site unseen : Netteswell House, Bishop's Stortford

Related Topics
In the past, muscular Christianity required clergymen to be of a suitably imposing stature so that their physique, if not their oratory, could win converts. Even today, size alone can often guarantee a hearing (Dr Paisley, for instance).

But what if the vicar was a little short? Visit medieval St Michael's, which towers over the town of Bishop's Stortford in Hertfordshire, and you will find out. Inside the original pulpit of 1658, made locally for pounds 5, is a fold-down board which discreetly gave vertically-challenged ecclesiastics a few extra inches.

One Victorian occupant of this pulpit was a Reverend Francis Rhodes whose sermons were famed for lasting just 10 minutes - not a minute more nor a minute less. He had 11 children and a plaque on the nearby wall commemorates his most famous son who often came here to watch his father at work and went on to give his name to a large chunk of the Empire: Cecil Rhodes.

Historical reputations change as fast as fashions. Sixty years ago Cecil Rhodes was revered as a demigod. The subsequent revulsion against colonialism then caused his stock to plummet. Today, however, a more measured view of the imperial adventure is emerging and recent talk has been of establishing a new museum devoted solely to this topic.

There is no need to wait. The attractive early 19th-century house in which Rhodes was born in 1853 is now, together with the adjacent building, a 15-room museum. His father wanted him to go into the church but his talents lay elsewhere and it was from Netteswell House, Bishop's Stortford that the 17-year-old boy set out in 1870 to voyage to South Africa and join an older brother growing cotton in Natal.

Cecil was soon drawn to the "diamond rush" in Kimberley and his driving energy swiftly brought prosperity, power and fame. As prime minister of the Cape, Rhodes was the virtual dictator of South Afri- ca. Not content with this, he helped set up the British South Africa Company in 1889 which subjugated the native Matabele tribesmen and carved out a huge territory that was inevitably known as "Rhodesia".

A weak heart led to Rhodes's early death in 1902, at the age of 49, but his legacy, dedicated to the supremacy of white British interests, lived on. In many ways it has only been obliterated by the elections of Presidents Mugabe and Mandela under a system of "one person, one vote".

Perhaps it would have been better if Rhodes had become a clergyman as his father wanted. One thing is for sure: as a sturdy six-footer, Rhodes would not have needed any artificial assistance from the pulpit at St Michael's, Bishop's Stortford.

The Rhodes Memorial Museum is in Netteswell House, South Road, Bishop's Stortford. Open Tue-Sat, 10am to 4pm

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page


In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine