Churches Together in Benington and Walkern

St. Peter's Benington with St. Mary's Walkern






William de Lanvalei of Walkern


This remarkably fine stone effigy of a knight in a suit of chain armour is one of only three known instances in England in which the visor is drawn down the face.

Cussans dates the monument 1160-1220 AD, and states that in 1200 William de Lanvalei was appointed Governor of Colchester Castle and died in 1211. His son, also William, succeeded him in the governor-ship and died in 1217.

Whichever of these two the effigy represents, there is no evidence, as has been suggested, that he was a Crusader. The theory that cross-legged figures denoted a visit to the Holy Land has long been disproved. It may be well, briery to state the reasons why this idea is an impossibility: Several effigies of known Crusaders are not represented cross-legged; several effigies of knights who did not go to the Holy Land are thus modelled; the effigies of various ladies are cross-legged; many of the figures represented in this way are of later date than the Crusades, some even as late as the 17th Century. The fact is that this attitude was purely a conventional one and was for some time in vogue with English sculptors. It is also known on the Continent and, if it had been a crusading symbol, it would surely be found throughout Christendom.

With regard to this figure there would appear to be a tradition that it does not represent a knight buried here, but was brought here from either Temple Dinsley or Baldock. This is highly improbable. The only shred of evidence that favours this theory being that the figure's base does not fit the recess but, in all probability, originally stood on the floor of the chancel, as do those effigies in the Temple Church, London. Subsequently, when that part of the church was rebuilt, a recess was made in the wall of the south aisle and the figure placed therein.

If the earthworks known as Walkern Castle are post Norman, their construction may reasonably be assumed to be the work of one of the Lanvaleis, probably the ealier of the two. On the other hand, the site has long been known as the Bury, and this usually denotes a Saxon homestead. The Manor House has always been on or near the site of the present house at Walkern Park and, more probably, seems to have been the residence of the Lords of the Manor, both Saxon and Plantagenet.

(Adapted from the writings of W.B. Gerish)

The style, workmanship and choice of Purbeck marble for the figure support a theory that the effigy could have been made in the same workshop, near the present St. Paul's Cathedral, as the figures in the 12th Century Temple Church, London.