Sunday, March 05, 2006

Wiltshire - Churches and Dogs

A glorious day dawned on Saturday, spoilt only by sub-zero temperatures, and I drove for a planned meet-up with JF at a place picked by me. I made good time so stopped for a cup of tea and a bacon buttie and to photograph the former Wesleyan chapel at ROWDE (1833 red and yellow brick) en route. My route took me via Potterne where the church visited by Neil and I a few years back) crowns this hill top village and has a surprisingly large central tower. The main road traffic has choked any atmosphere from the village where the road takes an awful dangerous turn by the church. A minor road took me away towards the target church.

ST MICHAEL, URCHFONT, WILTS
stands a little back from the small green and village pond, behind the Manor House. A sign proclaims that this place won the Best Kept Medium village in Wiltshire. It certainly was very attractive, aided by the deep blue late winter sky and sunshine. At a quick glance, the church seems a sizeable but fairly typical village church, with west tower, vaulted south porch, clerestoried nave and aisles, transepts and aisleless chancel. A closer look reveals some unusual features such as why is the south transept south window off centre, and why is the chancel so sturdily built - close set windows between buttressing and above a row of quatrefoils and roof with a row of finial-like capping ridge stones. The answer to the second question (but not the first), like dd, was waiting inside. The chancel is vaulted, with a lierne vault in six bays. Two light windows in every second bay but what appears to be a C19 window at the east end. The central bosses are carved with figures, including one of a mermaid holding a mirror, the side bosses are foliage, like the capitals of the chancel arch. It is a splendid quality piece and when built it must have been awesome. Today it appears a little two low when viewed from the nave, probably thanks to the latter receiving a clerestory later. Throw in some good monuments (one with Mr Punch), a Jacobean aisle roof with pendants, and an ancient font and you have enough to keep you entertained for an hour or so.

ST JOHN THE BAPTIST, CHIRTON, WILTS
RJB would have come here for the font, a Norman tub with figures of the 12 apostles under arches, a remarkable piece of sculpture but like so many others sadly mutilated.Norman too, the ornate south doorway and the arcades. The doorway is excellent too, with an unusual outer moulding having some traditional beakheads but also hands grasping the moulding, bearded male heads and even a small little complete monkey. However the church isn't bad either, although heavily restored, to the extend that one of the piers in the Norman arcades looks completely replaced. The main roof is supposedly original Norman work too, but dd and I couldn't see it, the timbers /overall shape look much newer but several books mention this so perhaps it is true. On one pillar are inscribed four sgraffito crosses, two below with rounded ends and two above with squared ends. The guidebook says the lower pair were made by people leaving for the crusades, the upper ones show that they both returned home safely; not a piece of fact or folklore I had come across before.

ST SWITHIN, PATNEY, WILTS
is now a house, although externally you can hardly tell. The porch is now glazed but the real giveaway is the landscaped garden (and the notice saying private, visitors to tend graves only by prior appointment, on the churchyard gate). Pevsner questions whether anything medieval survived the C19 restoration, maybe the residents know if this is true or not. The most memorable part of the visit was the manic dog Millie charging up and down her garden next door, just after a bit of love and attention which we eventually gave her over the gate at one end and through the fence at the other!

ALL SAINTS, MARDEN, WILTS
has a very pretty and decorative Perp west tower, but the church is aisleless. Much is Perp and Ponting Perp (i.e. late C19) but the two major features brought RJB here (proof in the VB) a few weeks after John V. came here (on the opposite page!). These are the south doorway, rich patterned, regular but without the quirkiness of Chirton, and the very depressed equally ornate Norman chancel arch. Not much else to see apart from some good head corbels to the roof and a large Jacobean pulpit with back plate and tester. Opinions were divided about the merits of the nave north window with Piperesque glass of SS Peter & Paul by the Kettlewells with me really liking it but we agreed that their later window of 1979 in the chancel was twee, much "safer" and really rather awful.

We stopped for lunch in the village pub, the Millstream. Now let me warn any potential visitor, don't go here if you are in a hurry but DO go here for the food. Plan to have a leisurely lunch. The food is towards the gastropub variety, all home produced, and quality, my bread and butter pudding with hot butterscotch sauce and vanilla icecream was to die for! However we arrived at 1320, and left at 1500, and we could have got at least one more church if not two in in that time! the food took nearly an hour to arrive after ordering it, poor chef was on his own apparently. If the food was rubbish I would have complained but it was not.

ST NICHOLAS, WILSFORD, WILTS
Uh-oh I said as we aproached this one as half the church was covered by scaffolding and plastic sheeting. Fully expecting it to be locked, we were pleasantly surprised. Probably the plainest and least interesting church of the day, yet that is not to say it was not pleasant. a north chapel was demolished in 1959, and the arch blocked with a doorway reset into the masonry. I admired one of the large head corbels in the nave, which reminded me of a mutual friend which JF thought highly amusing. The chancel is EE, the tower Perp and quite ornate with a band of quatrefoils around the base and a band of fleur de lys under the parapet.

ST PETER, CHARLTON ST PETER, WILTS
or just Charlton until fairly recently. The church looks odd from a distance, up close you can appreciate that the church was rebuilt in the C19 (by J L Pearson) apart from the north porch tower and the Perp single-bayed chapel adjoining it to the N. Inside there is a glazed window from the porch into the chapel, and a hagioscope from the chapel through its panelled arch into the chancel (now also glazed). Two over-large angel brackets in the chapel, also a pair of brasses not mentioned in Pevsner, I thought - more that I had not read the entry carefully enough! Medieval (restored) screens between chapel and nave and nave and chancel. Beautiful wall memorial by Westmacott Jun..

ST MATTHEW, RUSHALL, WILTS
Away from its village in supreme isolation, its churchyard surrounded by a ha-ha. The tower is medieval as are parts of the nave (NE corner) but the overall feel is of the early C19. Earlier, the N chapel which is of the late C18. We found the church locked but my supreme good fortune a lady walking her dogs passed by as I was dialling a churchwarden (actually her number) having just locked the church before we got there! She apologised for shutting earlier than usual and waited patiently outside with her two dogs, one of which didn't mind waiting and lay down in the porch, the other was keen to get back home in the warm.

ST JAMES, NORTH NEWNTON, WILTS
Also situated on the edge of its village, overlooking the river and a weir. Here is the most bizarre west tower, which has beams from the bellframe piercing the walls to the outside, and these wooden beams are capped by stone ?buttresses, the weight of the stone stopping the belfry dropping into the church below. Nave and chancel, south porch, all rather non-descript.

The sun was setting and by the time we got back to Urchfont it was almost dark. All in all a very successful day, all the churches that were still churches were open, or just locked and reopened especially! I had a similar crawl a little to the north (Pewsey - All Cannings) with the same result, all churches open. If only the same applied to western Wiltshire.

3 comments:

  1. My copy of Pevsner has the Charlton brasses listed. Is yours a pre-Cherry copy I wonder?

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  2. It seems I had a mental block on reading this entry so apologies to the Master and Ms Cherry.

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