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Parish church problems – reflections

December 31, 2009 Leave a comment

Two thoughts, since publishing this:
Site This is an archaeological problem, and much more clearly open to further research and synthesis than some of the others. Indeed it is an area in which many are working. Richard Morris’s Churches in the Landscape has already done much synthesis; and every year more analyses of specific sites are published in which landscape analysis reveals very much indeed.

Inexplicable archaeologies This is an extra one. Parish churches often contain archaeological discontinuities that are hard to understand. In mine, for example, one column of the north arcade has been lengthened by, say, 8-10 inches by simply inserting a stretch of wall in mid-capital/column. This presumably is a response to a setting-out error, and is also a neat proof that the (simple) north arcade is a decade or two later than the (more complex) south one. Perhaps, too it means that the masons started at the east and west ends simultaneously and only realised their error when the two side met. So this one, at least, is not inexplicable. But they often are. For example a whole group of local churches have odd extensions at the west end, towards the tower, which must be to do with construction of the tower but which don’t happen elsewhere and don’t really make sense. 9 out of 10 of such problem areas are presumably, like mine, the result of bodges; but the problem comes when a whole group of misalignments/cut back walls/etc defy explanation, and that some of these may be clues to lost structures rather than incompetent/rushed workmanship. Here, again, there may be room for further investigation, for example in the patterns of use and abandonment of doorways, which when drawn together may reveal patterns hitherto unnoticed.

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Parish church problems

December 31, 2009 Leave a comment

I probably should have had my mind on higher things during the Christingle service in our local parish church, but it only takes a few waterholding bases and a hint of reticulation in the east window to make my mind wander…

This, it must be stressed, is a very ordinary building; over-restored, and entirely lacking in really notable features. Yet it struck me that the church exemplifies a whole series of problems that are common to a great many parish churches. It may be that these problems are beyond solution, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to address them. Each relates in important ways to the wider project of understanding medieval architecture; each applies to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of standing buildings across this country (… and how one would love to know whether and how they can be mapped onto comparable buildings in other countries).

So, what are these ‘parish church problems’, at least as they currently present themselves to me?

1) Origins Our village has a (partly) pre-Conquest name; the church stands on a pronounced rise that might suggest a long period of activity on the site before it was constructed. The oldest dateable part of the building is late C12, late in the 2-300-year period of parish creation; and one could make a good argument for our parish having been carved from a much larger parish or minster territory whose epicentre was in another village two miles to the south. So when was a religious building first created on this site? Where there preceding Christian sites elsewhere in the vicinity? What kind of structures, architecturally, preceded the current one?

2) Site The precise location of parish churches vis a vis other elements in the landscape, especially centres of settlement and power, can change radically, making a superficial analysis of the modern landscape a poor guide to that in which the building was created and developed. This is particularly true of our church, which is distinctive, if by no means unique, in one way: it stood adjacent to a small priory whose mother house lay in Normandy. And there is much about its site that raises questions. The presume site of the priory cuts the church off from the village; indeed the village’s primary feature may be the wide curve of the priory site, which today contains nothing but the manor house and its gardens, rather cut off from the main focuses of settlement in the modern village itself. And the church is even further from the village. So was its main function originally monastic? And did that emphasis change when the priory was dissolved, in the early fifteenth century? These are pretty specific issues, it must be admitted, and in many ways the most interesting aspect of the building, but the general question of sites and their developments remains of potential interest in almost every location.

3) Development over time By this I don’t mind the simple fact of development, which is a given; more the patterns of it. When was the greatest parish church building boom? The mid C12? The late C15? How do the patterns of when and where resources were devoted to parish churches relate to the comparable patterns for great churches? The latter, at least can be reconstructed – I do so in my book – but establishing a comparable picture for parish churches is rather more of a challenge, given the lack of documentation, and the extent to which one phase of development tends to obscure another. Something like this can, however, be done for my church: an apparent new-build of the later C12, resulting in a nave, two narrow aisles, and a square-ended chancel; the tower is unknown. A substantial refurbishment in the C14, possibly including a tower, and a wholesale updating of the chancel: possibly only, however: the one completely diagnostic surviving feature, the east window, may be C19. And then a Perp-ification: all the other surviving windows, all the parapets, a clerestory, widened aisles, a porch, a tower: the result is a building whose bones precede the C15 but which visually is externally entirely of that century. The timing in our churches case is particularly interesting vis a vis the dissolution of connections with its mother house – which was replaced by an English Royal college; yet the architecture that results is no different from many standard parochial churches.

4) The late C12 a particularly interesting subset of this. It is of course a period of the greatest significance in great churches: this is when galleries and crypts and apses are abandoned, when east ends and axial Lady chapels begin to be created everywhere, and when gothic emerges. Comparably radical developments are hinted at at parish churches: a great many new east ends here, too; but what is one to make of the countless buildings that contain two arcades, one (often the north?) a decade or two later than the other, or perhaps just more plainly detailed, and built contemporaneously and with little mutual co-ordination?

5) Dull Decorated a particularly undemonstrative brand of C14 architecture is frequently encountered. Formulaic tracery: reticulated, or triple lancets cusped and placed under an arch. Arches with simple detailing: little more than double-chamfered mouldings, sometimes given a wide wave; the only firm clue to date is the lack of capitals, and the fact that a C15 attempt at the same thing would feature different arch profiles (for example). This overlooked brand of Decorated is disturbingly common – my churche’s chancel arch and tower arch both fit the bill, and arguably the much-redone windows and simple sedilia in the chancel, too. It is also hard to date confidently, raises worrying questions about style – can one really be sure it is C14 at all? – and undermines received wisdom about the aims and concerns of architecture between the death of stiff leaf and the birth of the panel.

6) Understanding Perp Dull Decorated exists in a context where there are a great many other models for how architecture can be. Early English is only ‘fixed’ for a couple of decades. By contrast the Perp ‘makeovers’ that so many churches – including mine – underwent can be extraordinarily formulaic. There are, for example, a couple of Perp/reticulated tracery types (and associated detailing) that can be seen replicated in countless churches across the country. Is the date range for these really a wide as it seems, ie late C14-Reformation? If so, where does the burden of change really lie, and is the apparent dominance of Perp really as great as it seems, or merely a side-effect of architectural repetition over a long period?

Herefordshire churches

December 30, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve just created this blog, to try and disagregate the detailed-architectural stuff from the more general musical/place-ological/rhapsodological stuff. But sometimes the two are un-disagregateable: one such is a recent visit to Herefordshire. So, for Madley, Kilpeck, Marden and Abbey Dore, see the recent post at http://joncannon.wordpress.com

Portbury, Somerset

December 30, 2009 3 comments

Portbury is an interesting place. There’s the hillfort above; the great battered knob of hill immediately around the village; the battered ‘priory’; an enormous church stuffed next to the M4; you could almost spit on Gordano services if you wished (and I sometimes do). Some kind of history is here: is this an Anglo-Saxon minster settlement? A C12 planned town, perhaps another work of the Fitzharding-era Berkeleys?

Certainly, the church was big from the off. Its cliff-like proportions are mainly the result of a C15 (or early C16) heightening of all the walls; its barn-like plain interior of an early/mid-C14 makeover – which is why I’m here – but the basic and sizeable footprint is C12. The piers of the chancel arch are massive enough, and slender enough to be after the middle of the century. The big flat buttresses at the east end show the chancel was always as large as it is now – which is big – and no reason not to suppose a nave of the same proportions of the current one. More intriguingly they seem to be replicated at the E end of the N aisle; and if that is right then the C12 church had at least one aisle of comparable scale to the nave. As for dateable architecture, there is the font, and the very good south door, its two orders displaying all manner of inventive 3D-variants on chevron, etc, (surely firmly in the second half of the century) — and those chancel arch piers. They start high above the floor – there is wall beneath – and there seems to be some speculation that the chancel floor was raised. That would be interesting. Dramatically raised altars in parish churches, and the question of what goes beneath them and the history of such initiatives, have become a sub-theme of my interests since my work on Westbury. But I’m sceptical. It all looks very new to me, and indeed the whole e wall of the chancel, with its rich painting, and the equally tarted-up roof show there was quite a concerted and grand medievalising of this part of the church in the C19.

Anyway, one or both of the aisles must have been added in the early C13, that is within decades of completion of the church: a rate of expansion that is not baffling in itself but is remarkable when one sees how often it takes place. It’s a parish-church phenomenon, as impressive as, and even more widespread than, the rebuilding of greater church east ends at this time, and of course also goes hand in hand with the full hegemony of Gothic. Here the evidence are the two sedilia, and this is interesting in itself: just the pattern I’ve posited for Westbury: a grandish one by the high altar, a secondary one, slightly toned back in its detailing, at an important subsidiary altar, at this point in the (new?: which means the south door was kept and moved when it was built, though that is not an unusual thing to do) south aisle.

Two sedilia in a parish church suggests some serious pretensions, though apart from the polished stones on the shafting the quality is not high; a pattern that will be repeated over the centuries to come. The natural assumption is that this is the Lady chapel, but if so it is on the wrong side of the church; and at Westbury (which of course was collegiate) we proved that in spite of a C13 sedilia in just the same place the Lady chapel was elsewhere. So caution again.

And then there’s the triplet window in the enormous squint linking the nave south aisle and the chancel. From the inside it looks rather like a ‘medievalising’ (haha) work of the C14, but if so outside the hood mould and head stops outside are unnervingly well-informed about earlier architectures. Anyway, it demonstrates the altar here – where a Lady chapel would more normally be – was of some importance, too. Which then raises the Westbury problem: who on earth would install a second sedilia in any church in a location that was not that church’s most important subsidiary altar? These things are sent to worry us: Obama only has Afghanistan to make a decision on: nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.

Which brings us smartly to the C14, where my money is. This isn’t just a ‘church of the Berkeley familia’ ( a la Winterbourne) or a ‘church with Bristol-influenced Dec work’ (a la Backwell): it’s both, or so I’m hoping, and not any old Berkeley: Maurice III Lord Berkeley himself ran this part of the great family landholdings effectively as a subsidiary Lordship until his father died, establishing it as his main seat; he then only had a few years to make his mark as Lord in his own right before being sucked into the anti-Edward II rebellion, arrested by the King and thrown into Wallingford castle where he died. Yet he emerges as one of the most interesting builder-Berkeleys: at least as likely as anyone to have kicked the rebuilding of St Augustine’s, Bristol into touch, and known to have involved himself architecturally elsewhere. And for those crucial decades, Portbury was not just an important Berkeley seat (where *was* their seat here?); it was effectively the deputy capital of the whole caboodle. I don’t have time to go trawling through records at this moment (this is a blog, not a conference paper); but I recall Maurice buried his wife Eve here, and founded a chantry; and then Thomas III his son, an equally intriguing figure (for his piety as for his energy and his (potential) architectural patronage) greatly enhanced its endowment and had his much-mourned (if his chantry foundations are anything to go by) and politically well-connected first wife Margaret Mortimer remembered here, too. I recall too that the Lady chapel was the focus for this… wherever that was. So any Dec work is of the greatest interest to me.

Well, there’s plenty of it. And it’s at once ambitious and plain as a pikestaff. The great capless tower arch, with its wave mouldings, is probably Dec (Perp tower arches can do this kind of thing, too: a problem noted and even more urgent at Westbury). The marching and massive rhythm of the arcades certainly is; not a cap and barely a moulding to be seen, bold in its simplicity, and knowing of it too, when one glances at the fiddly bases to some of the piers (especially those in the bays parallel with the Dec N and C12 S doors; also note here a big C14 head poking out of the apex of one arch). Yet it’s not a rebuild; it makes the church *feel* Dec but in fact it has been on a grand scale since at least the 1160s, and this suggests a trawl back through the Berkeley patrons and foundations of the C12 and C13 may be in order, too. Bring out the Wells-Furby! Anyway, all this seems to be built with congregants in mind: in particular, stone seats are provided around all the aisles and around all the bases of the arcades; an exceptionally layman-focused gesture at this date. St Augustine’s has aisle-edge seating, too.

Of course it is easy to link the simple force of the design with the St Augustine’s/Wells-strainer-arches approach, and there is certainly a commonality; but this kind of thing, a little-celebrated ‘polite’ version of the style I call ‘boring Dec’ is amazingly common, and frustratingly hard to date. It is interesting as a harbinger of Perp thinking; as a different model from show-off Dec; as a rather un-medieval taste for the plain, unadorned Form, and it is not at all unusual to stumble across it. At the grandest level buildings like Milton Abbey and in some senses Ottery St Mary are in this tradition. What role if any the William Joy axis, or influences from other architectures – Mendicant churches, Edwardian castles – has in its creation or spread it is too early to say.

It is also obvious here in the windows, which are also testament to the extent of the Dec makeover of the church. Both aisle-end windows, one aisle west window, and all the windows in the chancel go with it. Only one, interestingly the S window overlooking the high altar, has any kind of tracery elaboration – though this example is pretty good – all the others are a type familiar from Ottery and Milton and elsewhere, which is basically the EE stepped lancet updated for the tracery age: three cusped lights under an arch. Indeed five, in the case of the aisle east walls. It couldn’t really be plainer. And one other relevant madeover-in-the-C14 barnlike church comes immediately to mind: Berkeley, which has just this tracery. Witness too the simple ogee of Berkeley’s south door, compared to that of the little Dec stoup by the south door here at Portbury. The problem with this simplicity is it lacks stylistic ‘smoking guns’. But Berkeley has another thing in common with this building: though it plainly knows of more sophisticated architectures (at Berkeley, how could one not, with that surely-William-Joy castle chapel new or underway? next door; here – well, I’m coming to that) it is not just bare, it is also not particularly well done. At both places the patron is determined to make a pretty grand gesture, but equally clear he’s not throwing a top team of masons at it. It’s even speculatable that this is the same team of masons, working at the same time, which raises the game rather. Whether the aesthetics of the result is a conscious choice or a reflection of a limited budget is harder to be sure about; they were certainly happy to leave good older work – the two sedilia, the south door, the font – in place.

So far, so inconclusive-yet-intriguing. What justifies getting the place unlocked, which took two phone calls and a lingering nice little old man in a flat cap who bemoaned the tiny congregation and the dangers inherent in the proximity of the M4, is the one piece of Dec (surely) work in the place, and that is the addition made to the chancel.

It’s basically a little chapel. Almost a tiny transept, stuck off the side of the east end. Its arch is steep-edged and plain; the caps merely a ledge, as if they were Anglo-Saxon. The walls have been broken through to do this, and they are finished off but left entirely unadorned, but step back slightly with a slight curve as if something was expected to lie in the lower part of the arch – an effigy? a fitting? The window, sadly, is part of the C15 makeover (a nice small elaborate Dec window here would have balanced that on the other side of the chancel very well); less easy to date (and explain) is the enormous squint, which runs from an arch in the NE chapel at preist’s-head-height through to an arch into this chapel. It contains the C14? C13? window mentioned earlier, so small it was surely made for it, thus raising issues of dating and of what stood on the sight of the chapel before.

What dates the chapel-thing itself is its vault. A vault! A tunnel vault. A tunnel vault supported by six massive close-together arches, each identical, setting up a powerful ribbed rythmn that reaches out from this tiny space to bring a shock to the entire chancel. The ribs have bold, simple mouldings, chamfered fading into flatness at each base, and the confirmation that (however rough the execution) someone In the Know is behind this comes with the ridge rib, which is articulated like two ribs or planks of wood meeting each other or bent in the middle, and which runs right past the outer arch to the chancel only to stop as if chopped in two.

This kind of thing is directly related to St Augustine’s in its most brutal/archaic register, and in particular the massive ribs over the two tomb-arches cut between the choir and the Elder Lady Chapel, surely additions made by Thomas III in association with the burial there (and associated lavish soul-remembering) of Margaret Mortimer (and see also the little vaulted passage built into one wall of the Outer North Porch at St Mary Redcliffe). It’s by someone who knows of this work, both in its boldness and in its plainness and in its go-out-of-your-way-to-be-oddness. From here, too, may come the knowing reuse of C12 details, for example in the corbels built into the chancel for the Lenten veil, and perhaps some of the corbels for the nave (?and chancel) roofs; and more crucially, the keeping of the C12 chancel arch piers but rebuilding of the arch above: witness Urchfont. And while the jury is out as to whether we finger Maurice or Thomas for it (or indeed the abbots of St Augustine’s, who held the advowson, raising even more interesting stuff to explore), the balance of probability given the link with those tomb arches has to be Thomas, that is later rather than earlier, 1330s and 40s rather than 1310s (1322-7 is out for reasons of War). So Berkeley church, too?

Any sign of a function? Well, firstly there is no sign of any fittings of the period. A big Berkeley arms (quartered with those of someone else) in the south chancel aisle is surely C17; other parts of the same lost monument are scattered through the church. More interesting, a collection of stained glass fragments have been grouped in the north choir aisle, and they are almost all rich in colour, c1320-50 a la those at St Augustine’s, and the recognisable white-on-red crosses of the Berkeley arms are prominent among them (there’s traces of polychromy, too, big red chevrons up the arch nearest the south door). These could have come from anywhere of course, but they once again raise the question of the significance of one aisle altar over another; pushing the balance the other way, the big, bold but not very well carved corbel heads for the roof in the south aisle are surely C14, when all the others look later. But more than anything else, the combo of recorded chantry foundation, elaborate squinch/priest’s passage and show-off Chapel Thing (there is no piscina now) near the altar, when compared with the other contemporary memorial fittings and changes that I’m investigating, suggest that various functions might be complementary rather than exclusive: remembering Berkeley souls, especially those of Eve and Margaret; Marian piety; settings for Easter sepulchres. It’s increasingly becoming clear how personal tomb and Easter sepulchre could overlap; how at this stage the architectural expression of chantry spaces, memorial spaces and other liturgical functions is very much up for grabs, is indeed a nexus of creative tension: this is all more grist for the mill. The Easter sepulchre function is further suggested by the fact that for some reason the church today remembers our Ribbed Thing as the chapel of St Helen; those step-backs at the entrance to the Thing could well be for this, or a tomb, or both. Enough already: I’m glad I came.

As for the C15, as ever it’s hard not to fall asleep. But the enormous aisle walls and their parapet-of-panels (crenellations above) are interesting – on the S side the big flat-topped windows have a retaining arch set high above, as if someone though the walls might squash them. The porch was added then, and there’s good colour on the nice niche above the south porch door, which has been brutally shaved off in the C16 or C17. It has a parvise, surely a treasury, as plain and secure as Westbury. There are tracery panels from C15 bench ends grouped together to make the modern choir stalls, and some fragments of very plain, light late medieval foliage motifs in the glazing of some of the tracery lights. The tower is plain as a pikestaff if unmissable from J19. it’s west window is quite Deccish, but again this window is often a place for designers to be a bit more, er, Decorous, and the whole tower is plainly an addition to the previous Dec buttressing of the west wall (so the previous tower must have been rather thin). But the roofs are good, and very close to Westbury. I’ve noted in the past that north-of-the-Avon Perp masons rarely cross the water; perhaps competent carpenters where more flexible, or there were fewer of them.

And with that we leave, noting that two trees in the churchyards are surrounded by more seat-like platforms, the eastern of which is octagonal and thus surely supported an external cross; that the yew is 2000 years old (it says, on the sign pinned to the ancient ribbed red bark); that the standing stone outside the primary school came from a field to the N, suggesting a ritual focus has gathered in the Gordano services/springline/hill/floodplain on the S side of the Avon nexus for a giddyingly long time. Intriguing stuff, indeed.

Backwell, Somerset

December 30, 2009 Leave a comment

I didn’t look at the Other Bits of Backwell for long: I’ve been here before, and I knew what I was here for. And anyway, dare I say, it the rest of the building is basically Just Another Perp Church (nothing wrong with that); except for the font, basic ?early C12; an attempt at recarving it in the C15 entertainingly abandoned halfway round; and the tower, in its current form apparently rebuilt in the C16 or C17 (there’s an inscription on it, cited by Pevsner); but with various features that suggest there was once something with a big, handsome, presumably eC16 ogee feature at parapet level, and rather more intriguingly the mullions of lower windows splitting at the *bottom* to form a big wide quatrefoil: the kind of eccentricity that rings C14 Bristol bells; St Mark’s chapel on College Green has this on its tower, too.

Actually, scrub that: I’ve just looked at my photographs, and have no doubt that the parapet is the only thing on this tower that was redone after the Reformation. The angels with their sacred heraldry on shields are surely late medieval; and thus so must be the quatrefoils in the windows and the big ogee. And the arcades and chancel arch could just be a standard-C14, though I think not. Anyway either side of the chancel arch two rather entertainting corbels, a man to the S and a woman in a big wimple to the N, take or took the rood beam or some such feature.

Anyway, inside, off the chancel is one of the only structures anywhere outside Bristol and St Mary Redcliffe to not only use Bristol East End motifs without understanding them (Dorchester abbey, St David’s pulpitum) or be generally stylistically bold without specifically referencing this *particular* brand of experimentalism (Cheltenham St Mary), or even to use Bristol motifs very interestingly, without *quite* being able to show a smoking gun (Minchinhampton transept, St Davids bishops palace): but to actually be the Holy Grail and Real McCoy, albeit on a small scale (Urchfont, St Mary Redcliffe): that is, a work surely by the Bristol master or someone of equal skill who knows his work intimately.

It’s a frustating thing, too. For some reason (was the original chantry never properly founded? Or perhaps was it not originally a chantry?) the place I’m about to describe, which I will call the Chapel Thing, was redone in the C15 – there’s a good TSANHS article on this. The arch was filled with a curious thing displaying heraldry (but is the curious thing part of the C14 phase?); a big table tomb with more heraldry, with a screen of panelling above it, was also inserted; a Perp window was put in to light the space. And (for example) the little squint, lined with a reused stretch of C12 masonry, in the E wall could be of either date. As I guess could it’s intriguingly interlinking with adjacent spaces, all of which would be very suggestive… if one could date them.

A wall was cut through the ?Lady chapel to the W, so an arch leads directly from one to the other. The Perp E window of this chapel is above this new arch; and both it and the N window have Deccish Perp tracery, different to the conventional Perp in the rest of the church, that might just go with the chapel-thing too. And to the E, and here we are surely in the C14, our space is attached to vestry or treasury with a steep gable and a single high-up lancet in its gable (the vestry has a C19 e window, too). Our Chapel Thing has outside now a Perp parapet, but one wonders if the original profile was not an M-like double gable. I’d love to get into this vestry.

So vestry, access from E chapel, access to high altar, and Chapel Thing itself are all potentially part of one conception. This is very comparable to Portbury, where the resulting work is much less sophisticated (but more likely to be all of one period), and more to the point very comparable to the Berkeley chapel at Bristol cathedral and its archaeologically confus/ing, culturally/aesthetically interesting multiple modes of access and conflation of sight line, physical access, creation of exclusive space, clerical space, chantry space, altar space, easter sepulchre, tomb (…Lady and Easter linked?..) … no wonder the world breathed a sigh of relief when Perp came along and the cage chantry solved all this. Another C14 comparitor, functionally but not stylistically comparable to the Berkeley chapel, is at Bere Ferrers: intriguingly, this latter is a sub-Thomas of Witney take on the same idea.

As for the Chapel Thing itself, the C15 entrance screen-and-tomb is contained in an extraordinary C14 (?1310-1350) gable. Its outer outline is simply thick and steep and energetic; in form, not special in other ways. But the moulding is unusual, a big thick bare roll breaking up into more fiddly elements: very sub-William Joy. At the top is a colossal and very well-carved crocket. It rises off abnormally wide pinnacles which show us their angles rather than their sides, just like the Elder Lady Chapel arches do at St Augustine’s. All the finials have the curious and very distinctive necking feature also seen in the Elder Lady Chapel and the side doors to the Outer North Porch at St Mary Redcliffe – including the even more colossal, almost Berkeley-chapel-anteroom-fevered finial this gable contains, which is the peak of a separate gable-within-a-gable, an inner gable, whose mouldings collide with (and in their lower registers die into) the outer one. This takes a hard-to-describe form: as if a hexagon had been cut in two, but only half way up its two outermost sides; and to boot at its peak the corner of the imaginary hexagon, instead of meeting at a corner, is given a slight curved up to the enormous finial. This allows the uppermost of the three big cusps contain within this inner gable to end ogivally; the other two do not. And the panel-and-heraldry screen is set within this form, but only just touching it, creating more rather Bristolian games: perhaps it is not entirely a C15 addition? Anyway there can be no doubting the form of the two gables; they are, like the Berkeley chapel ante room itself, an entertaining scrap from the master’s table (or perhaps, if he is not W Joy or N Derneford, the other extreme, a small commission given to a man too odd to have enjoyed widespread acceptance.

Inside, life continues to be just as exciting, for a la Portbury, and again the Elder Lady chapel arches, the roof is a colossal tunnel vault, but its form is the chopped-off hexagon of the inner gable, and it is, again a la Portbury, supported on a tight series of six ribs, but these of course follow the hexagon too, and more to the point they are (unlike Portbury, which is comes out looking distinctly third-rate), very finely detailed: good, clean, simple mouldings; cusps which plainfully alternate as depressed semicircles, where they lie against the flat sides of the hexagon, and ogees, where they sit into its corners); it likewise relates in quite a clever way to the inner side of the cut-hexagon gable, which is cut through the wall and faces into the chapel and so has a chancel-side with finely moulded and subcusped ogee cusps all round – now very close to the inner side of the stellate recesses at St Augustine’s of which this is now such an obvious cousin – and chapel-side has a lower version of the vault ribs, but now again with ogees all round (… only this time no subcusps).

If anyone can follow this it will be plain that this is on a small scale as clever and effortlessly unique (does one call it ‘Dec’ or ‘Perp’ or just ‘Bristol?’ as anything at the Great Enigma on College Green.

By contrast the arch to the east-aisle chape is a la Portbury as plain as a pikestaff, simply cut through the wall, but ashlar faced and with a little step-mould all round; its profile another low depressed semicircle. Hard to be sure if this is C14 or C15; but the squint beyond on the inside does seem, from the stonework linking the two, to be an addition to the inner cut-hexagon arch to which it is adjacent, and if that is right the two-light window it contains is more Perp panel than two-cusped Dec lancet, though in appearance it is a little more the latter; and the emphatic four-centered arch which heads it is thus not another early use (frequent in W Joy and in Bristol stuff: see the Exeter pulpitum [from where too perhaps come the enormous-foliage-idea and the straight-line-arch-suddenly-taking-a-curve-at-the peak]; the central feature of the Bristol east window; the blank arcades (almost panels) within Redcliffe’s Outer North Porch) but a suggestion that in its current form at least this, the arch to the e chapel, and much of the e chapel itself are part of the (re) chantryfication of the space in the C15. So the jury has to be out on this dimension of the whole shebang.

Frustrating, but this is still a beast that it rare as topsy. I’d publish some pics but I’ve promised myself not to: if I start adding bangs and whistles I’ll only end up undermining the precious seconds I get to blog thusly at all. The only question being, does anyone out there remotely understand what I’m on about?….
Posted by the extollager at 15:20