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Fotheringhay

This bleak barn of a place is so stuffed with atmosphere it’s almost ready to burst. I was last here in hard hot sun: glorious, silent, retained. Returning again with a group, in a thunderstorm, and it’s like a battery overflowing. The febrile concern of the locals with its interpretation only enriches things: and that’s without knowing the churches magnficent, tragic associations with history. But the real reason for posting is the architecture, which at first site is standard mid-C15 perp, but contains much of interest. Firstly, those flying buttresses: they are useless, and with no high vault the designer knows it: not just because that is obvious, but also because they are in any case too thin and tokenistic to support anything. Or was the choir vaulted? The existing mason’s contract specifies exactly where and how far the master can depart from its predecessor, but makes no mention of vaults. Like St George’s Windsor and Kings’ Cambridge then, they are very high-status attempts at playing with the rubric of the great church, of saying ‘this is not a cathedral/greater monastiery, but it’s not a chapel/parish church either. It is in other words, an exploration of the possibility of the idea of the architecture of the Greater College, or (which is almost, but perhaps not quite the same thing), the greater chantry. Not as grand as either of those two, of course, but then this is a ducal foundation not a Royal one (sorry, Yorkists) and more to the point rather smaller in scale than the other two, though still grand enough to have been equipped with a fully glazed cloister. Equally interesting, and harder to explain, is the interior. Christopher Wilson relates it directly to Metropolitan perp models, noting such nods to local practise as the continuous outer moulding of the arch/pier. But he passes over its remarkable bareness, a bareness hinted at in the contract’s request that the clerestory be identical to its predecessor but without the bowtells. Now this is a Perp Shed, the late medieval equivalent of an out of town prayer factory: they are everywhere. But look at its piers, from earlier St Nicholas Kings Lynn to later Lavenham. Niches, cuspings, all kinds of business in the interior elavation: this is so bare it almost looks unifnished. Is this a symptom of the mid-century impulse that asked for less fussy moulding at Oxford Divinity Schools and the first design for King’s? Or what? How does it relate to the extraordinarily rich, and rather aristocratic/courtly, array of hangings and banners the church possesed at the Dissolution. Or are they, with the tower vault and the pulpit, part of a post Edward IV and into-Tudor-era attempt at giving greater richness ot an inappropriately bare structure?

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