Friday, 17 September 2010

Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire

St Mary the Virgin was the first church that really excited me on a visceral level - to the extent that I can recall the exact feeling I had when I first saw it almost a year ago. To begin with it was the first octagonal spire I'd come across which utterly astounded me - I didn't know such things existed (bear in mind that I'd been overly excited by my first round tower); secondly it had a two storied porch, another first for me, which perfectly complements the tower and last, but far from least, was the astonishing Doom fresco above the Rood screen.

Looking at my photos I realise that I was overawed by those three wonders and missed almost everything else in and around the church, also I had a crap camera at the time so the resulting pictures are very poor. Which is probably a good thing since I've resolved to revisit and do a proper job - which I've now done.

Meanwhile you can find a more detailed description here:

ST MARY. Some small fragments of a Norman predecessor of the present church in the S aisle at its E end, specially zigzag work. The most remarkable feature of the present church is its ashlar-faced unbuttressed W tower which - in the Cambridgeshire fashion - turns octagonal in its upper stage. This motif is, however, not original at Shelford. The medieval tower collapsed in 1798 and was rebuilt, with the old materials, it is true, but not to the old design. As for the rest of the church, this was nearly all built in the first years of the C15. An exception seems to be the aisle W windows and doorways, which are Dec, and also the S aisle Piscina. The arcades are tall, of four bays (before 1798 there were five), with octagonal piers, double-chamfered arches and hood-moulds. The E responds rest on demi-figures of angels. The same motif occurs in the tower arch. Tall Perp chancel arch. Perp aisle and chancel windows, all of three lights. The E window of the S aisle distinguished by reaching lower down than the others and consequently having a transome.* Perp S porch, two-storeyed, with a rib-vault with tiercerons and ridge-ribs and bosses (e.g. a Pelican). Perp clerestory. Excellent nave roof of low pitch with alternating tie-beams and hammer-beams. Angels attached to the hammerbeams. Arched braces with tracery below the tie-beams. - ROOD SCREEN. Three-light division with much tracery between the three lights and the main arch of the division. In the spandrels of the main arches leafwork, Green Men etc. - PARCLOSE SCREEN, N aisle, very simple and thin. - PULPIT 1636, with tester decorated by pendants. The pulpit itself has still the typically Elizabethan and Jacobean short stumpy blank arches: The staircase is original. - PAINTING. Doom, C15, above the chancel arch, outline only preserved. - STAINED GLASS. Chancel E and S windows by Constable 1876 (TK). -  MONUMENT. In the chancel floor brass to Thomas Patesely d. 1411, 4-ft figure under a canopy with concave-sided gable. A stone shield with Patesely’s arms also just below the roof in the NE angle of the church.

* Is it original? Or does it at least reproduce an original window?

Arthur, surprisingly, is rather skimpy:

GREAT SHELFORD. It gathers round a triangle of roads on the way from Cambridge to London, and, like the violet by the mossy stone, it keeps much of its beauty half hidden from the eye. One of its byways, close to a low gabled house with a plaster front, leads us to an old-mill and cottages like a picture by Samuel Prout.

It is all very charming round the church, the churchyard like a wayside garden, the porch embowered in greenery and an ancient window framed with hanging blooms of wisteria. The church has been much as we see it since Thomas Patesley rebuilt it in 1307; we see him in brass in his vicar's robes on the chancel floor.

We come in by a two-storied porch with a splendid pelican in its fine vaulted roof, the doorway having an old niche with a modem Madonna. The tall arcades in the spacious ulterior have medieval clerestories over them and heads between the arches, and eight fine oak angels look down from the hammer beams of the roof. There is a beautiful 15th century screen in the chancel arch, and the canopied Jacobean pulpit is the best we have seen in this countryside. There is another 15th century screen with dainty tracery in the north aisle, enclosing an altar in memory of a soldier killed on the Indian frontier; above the altar is a painting of two saints and a Roman soldier by the cross. The chancel stalls are finely carved with wild roses, the sedilia with grapes and acorns, and the reredos has a gleaming white sculpture of the Crucifixion with saints and angels under rich canopies. There are a few fragments of old glass, fragments of Nor­man carving set in a wall and, above the chancel, arch a medieval painting of Doom, fading away.

On the peace memorial, among 45 names under an oak canopy, are those of two women, Gladys Jones and Ada Sillitoe.

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