screen and the old oak seats were removed and the floor of the nave was raised. The font* built into the wall where the door** to the Bury was. The whole church pewed with narrow, form, deal pews and a gallery at the west end put up at a cost of £450 15s 1¾d … raised by subscription including £50 from Church Building Society’.

Changes 1869-70 Quoted from The Builder April 16th 1870:
‘It having become necessary, in consequence of the unsafe condition of the tower at Datchworth, to remove and re-construct the upper portion, a lofty spire has been erected. In addition to this the old and somewhat inconvenient pewing has been removed, as well as the gallery, and the interior of the church has been re-seated, repaved and restored, under the direction of the architect Mr A Blomfield. The total expense is said to be over £1000 of which sum nearly £950 have been raised’

In The Builder dated April 30th 1870, it was noted that the building was done by ‘Messrs Lawrance & Son, of Datchworth Green, builders’. The spire roof ‘contains 16,000 oak shingles and has four dormer windows which were contributed by three of the workmen engaged in the building’.

The final comment stated that ‘ Much improvement has been made in the interior of the tower by the removal of two floors, as well as an old gallery in the front’.

The organ had been in this gallery and did not find a permanent location until the organ chamber was built in the early 20th century.
* The 15th century font has since been removed to its present position.
**’The door to the Bury’ was also the door that led to the Tilbury, (p6).

The dedication of the church
There is a story that All Saints was once dedicated to St Mary Magdalene. The idea probably originates from the Rev Andrew Amos (rector 1898-1907) who wrote an article about Datchworth Church in East Hertfordshire Archaeologist Transactions 1902.

This theory arose from the fact that Datchworth Church is aligned 20° north of east; and according to custom churches were orientated towards the point of sunrise on the saint’s day associated with the church’s dedication. Amos stated that the angular measurement north of east relates to the saints’ day of St Mary Magdalene.

Until 1552 special saints’ days were written in red in the church calendar; St Mary Magdalene was among them. At the time of the Reformation in 1552 several saints (St Mary Magdalene included) were downgraded such that their saints’ days were written in black. This custom led to the dedication of churches so-named to be dedicated to All Saints.

This sounds plausible until one considers the conditions in which churches were built. Assuming that Datchworth Church was preceded by an earlier construction, Saxon builders and indeed subsequent Norman builders would have had no more than the sun to guide them towards the direction in which to orient the church. It is no surprise that deviations from the east occurred.

Among scholars who have conducted research into this phenomenon is Ian Hinton who has spent over 10 years studying more than 2000 churches in England and has found that there is no relationship between a church’s orientation and its dedication.

Some more immediate evidence has been found to support this view in the form of the will of Thomas Pennyfather of ‘Hoppes End’ where he states that:

First I bequeythe my soull to almygh[t]ey god … And my body to be buryede in the churche yarde of all halowes in Dacheworthe.

The will is dated 1529, several years before 1552 when the change in arrangements of the church calendar was made.

However, there is still room for doubt because it has been suggested that even as early as 1529 a re-name may have been made in anticipation of the events described. Although it is unlikely that the said dedication was related to the ‘point of sunrise’ theory, there may have been some other reason why St Mary Magdalene was involved.

The churchyard
A number of changes and extensions have been made to the churchyard over the years. The Tilbury alehouse stood just outside the churchyard to the east of the church until it was sold by the parish to Abel Smith in 1840. Shortly afterwards the Tilbury was demolished and the land was donated to the diocese to extend the churchyard to the east.

In 1956 Mr and Mrs Abel Smith offered to bear the cost of removing the headstones situated in the SE corner of the churchyard and laying them flat around the church on the ground. Their offer extended to levelling the mounds ready for the easier maintenance of that part of the yard. The scheme was carefully publicised in advance to reassure relatives that graves would not be disturbed.

The Church Hall
There used to be a wooden hut in the south-west corner of the churchyard which served as a makeshift church hall. This was in fact an old railway site building which was put up when already quite long in the tooth. It had no foundations and was erected on old railway sleepers. By the millennium it had been out of use for some time and was derelict.

The present hall was designed by Brian Packman and built by Chris Bullock, both Datchworth residents. The project was entirely paid for by local residents following a major fund raising effort by the PCC. Bob King, Churchwarden, and John Glanville, PCC treasurer, looked after the project for All Saints’ and after an exploratory archaeological dig found nothing of interest, construction commenced and the new hall was officially opened on 1st July 2004, with a service of blessing conducted by the Bishop of Hertford.

The 15th century font

This booklet has been put together with the help of Richard Dent, John Glanville, Brian Packman and Ian Walker.



Worship     Christenings, weddings and funerals      What we do

Children and Young people     Church Hall     History of the Church

Researching your Family History        Contact Us



Information & News