Saturday, 3 September 2011

Histon, Cambridgeshire

St Andrew should be a glorious example of a cruciform church and probably was until the Victorians, and probably predecessors,trashed it. There's now very little of merit remaining although the transepts do have some nice arcading and a good St Catherine in the south transept. I found it cold, sterile and not to my taste at all which is a shame given my predilection for cruciform churches. Mee, and others, are more complimentary so perhaps I'm being harsh.

Having read Pevsner a re-visit is probably required.

ST ANDREW. Histon has lately been much industrialized. But the church lies away from the traffic at the N end of the village. It is cruciform and the reason for paying it a special visit is its transepts. From the outside they appear no more than big and Perp, the windows on the S side a little less spacious than on the N. On the S side one then notices that the E windows are not Perp but groups of three stepped lancets. That is the only preparation for the incomprehensible splendour inside. The designer of the transepts who probably worked with funds given by Philip de Colville c. 1275 must have come from the lodge working at that time at St Radegund’s Nunnery and St John’s Hospital Cambridge. Too many details coincide, especially the Double Piscinas in both transepts with their intersecting round arches forming two pointed ones and with the ingenious interweaving of the individual mouldings. The piscinas form part of a dado or base of blank arcading - which runs along the W and N and S walls. In the S wall a blocked doorway interrupts it with one of those odd E.E. arches that start with a short vertical bit. In the spandrels of the blank arches are circles with small cuspeld trefoils or quatrefoils. The arches of the arcades incidentally also intersect very slightly in their mouldings. In the E walls a glorious display of nook-shafting: five shafts between the two window-groups, four at the outer angles. The five consist of three and two very thin and keeled ones, the four of two and two. In the spandrels of the big arches again sunk quatrefoils and trefoils. The same system must originally have applied to the N and S walls; but it is there more disturbed by the later Perp fenestration. Of the C13 again the arch from the N transept into the N aisle.* But the crossing itself is later, c. 1300 perhaps. All four arches have semi-octagonal responds and double-chamfered arches. The upper stages of the tower are clearly Dec, bell-openings and parapet. The chancel is again E.E., only so much restored and renewed by Sir G. G. Scott that not much evidence remains. The E front is completely his and not without a perverse originality. The N and S sides have lancet windows. The nave was restored earlier (1857). The arcades of only two bays are provided with octagonal piers and double-chamfered arches. The aisle windows are Perp. By Bodley (who after all was only thirty in 1857) the gross geometrical tracery in the W window. By him also clerestory windows and roof. - FONT. Octagonal, Perp, with quatrefoil panels. - STAINED GLASS. Chancel by Mayer of Munich (TK), S transept by Clayton & Bell, 1872.

* The corresponding arch on the S side is Perp.

St Andrew (2)

Niche (1)

HISTON. Its roots go deep into the past, to the days of the Romans who left odds and ends to be dug up here; but Histon is modern, too, for it is one of the group of villages which come into Cambridgeshire’s educational scheme of village colleges and it lies in the midst of acres and acres of fruit trees, having the great Chivers factory with 2000 people who turn out a hundred tons of jam every day and played a great part as pioneers of the English canning industry.

By the church are the remains of the moat which protected the old manor house, now gone. The medieval church itself, though much restored, has in its nave wall fragments of stones carved with zigzag by Norman masons and a pair of noble 13th century transepts. There were once two churches, but the lord of the manor, Sir Francis Hinde, pulled down one 300 years ago, using stone from it to complete his fine house at  Madingley. Only within the last century has the Norman font he carried off been moved from the hall to the church at Madingley, and at the same time fragments of the old church were brought back to Histon’s old church of St Andrew, to be embodied in the chancel.

There are lion gargoyles along the south walls of this cross-shaped church, and on the south transept is a gable cross too worn for its detail to be seen from below, but it portrays Christ fully robed, and without the crown of thorns. The tower rising on low arches from between the transepts, the south porch, and the fine nave arcades are all 14th century; the nave, aisles, and most of the windows, and the font are 15th. The west window and those of the clerestory were made new last century, when the 13th century chancel was extended to its original length and given its fine east window, a group of lancets under a triple arch copied from an old fragment. The transepts resemble each other with their lovely arcaded walls and their double piscinas, and specially fine are the two triple lancets under rich arches in the south transept, their centre cluster of shafts replaced by a 14th century pinnacled niche and a bracket carved with a Catherine wheel and two angels bearing Catherine to heaven. The oak seats in this transept, with their poppyheads and arm rests of animals, were modelled in our own time from a 15th century pew in the other transept, and the cherub in the aisle, and the oak lectern of St John writing his Gospel (with his eagle on his shoulders supporting the Bible) are Norwegian work. There is an old chest with a round lid, another made from the tracery of a reredos, some old glass fragments, and an ironbound poor-box.


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