Thursday, 23 May 2013

Pevsner on Waltham Abbey

WALTHAM ABBEY is no more than a fragment of what it was: a Norman nave, a C14 chapel, a C14 W wall, and a C16 W tower.At the E  end at least two thirds of the building have gone, and nearly all the monastic buildings have gone. The abbey was founded in 1030 as a collegiate church of secular canons. It was built or rebuilt with some pomp by Harold and consecrated in 1060. We have no date after that, until we come to 1177, the re-foundation as an abbey of Augustinian Canons In 1184 it was given the dignity of a ‘mitred abbey’, and it soon became one of the most prosperous and important abbeys e in the country. It is teasing for the historian that for the main part of the surviving building no dates exist to guide him. In addition, until 1938, no guidance existed either as to the extent and character of the work which followed the re-foundation of 1177. The extent is now known, though not yet the character. The one is due to excavations carried out in 1938-9, the other to their limited scope. The Early English abbey meant the addition to the Norman nave and crossing of a whole church, that is a choir longer than the Norman nave, an E transept bigger than the Norman transept and a long and large retrochoir. It must have dwarfed the Norman parts completely, and may have looked something like Canterbury Cathedral before the nave was rebuilt in the C14. But we do not know the style of 1177 etc. at Waltham. The E parts of the abbey were pulled down after the Dissolution.

The Norman crossing which had been left standing in 1177 was then also pulled down. So all that survives of Norman architecture is nave and aisles, a nave, no more than seven bays long. It seems, except for C14 adjustments at the W end and C19 adjustments at the E end, to be all of a piece, but reveals to the attentive observer many puzzling irregularities. The present E wall is an infilling of the CI9 across the W arch of the crossing and the aisle arches into the transepts. This is clearly visible from the outside, where also one S transept W window can be noticed, which now leads into the C14 chapel (see below). Below it is exposed coarse rubble masonry, laid herringbone-wise.

The exterior of the nave is simple: aisle windows with nook-shafts, circular gallery windows, and clerestory windows with nook-shafts and some zigzag decoration - all much renewed. The Norman S doorway of two orders, with an upcurved lintel and zigzag in the arches is in its surface, it seems, wholly C19. The inside is much more impressive. It has something of the sturdy force of Durham Cathedral, though neither its size nor its proportions. The system of elevation which applies throughout is that of nearly all major Anglo-Norman churches: arcade-gallery-clerestory. It is baffling, though only for a moment, that the gallery is deprived of its floor so that the aisles are now much higher than they were meant to appear. The arcades have supports alternating between superordinate composite piers, and subordinate round ones. The gallery openings are large and un-subdivided. The clerestory has the usual English arrangement of a wall-passage and, towards the nave, an arcade of three arches for each bay, with the middle arch wider and taller.

In detail the most striking of all features of Waltham is the deeply grooved circular piers - a detail familiar from Durham, and also from Norwich, nearer Waltham. These piers are spiral-grooved in the first circular pair from the E, zigzag grooved in the second, and left plain in the third. The composite piers have a buttress-like broad flat projection to the nave with a demi-shaft attached, and this projection with its shaft runs up to the ceiling without any break. The capitals are big and heavy, single- or double-scalloped. Above the first circular pier from the E they project a little more boldly than above the others. These first circular piers have also different bases, and the E respond (as also the E arch of the S aisle), is different in one detail from the W responds. Of the four capitals of the three respond shafts, the middle one is a little deeper on the E side. In the arches a difference of a similar nature can be detected. The arches have all zigzag ornamentation on the faces, but in the E ones the inner zigzag goes fairly deeply into the soffits as well - again a sign of a bolder, more three-dimensional treatment. It finds its parallel in the W crossing arch high up.* Again, looking at the arcade from the aisles, it will be noticed that in the W parts each pier, including the subordinate circular ones, has attached demi-shafts, introduced no doubt to carry transverse arches on which to support groined vaults or simply the gallery floors. Only the eastern-most circular pier has no such attachment. Finally, looking at the same pier once more from the nave, a small corbel-head will be noticed, on the N as well as the S side, immediately above the column, as if to support a wall-shaft, never built. The wall-shafts start only at gallery level, as they do in the W parts as well.

Now for the gallery. Here the E bay piers have three shafts towards the arch openings, the W bays only two. The existence of these shafts incidentally indicates that the gallery openings were originally subdivided or meant to be subdivided. In the W the arches themselves have billet-decorated hood-moulds; in the E these are absent. Another distinction on the level of the gallery refers to S as against N. The corbels on which the wall-shafts between the arches rest are plain on the S side, but carved into heads on the N. Perhaps that shows no more than that carving of such details, where it was done, was done aprés la pose.

In the clerestory there are even more differences. The W bays on the N side have round piers between the arches and a plain moulding of the stilted centre-arches in each group of three. The capitals are scalloped with a little decoration between the scallops. On the S side the piers are quatrefoil in plan, and the middle arches stand on a short second tier of shafts. The arches themselves have roll-mouldings. The N and S E bays however have an alternation of circular and octagonal piers and on both sides the subsidiary shafts and roll-mouldings. .

Now what does all this minor evidence indicate of the building history of the Norman nave? Taken together it can mean only one thing: that the E double bay was built later than the bays further W. That is surprising, because of the familiar fact that medieval churches were built from the E to the W. It is however quite conceivable that Harold’s chancel of 1060 was allowed to remain, when a new nave was begun and that only in the course of building the decision was taken to renew the E parts as well. As for dates, the earliest grooved columns seem to be those at Durham of c. 1095-1100. Those at Norwich are datable before 1119. The plain, heavy ground-floor capitals at Waltham Abbey look more C11 than C12. But the arches have zigzag decoration from the beginning, and zigzag does not occur anywhere in England before c. 1105-10. So that date may mark the beginning of the W parts including their gallery. The clerestory was then erected on the N side, then that on the S, and then finally the E bays were tackled and erected including their clerestory and the arches to the crossing and transept. They may well belong to the mid C12 or even a little later.

Of the C13 - this has been said with regret before - nothing can be seen and little said, before excavations have been resumed and concluded.

The early C14 added a S chapel, W of the W transept. It is now the Lady Chapel. Externally it has flint and stone bands, a very unusual W window, of three times two-lights, with a straight head and Dec tracery, three fine three-light S windows, also with Dec tracery and buttresses between them enriched with recesses. The chapel itself stands on a vaulted undercroft of two bays with chamfered ribs and small windows decorated by head-stops. The chapel is not vaulted. Inside the W window is a delightful detached three-light arcade with pierced spandrels. Also early in the C14 the W end of the church was rebuilt. To this rebuilding belong the westernmost windows of the aisles with the pretty niches against the W buttresses, the arches replacing the arches of the Norman gallery inside towards the W end, the last bay on the S side of the clerestory and the W front. The remains of this are now only visible inside the tower. The portal is single. It is deep enough to allow for a very shallow vault which is carried on four columns. The outer columns are a normal order of portal columns, the inner are placed on diagonal seats which form the sides of the little vaulted portal niche. The jambs and arch of the doorway are decorated with fleurons. Above the doorway is a gable and in the spandrel a circle with a quatrefoils placed. To the l. and r. of the doorway are the beginnings of blank shafted niches as they were so usual in English church fronts. The outer W portal of the tower is of the same date and apparently re-used. It has three orders of columns with foliated capitals and fleurons in the arches, all very defaced. In date all this work seems a little earlier than the S chapel, as ogee arches do not appear anywhere.

The W tower was added after the Dissolution in 1556-8, as a characteristic sign of the change-over from monastic to parochial.+ It has irregular flint and stone chequer-work below, and ashlar facing in the often restored upper parts. The stones were taken, it is said, from the crossing tower which had collapsed in 1552. The buttresses are placed diagonally and carry square pinnacles also in a diagonal position. Each side has two two-light bell-openings. The E wall was re-modelled by W. Burges in 1859-60 with all the robust ugliness which that architect liked. Extremely short columns with thick shaft-rings and thick crocket capitals, plenty of carved figure work and a big wheel window above - astoundingly loud after the silent severity of the nave.

FONT. Of Purbeck marble, octagonal, C12 or C13, absolutely plain. - PULPIT. Good, mid C17. At the angles tapering pilasters, in the panels elaborate frames crowned by open segmental pediments. This pulpit is now kept in the S chapel. The new pulpit was designed by Burges and made in 1876. - SCREEN, at W end of N aisle. The heavy construction and the simple tracery indicate a C14 date. - REREDOS. With four big carved reliefs. Designed by Burges. - SCULPTURE. Exceedingly fine small early C14 figure from a former reredos, at the E end of the S aisle. - PAINTING. On the E wall of the Lady Chapel. Doom; CI4, very faded. - Ceiling of the nave, in the style of the original work at Peterborough; by Sir Edward Poynter. - STAINED GLASS. The E window by Burne-Jones, 1861, and made by Powell’s, in its vigorously stylized composition and figure design and its glow of colour amongst the best glass done in the C19, much bolder than most Morris & Co. glass and much richer in the scale of colours used. Almost as remarkable and as daring the E window of the S aisle by Henry Holiday, 1864. - The recent glass by A. K. Nicholson looks very anaemic in comparison. - PILLORY and WHIPPING POST now kept in the S chapel. - PLATE. Paten on foot of 1561, with bands of ornament; large Cup of 1633; large Paten on foot of 1674. -
MONUMENTS.- BRASSES with wood and stone surrounds of 1555 and 1576 (S aisle). - Sir Edward Denny d. 1599 and wife. Standing wall monument. Two semi-reclining effigies, the man behind and a little above the woman. Shallow coffered arch and flanking columns. In the spandrels figures of Fame and Time. Strapwork cartouche against the back wall. By Isaac James and Bartholomew Adye (Mrs Esdaile). - Lady Gray d. 1619. The stiff figure only is preserved. - Capt. Robert Smith d. 1697. Tomb-chest with a relief of trophies and a ship, called Industria. To the l. and r. arms and cherubs’ head used instead of volutes. - James and Hester Spilman d. 1763. Fine monument with the usual cherub standing by a sarcophagus against a grey obelisk. Two portrait heads in profile at the foot. - Caroline Chinnery d. 1812. Plain, elegantly shaped urn on a pillar. On the urn in good lettering the one word Caroline. - Thomas Leverton (the architect) d. 1824. By Kendrick. The usual design with a woman weeping over an urn.

The Cloister of the monastery lay N of the long E.E. choir. All that remains of it is a PASSAGE which led N from the NE angle of the cloister. It is of two bays, rib-vaulted on shafts with waterleaf capitals, and must belong to the late C12. In addition the Abbey GATEHOUSE survives, N of the W front of the church. This is of the later C14 and has to the outside a wide entrance for carriages and a small one for pedestrians. The large one has angels as label-stops. Of the angle turrets only one is preserved. The S wall should be examined with care, as it seems to have brickwork contemporary with the building, that is of exceptionally early date. The BRIDGE leading to the gatehouse is also attributed to the C14.

* Another parallel is in the exterior in the clerestory windows, where the E. bays have windows starting lower down, and zigzag etc. going into the arch soffits.
+ Another parochial feature introduced at an unknown date is the rood-beam, the sawn-off ends of which can still be seen above the second piers from the E.

No comments:

Post a Comment