Monday, April 03, 2006

A Crawl on Salisbury Plain

Having great trust in a friend, I left Bristol at 8am on April 1st, to meet him in a church on Salisbury Plain. I guess JF invested similar trust in me on this, All Fools' Day. The weather was bright, following some heavy overnight rain; the forecast was for a typical April day of sunshine and showers. As I arrived in the village, JF's car was in evidence outside of our agreed meeting point.

At a quick glance looks medieval. However you quickly spot how wrong it looks because it is a Victorian building on a new site, replacing two medieval churches at either end of the village, St Mary to the west and All Saints to the east. Wrong, the west doorway into the tower and no porch, wrong the regular appearance of walls and stonework (flint and rubble chequer pattern), and very wrong the churchyard, a grassed garden without a single tombstone. The architect was T H Wyatt, the Salisbury diocesan architect, who brutally restored many Wiltshire churches, and designed a few exceptional churches and many very ordinary dull churches. All Saints is somewhere in between, supposed to fool, large and spacious but not quite first rate. The chancel has an east apse, the windows rather small, and probably the weakest part of the design. From the other churches several monuments are gathered under the tower, the best unfortunately skied making enjoyment difficult of the intricate naval battle scene. The font came from St Mary, Norman circular, the cover from All Saints C17 octagonal. The low stone screens to the chancel are dissimilar and incorporate medieval tracery from St Mary. The pulpit is Jacobean also from St Mary and the stalls incorporate C17 carved panels, two with birds and foliage and the other two with figures (Moses and possibly Faith). The epitaph to Robert Michell d1779 records how he was most miraculous preserv'd when ten chimneys fell onto his bed in Lincoln's Inn at 6am in the morning leaving him exposed (!) during the Violent Storm of Wind on 2nd December 1763. [Open]

The original All Saints has disappeared but

Survives in part, that part being the chancel. Not a great deal to see, but the south windows are rather pretty, depressed two light Perp windows in a square headed frame. Inside the north window incorporates the ogee canopy arch of a former tomb, arranged thus probably by Wyatt. There was an uncommon gravestone in the churchyard of 1850, to a husband a wife with two carved hands one pointing to the left and the other to the right. Also a line of music is incised on the stone. [open]

Leaving Chitterne we espied a large modern-looking village not on the map. When it was built there was a flurry of enquiries to local estate agents from people wanting to live there. It is in fact a replica East German village, built for training purposes for the British army who occupy large tracts of Salisbury Plain for military manoeuvres!

has appeared on the ChurchCrawling group before when Mr Neil and I tried to get inside unsuccessfully a few years back. Today it was open, which it is apparently during British Summertime months. The long low church is grouped around a central tower and is of some antiquity. Inside Norman arcades with the plainest semi-circular arches, but it all seems a little too regular for me and I wonder how much of this is early Wyatt work who restored the church in 1845-6. The clerestory of quatrefoils is probably his work to and the roofs definitely are by him. We wondered what had happened to the cleaner, a vac was lying in the centre of the nave and one rubber glove was placed on a pew near the vestry. Had she spontaneously combusted JF wondered? Nope - she had gone for coffee leaving the vestry floor to dry. She was interested in what we were doing but on hearing the word internet rang her husband unbeknown to us and he appeared to ask further questions. We must have passed the test, which was done in ever-so-friendly a manner! [open]

Like Chitterne, Orcheston is a village that has two churches, one at either end of the village. St Mary's lies to the west and is extremely picturesque outside thanks to its saddleback SW tower and the early C19 pinnacles flanking the gables of the nave, chancel and the porch. It is kept locked but the Cat Hotel next door has the key, or they should have had. A lady had checked it out but not returned it, yet the church was locked. I set off in pursuit and whilst I followed her around the village she retuned to the church and let JF in! Cats talked to us everywhere we went. And on the way out I noticed that the stained glass memorial in the porch was a - er - cat. [locked with keyholder notice]

is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT). It is not large, a nave and chancel, with a medley of windows. Added since a C19 vestry (which hides the Norman north doorway) and an ashlar built west tower of some pretension, although barely rising above the nave roofline. Inside it has a fine panelled arch. The vestry is kept locked and therefore it is difficult to see the doorway apart from glimpses through the vestry windows. Pretty fittings in the chancel, probably of c1833. The church also has some very high quality stained glass, the best seen so far today (and a couple of poor windows too!) [locked with keyholder notice]

(Lunch taken at a local's recommendation "The George" which looked less inviting than the Plume of Feathers opposite but the food was excellent and good value.)

Shrewton is an odd place, really what seems to be main-road Shrewton is Maddington village. You would be forgiven for thinking the church to be a Victorian rebuilding, against a medieval tower, indeed I said as much to JF as we approached. A dog was tied to the outside gates of the porch, and a friendly lady was just locking the church as we arrived. She was only too pleased to let us inside and thank goodness she did as here was some of the best architecture of the day. Transitional Norman north and south arcades, built slowly, so that by the time the chancel arch was reached the style merged from upright leaf decoration on the south capital to full stiff leaf on the north, yet both with trumpet scallops. This chancel arch has three detached shafts to both responds, a sophisticated design. The rest looks C19, clerestory, aisles and chancel - yes Mr Wyatt again. His too the Norman font with upright leaf design, too perfect to fool anyone but quite nice. On a sill in the south aisle is a piece of sculpture, carved on all four sides, including a crucifixion, and was probably the head of a churchyard cross. [usually locked, no keyholder]

on a hill in the centre of Shrewton, surrounded by new executive housing to the west, the Old Vicarage to the north and the Manor House to the south. Another CCT church, and one which owes much of its appearance to the C17 and of course the indefatigable Wyatt. The original nave and chancel was extended in the C14 by a chantry chapel, which was extended west by an aisle in the C17, and to the south by a transept of the early C19. The nave roof is of 1603 (date on a corbel), and the west wall of the nave has plasterwork with a large date 1637, reckoned to be the date a west gallery was added of which no trace now remains. The oddest thing inside was a length of battlements and one pinnacle which used to be on top of the tower but now stand underneath it along with the parish bier. [locked with keyholder notice]

is yet another CCT church. Bizarrely three churches out of five in a very small area have been vested, and although I am not complaining it does seem odd or lucky. This one is a delight, no more than a nave and chancel, reached by a grassy track from the main road to Stonehenge and just outside of Shrewton. The C19 restoration (suspect is Wyatt) provided a bellcote and built a porch to shelter the Norman doorway which they also mutilated in the process. [open]

is delightful outside, massed around a C13 crossing added on to a Norman nave. The tower was completed in the C15 and the nave west front is also from this time. Norman N & S doorways, the south blocked and weathered badly, the north doorway, harshly and yet incompletely restored. Some amusing external carvings all add to the anticipation on opening the door. What a disappointment! The dullest interior of the day, largely the fault of the very poor and oppressive roofs of the C19. I cannot blame Wyatt for these a W Crook was responsible - and to his credit Wyatt would have done better. In more recent times the chancel has been emptied of the expected furniture and carpeted and given comfy upholstered chairs. The north transept is screened off for a vestry, and the south transept is separated from the crossing from very heavy curtains, and now equipped with kitchen cabinets, sink etc. If you visit here and don't get in don't be too disappointed. The two features you might want to see can be seen by looking through the two westernmost side windows at the other, glass dated 1835, four saints and a overly pious depiction of the BVM, and the plain Norman font with its exotic Jacobean crown cover.

We returned to Chitterne and parted on our separate ways, agreeing that this was yet another successful day out. We both I suspect snuck a 10th church visit in, mine was at NORTON BAVANT (All Saints) which I found locked. The key hanging in the porch did not unlock the door sadly yet looked like it should have! This was an odd shaped church with an unusual roofed low burial extension south of the south transept. I will be returning here when there is better light left in the day (it stands in trees) and I have more time to track down a key if one is needed at a more respectable hour!