Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Swavesey, Cambridgeshire

The last church of the day St Andrew, open, turned out to be my church of the day, not so much for its furnishings, this is a stripped back interior, but for their diversity. There are some great original poppyheads in the north aisle and modern ones throughout the nave and south aisle [some good ones mixed in with some not so good], two good Francis Skeat windows - a 1967 Jesse tree in the Lady chapel and a 1930's Christ in majesty east window, as well as good glass in the north and south east aisle windows and chancel misericords. There is also a good monument to Anne Kempe Lady Cutts.

Unfortunately, or not as I'll have to back, a combination of both aisle benches being used to display Easter flower exhibits and my flash continuously failing [I took almost 900 pictures on the day and my battery was running low] many of my images didn't come out as well as I'd like and some not at all.

ST ANDREW. The church lies immediately S of the site of Swavesey PRIORY, a house of Benedictines founded later in the C11 as a cell of St Serge at Angers. Later in the Middle Ages it was Carthusian. All that can be seen of it is some slight traces in the rough grass. The parish church is today reached by short avenues of splendid cedars and larch trees. It is a large church and one apparently built with some ambition. The exterior seen from the S is unusually fine. It dates evidently from the early C14. It is of a buff stone, the windows are tall and separated by tall, slim buttresses. The top of the walls has a parapet instead of battlements. The windows are of three lights, with tracery of much variety but all prior to the excesses of flowing tracery. The motifs are intersection, intersection of ogees etc. The N aisle windows have transoms and very delicately cusped tracery below them. The S door with its five orders of fine shafts etc. is something special (the porch is Perp). The rest of the exterior seems partly earlier, partly later. Earlier the bottom stages of the W tower with arches to the (embracing) aisles,* and to the nave and the windows higher up. The tower top with the tall pairs of two-light bell-openings and the battlements is Perp. Behind the battlements appears a later spike. Perp also the chancel windows - that at the E end of five lights - and the N windows. The interior is a little dry but not without interest. The nave walls are designed to an interesting system. The six bays have piers with four shafts and four long shallow diagonal hollows without capitals. From these rise circular shafts coming quite inorganically out of the hood-moulds of the arcade arches. They are met at right angles by a round horizontal moulding below the clerestory windows - a somewhat hard framework. Other interior details worth noting are the circular pier of the S chancel chapel, the thin shafts of the (new) E window of this chapel, the fine Dec Piscina and Sedilia in the chancel (the walls of which therefore must be at least contemporary with the S aisle scheme), and the roofs of nave, chancel, and N aisle. - FONT. Octagonal, Perp, with traceried stem and underside of the bowl and cusped panels on the sides of the bowl. - BENCHES. Many of them; with a dog, a lion, a pelican, birds, demi-figures etc. - a wide variety. - MONUMENT. Anne Kempe Lady Cutt d. 1631. By Edward Marshall, perhaps to a design of Nicholas Stone (Mrs Esdaile). Centre inscription with open segmental pediment. To the l. and r. stand beautifully carved life-size angels holding two stone doors of the inscription tablet open, as if it were a shrine.

* The choir vestry at the W end of the N aisle was added in 1916.

Poppyhead (26)

Francis Skeat 1967 Lady chapel Jesse tree (40)

Chancel poppyhead (7)

SWAVESEY. Every Cambridge student knows Swavesey, for here the fens hold out their first invitation, and when Lent term begins with frost here is excellent skating. But for those who come in summertime there is the charm of thatch and cottage gardens, and opposite the old manor house is one of the handsomest medieval churches in the county, an amazing collection of creatures new and old sitting on its array of benches.

Of the priory founded by Alan de la Zouche only a few banks and ditches are left, and it is the church which now dominates the long straggling village, its warm-tinted stone shown to perfection by the dark cedars. The imposing tower has three 13th century arches  inside, but is mostly of the 15th century. A great porch has sheltered for 700 years the richly moulded entrance into the spacious interior, where stately arcades divide the clerestoried nave from its aisles, some of their arch mouldings resting on slender shafts, others continuing to the floor.

Though the wonderful bench-ends all look old, most of them are skillful 19th century copies, and only the block in the north aisle is medieval, so low that these old seats seem to have been made for children. Both old and new ends have edges carved with flowers and all have striking poppyheads, no less than 154 in all, with animals, saints, and angels among them. Some of the animals are fighting, angels are playing fiddles; there is a dragon with two heads, a snake attacking a lion, a pelican swallowing a fish, a boar with its baby, an owl with a mouse in its beak. Passing through the 13th century chancel arch we find more entrancing stalls, again new and old, with men and animals on the arm-rests and poppyheads, one delightful poppyhead showing Aesop’s stork filling the pitcher with stones so that Master Fox can lap the overflowing water.

There is also exquisite stonework in the sedilia and piscinas of the chancel and south chapel, the heads of a 14th century man and woman by the canopies of those in the chancel, and still daintier 15th century carving elaborating the arches over those in the chapel. The graceful traceried font is 500 years old. There is a medieval stone altar with the old consecration crosses, several coffin lids, and one stone coffin. All the oak screens are modern, but one of the altar tables is Jacobean, and much old woodwork is left in the roofs, six small angels bearing up the chancel beams and two men doing the same in the south chapel. The big chest was a thankoffering from the villagers for help when floods in 1876 threatened to drown them all. A big monument of 1631 to the wife of Sir John Cutts shows two women opening a door and boasts a long genealogical inscription in which John Kempe, Cardinal Archbishop of York, figures.

Over, Cambridgeshire

St Mary, open, is a huge stone built building with a suitably large tower and spire and, as Pevsner says, is "a remarkably ornate church" both inside and out. Despite having had a remarkably successful run through Huntingdon, and having visited some remarkable churches, for the half hour or so I was here this was my church of the day. And then I went to Swavesey!

ST MARY. A remarkably ornate church, perhaps because it belonged to Ramsey Abbey. Dec and Perp parts of equal distinction. Dec first; the magnificent S aisle and S porch exterior - all built at one go c. 1320-30 and to the same plan. The windows have depressed segmental arches and either reticulated tracery or tracery of two intersected ogee arches. Above runs a frieze of ball-flower and other flowers strung up along tendrils etc. Fat gargoyles and battlements. Frieze and battlements are taken right round the S porch, and this is the most splendid piece of architecture of the church. The sides have each two two-light openings differing in design. The front has at the angles broad buttresses almost like turrets and ending like turrets in polygonal pinnacles. The buttresses are keel-shafted. Outer and inner doorway are both characteristic of their date (without capitals). In the N aisle also some early C14 windows. The W tower of the same period too (the W doorway and W window Perp insertions). Angle buttresses, and windows lower down typically early C14, higher up (bell-openings) perhaps c. 1330 (with transoms). Then again a frieze with ball-flower, heads etc., and a spire with three tiers of dormers on alternate sides. The spire is connected with the tower by solid angle buttresses, a compromise between flying buttresses and broaches. Now for the chancel. This is obviously Perp, and not too late - see the five-light E Window and the long three-light side windows with handsomely traceried transoms. The E window also has a similar effect. There is one transom, but the sill is treated as a second, and the mullions descend below it into a blank-panelled zone. The interior is as lively as the exterior. Blank shafts and arches round the windows characterize the aisle walls. The shafts rise on stone seats along the walls. The arches have hood-moulds with head-corbels. The chancel walls use the same system, but the shafts here have intermediate capitals half-way up which are castellated. The arcade (of six bays) also must be Early Perp. The piers have semi-octagonal shafts and double-hollows in the diagonals separated by a ridge. Only the shafts have capitals, and these are thickly embattled. The arches are steep and have complex mouldings. The nave roof has as corbels for the principals niches with small standing figures. The niches on their part rest on demi-figures. The roof itself is of the tiebeam and king-post type. - FONT. Octagonal, Perp, with blank arches containing shields. - ROOD SCREEN. Not well preserved, but with that rare survival a ribbed coving (on the E side only). Single-light divisions and plain arches with Perp tracery above. - CHANCEL STALLS. Six with Misericords with mostly carvings of heads; said to come from Ramsey Abbey. - PULPIT. Jacobean with an ogee-dome as a tester, a shape more familiar from font covers.

Grotesque (2)

Chancel S misericord (1)

S aisle Glass (4)

OVER. It lies among the orchards, but the fishermen know it well, for the wayward Ouse broadens out where the ferry takes us over the border to a delightful little inn. But Over will not let us hurry away, for it has a handsome church which the centuries have filled with interest without and within. Its sanctus bell has hung in the bellcote for 600 years, and all that time the spire has been pointing the village folk the way to Heaven. The tower is older still, a landmark in this valley since the 13th century. Its fine west doorway has a niche at each side, and above it a sculpture of Our Lord in Glory.

It is the 14th century porch by which we come in, through a splendid entrance archway with deep mouldings and shafts. The porch has beautiful open windows at each side, fine buttresses with embattled cresting from which rise tall pinnacles, and under the battlements trailing ballflowers which run along the aisle with a fine array of gargoyles. Among these is an owl, a lion, men with great heads and open mouths, and a woman emptying a pitcher.

The church is full of light, and old stone seats run round the walls (so that the weakest went to the wall), and the arcades and clerestories have stood 600 years. Between the arches are kings, bishops, and people, and from the mouldings of the capitals peep out little heads, one of them with three faces. Above it all is an old roof with kingposts supported by 14 oak figures in niches. A 13th century arch leads us into the 15th century chancel, through the original oak screen, which has lost its vaulting on the west but keeps it on the east. The chancel windows are set under arches, and the piscina has a pretty drain with six holes and a rose in the middle. Some of the stalls are old, with seats carved with grotesque animals, flowers, and heads, while on the arm-rests are quaint carvings among which we noticed a horse with a head like a hippopotamus, a little bearded man wearing a kilt and a big hat, a griffin with a pig in its claws, and a dragon eating a man. The fine Jacobean pulpit stands on a 600-year-old pedestal, and has a richly carved and vaulted canopy. The 15th century font has angels round the bowl, the old chest has a gabled lid, and there are traces of wall-painting in which a kneeling figure can be seen.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

New targets

Having moved 11 miles north to Saffron Walden I recently reconfigured my Google Earth 'How Far Can I Travel Map' and have added a further 294 churches to be visited [I'd already decided to cover 127 Huntingdon & the Soke of Peterborough churches, visits of which can be found here].

A move of 11 miles opens up 105 in Bedfordshire, 62 in Cambridgeshire [actually a few are further than 50 minutes drive but it seems daft not to complete the county if I can], 42 in Norfolk, 16 in Northamptonshire and 69 in Suffolk.

For the moment I'm going to carry on with the Huntingdon/Peterborough area, of which I have 83 left to visit and will probably then move on to Cambridgeshire.