Saturday, March 11, 2006

Rewriting Pevsner in N Somerset

What a horrible day weather-wise Tuesday 8th March was, but this was the day that I had planned to meet Andy Foyle, author of the Bristol City-Pevsner and who is now tasked with revising North Somerset & Bristol volume for a new edition. He in turn had made some arrangements to have two churches opened for us.

is usually kept locked. It is perhaps Bristol's adopted church, its tower visible from nearly all parts of the city, atop of the hill close to Bristol airport. I had chosen this as a venue because of the way the church building is dismissed in the original edition, leading me to suspect the master had described the tower from a photographed and accepted the student's word for the church proper. I have long wanted to climb the tower too. Tuesday saw Dundry lashed with wind and rain and although it was much warmer than previous days it felt colder. And that was at road level. Inside the church I listened to the wind howling through the parapet above, the lady having kindly opened the church also made the offer of a tower ascent. For the first time ever I declined such an offer, it was just too damned cold and wet, and probably not much would be visible. Normally you can see right across the Severn Estuary to the Brecon Beacons, hardly surprising therefore that the money for this proud tower was given by the Merchant Venturers of Bristol, as the church tower was used as a navigational aid by shipping. Firstly the architect is recorded erroneously, this was S B Gabriel not G B.Gabriel. He had much to do, but either restored or reused medieval and later parts of the predecessor. Much of the N arcade is old, but some of the piers are replaced. The south aisle and porch was a new build but the old windows of the nave , together with the chancel E and S window were incorporated into the new aisle. This S window also incorporates a doorway. Chancel E is C19 and the whole church has a set of good but unsigned glass of the 1860s. ALso there is a medieval statue of St Giles.

at Maiden Head crossroads, set back from the road with an attractive green and a few cottages for company. Originally of 1829, rebuilt in 1878, alterations 1970 and 2001, the latter internally which saw removal of the pulpit and stairs. To our surprise a side door was open, and the chapel interior was warmed by paraffin heaters but gave no hint any longer of any age.

Usually locked but the churchwarden had kindly arranged for this one to be open, much to the consternation of the other who had visited and found it open. We met her in the churchyard and was able to tell her why the church was unlocked. The church owes its present appearance to the restoration by John Norton, possibly after a fire. It is perfect outside with a proud tower with a "Bristol Spirelet" (one angle pinnacle much larger than the others and placed over the stair turret). We did not linger too long outside in the biting wind and driving rain. Inside wasn't much warmer but there was a heavenly host waiting to greet us. The vicar stipulated that Norton povide angels, and angels he provided, 156 of them. Four per pier, three flat against the wall below the roof with wings outstretched and more in the roof itself. However the south arcade and SE chapel are angel-less! Not a single one. And these parts are the oldest bits it seemed to us. What makes the interior so restless is that every surface is whitewashed, and the wood dark stained (roofs etc.) You feel watched, everywhere you turn are some beady-eyed angels staring back! Some truly awful fittings, a big Victorian square font and pulpit match, but are now largely whitewashed. The lectern is even stranger, a classical domestic looking marble circular plinth, a wooden eagle with wings folded guarding a large block of crystal set at his feet. Crudely hammered into his back is a block of wood to which is attached the book shelf. Bell and striking mechanism from the tower now at west end of the north aisle, a memorial to the Bilbie family who made bells and clocks in the village from the C17-C19. Two bits do not belong here, a Jacobean female figure in the porch, and a stone cross plinth in the churchyard, both from buildings now submerged under Chew Valley Lake (a reservoir).

Locked but of interest. Stell, the RCHM expert does not mention this one (like so many others) but it appears to be an early C19 chapel extended in the 1870s and 1970s. The Victorian work could be Foster & Wood, so like work of theirs in Bristol. Andy is going to do some detective work on this one.

Lunch partaken at the Pelican in Chew Magna, next to a much needed log fire. Across the road the large and at-a-quick-glance-fairly-routine church of

In some ways this church was the real puzzle of the day, and we were left with a number of questions about what we had seen. It is largely Perp, but incorporates some older parts, most notably an odd Norman south doorway and a C13 S arcade which has octagonal columns not hexagonal as Pevsner states. Pevsner suggessts that the north aisle pre-dates the tower, but the building evidence is the opposite. The nave is impressively wide, and the chancel arch rests on two C13 octagonal columns - is the north one in situ? It carries Perp arches in the four directions from the single pier, and make these elegant arches appear clumsy. The chancel has side chapels and then narrows for the east bay - the wall is not in alignment with the arcade on the south side, in fact stands a good three feet to the north of this line, which in turns causes an odd recess in the south chapel's east respond. Outside the north aisle is the show side, fine parapets, carved beasts and gargoyles, yet the church seems to have always been approached from the south where the main road and little market place stand. The south aisle is excessively wide. My theory - for what it is worth - is that the original church was on the site of the south aisle and chapel and that there was a north aisle. When the church was enlarged a new nave was built to the north and the former nave and chancel were remodelled as the aisle. Where the extra C13 pillar came from for the north side of the chancel arch I cannot explain as it is a full pier and not a respond - the four C15 arches fit on it uncomfortably but this is in turn a key strutural part of the church as witnessed by the huge buttress on the north side of the aisle outside. Fittings-wise there is a restored C15 screen across the whole church, and some good monuments. However what to make of the de Hautville effigy, a cross-legged knight in wood in a strangely exaggerated pose? Pevsner in the end came down on late C16, not as per inscription "temp Henry III", and the stone recess and inscription is entirely C19 anyway. Some people favour a complete hoax, yet it went off to the V & A for an exhibition of medieval wooden effigies recently. As Andy scribbled furiously one of the churchwardens asked if I would like to go up the tower. Again I turned this down, the cold had once again permeated our bodies and the weather had not improved outside.

Visited Church House which is now the village hall. This is a medieval building with a vast roof of eleven bays to the former hall, now visible upstairs in closer quarters.

A simple building, rectangular with round headed windows, seemingly all of 1860s. Is the pretentious Gothic west doorway original or a later insertion? It jarrs with the rest.

Time was delaying us, but the cold /damp was the significant factor in our decision to call it a day and go back to Andy's for a warming mug of tea!

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