Friday, 27 September 2013

Bawdeswell - The Church with Nine Lives

Is this the most unlucky church in Norfolk? 

It is is not what you would normally expect of a Norfolk church - it is not made of knapped flint, it isn't very old and it is in a Georgian rather than a Gothic style.  It is the church of All Saints, in Bawdeswell, built in 1953 and designed by a local architect, J Fletcher Watson. 

There has been a church on this site possibly from around 1100 when some remains were found underneath the present building.  The first rector is recorded as William De Measdone, who was presented in 1313. 

The original building was of flint, typical of the area, with a square tower and four bells.  In 1739, possibly due to lack of maintenance, the tower collapsed.  Flint is a difficult material to use, due to its irregular shape and whilst some grander buildings were constructed of squared flints of great quality, most country churches did not have enough money for anything other than cobbles or round knapped flint.  Unless the mortar is repaired, it deteriorates and crumbles away, allowing large areas of flint to fall out (which can happen very suddenly, without warning).

After selling four of the bells to raise money, the tower was rebuilt in brick, but was either badly constructed or maintained, as it collapsed again in 1828.  By 1843, the building was in such a poor state it was demolished and a new church built.  The architect, John Brown, was well known in the area for his ecclesiastical architecture, and the new church had a bellcote for the single remaining bell, a transept and was in the high Gothic style beloved of the time. 

Unfortunately, the building did not quite reach its 100th birthday.  In November 1944, an RAF Mosquito was on its way back from bombing Germany.  The weather was poor and it is likely that it iced up and the pilot lost control.  After hitting power lines, it crashed straight into the church, which was set on fire and completely destroyed.  Parts of the aircraft hit buildings across the road and the crew were killed.

The War Office awarded the Parish some money for a replacement and this lovely new building was the result.  The interior is light, gracefully proportioned and has the most wonderful three tiered pulpit.  There is a memorial to the dead pilots made of parts of the crashed Mosquito.

Unlucky?  Or a monument to the tenacity of the people of Bawdeswell?

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Scary Monsters

The repairs to the great medieval gatehouse at Pentney are well under way.  Part of the top of the wall was dismantled for rebuilding, as it was in a precarious state.  A long stone which looked plain on the outside face was found to have a marvellous carving on the end, which was completely buried within the structure.

Scary Monster at Pentney
It represents a lion's head, complete with a lapping tongue.  The stone is carved on its end and along the base, indicating it was once set into the wall with the carved part projecting from the surface.  It was supposed to be viewed from underneath, so it was originally quite high up.  On the top there is a channel, which would once have been lined with lead with a water spout projecting over the top of the carving.  It is a gargoyle, a device for throwing rainwater from a roof well clear of the wall to prevent it from becoming wet and stained. 

It is possible this gargoyle came from one of the other buildings at Pentney during alterations to the gatehouse, or it could have come from a site nearby.  It is very common to find re-used stones within buildings as cut and dressed masonry was extremely expensive to obtain, especially in Norfolk which does not have a natural resource of good building stone of its own.  The cost of transporting stone over long distances could only be funded by the very wealthy for major building projects, but even then, reused stone can be found in the grandest of buildings.  After the dissolution of the monasteries, many abbeys were sold to landowners who used them as very lucrative quarries.  The results can be seen at places such as Castle Acre and within the cathedral close at Norwich, where the walls of many houses contain parts of the local monastic buildings.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Great Gatehouses

There were once several medieval abbeys in Norfolk, situated on sheltered, level sites usually near water.  Some are well known such as Castle Acre or Binham, which have extensive remains showing above ground and are therefore attractive to visitors.  A feature of most priorys or abbeys is the great gatehouse, which formed the main entrance to the site and usually had some form of accommodation on the upper floors. 

One of the largest is the only surviving element left of Pentney Abbey, which stands at the entrance to Abbey Farm just outside the village.  It stands on low lying land and was connected to the River Nar by a canal, which served the needs of the community for fresh water and removal of waste. 

Pentney Priory was founded around 1130 by and was one of the richest monasteries in Norfolk, as the size of the gatehouse, which was built in the late 14th century, shows.

After the Priory was dissolved in 1537 by Henry VIII, the stone was used to build Abbey Farm and some of its outbuildings. Norfolk does not have a source of stone apart from flint, which cannot be cut to form corners, string courses or windows, so it was common for the new owner of a dissolved monastery to profit from selling the materials.  Many of the houses in the area have chunks of the Barnack stone within their walls. 

Ruth Brennan Architects is currently commissioned as architects for the repairs by the owners of Abbey Farm, and the work has just started on site with the building contractors, Universal Stone.  The gatehouse is covered in scaffolding, so it's grandeur can only be guessed at by its size.  English Heritage with the Heritage Lottery Fund are providing a grant and the work should be complete in the Autumn.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Magnificent Ketteringham

South Elevation, showing Romanesque features

This church stands just outside the gates of Ketteringham Hall, and was generously endowed by the powerful families who lived there.  Originally it was a small 11th century Romanesque building, shown by several small round headed windows, now blocked up from the inside. The mark in the flint wall above them shows the original height of the eaves.  The lowest section of the tower is unusual in that the corners are not dressed with stone, again indicating its humble origins. 

The Atkyns and the Boileau families of the Hall enriched the church in many ways.  The upper section of the tower was rebuilt in 1870, using fine stone and brick, with a chequerboard pattern at the top and a stone turret at the top of the staircase.  Sir John Boileau had the balcony at the west end built in 1841 for the Sunday school children.  The rail is low so that they could see the service easily.  Sir John also constructed a mausoleum in the churchyard, a fine classical building in the Egyptian style, for himself and his family.  The Mausoleum was restored in 2006 thanks to the efforts of the Churchwarden, Mary Parker.

Boileau Mausoleum

The 15th century font has been defaced, but represents the crucifix and the holy trinity.  There are some marvellous fragments of medieval glass, which have been reset into the 19th century east window, it is a miracle they survived Cromwell's purge. 

The roof is a beautiful addition of 1908 - it has short hammerbeams with arch braces and is magnificent. It gives a grandeur to this small building which perfectly sets off the enormous number of monuments in the chancel.  The earliest is the Heveningham tomb of the early 16th century, and there are many to the Atkyns and Boileau families.  A beautiful Norfolk gem.


Friday, 9 November 2012

Odd Views of East Carleton Church

In my job, I often see things from unusual angles.  This is the single bell of East Carleton Church, seen from a tiny, dusty platform half way up the belfry.  All churches are inspected every five years, and this involves climbing around every nook and cranny, onto the roof and into the crypt (occasionally).  The bell seen here is  dated 1620, but was rehung when the tower was increased in height in the 1880s.  Bells are expensive and are rarely renewed unless they are damaged.  This one has been dinging away for nearly four hundred years.

The churchyard is full of monuments. This one is in the north east corner, shrouded by bushes and trees, and once had railings and a gate to its own little enclosure.  Now, it is gently collapsing and fading away.  

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Ruined West Acre

The spectacular ruined priory at Castle Acre is well known and is often visited, but only a few miles away lie the ruins of a similar large priory at West Acre.  The village is remote, quiet and tiny and the site lies within the grounds of the Abbey House.  Next to the church there is the well preserved gate house.  Abbey House lies beyond, and incorporates within its outbuildings part of the Cloister.  The tall standing section is all that is left of the west end of the church, it is a roofless ruin covered in dead ivy.  Behind it there is a meadow, with many lumps in the ground indicating where the remains of the rest of the church and the priory buildings once stood.  There is a lonely monolith standing in the middle of the meadow which was part of the Chapter House.  Two other tiny fragments remain, one near the river which may have been the Infirmary or possibly the Reredortor (privy) and an almost buried section of cloister wall.

Why did the buildings of Castle Acre survive more completely than West Acre?  After the dissolution of the monastries, most of the valuables were stripped and sold (lead off the roofs, for example) and at Castle Acre the Prior's Lodging was used as a farmhouse.  Its continuing use ensured its survival, although most of the cut stone was used for building and can be seen in other buildings within the village.  It is possible that West Acre was more thoroughly stripped of its valuable cut stone than Castle Acre, leaving the flint cobble walls vulnerable to the weather and without structurally sound corners. 

Owners of land with medieval buildings had their own stone quarry, and could make some money out of it.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Last week, I visited Bristol for the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors' Association spring meeting.  The main topics were of course based around churches and cathedrals, but one of the highlights for a Brunel fan was not on the official programme, it was the journey from Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads.  Isambard Kingdom Brunel was appointed chief engineer for the new railway in 1833, and by 1840 it was complete.  It must have been an incredible feat, and reduced the fastest journey time from 16 hours by mail coach to four.

Brunel was notoriously unable to delegate, and had a hand in the design of not only the route, but most of the structures along it.  The most famous is probably the Box Tunnel, between Chippenham and Bath, then the longest driven tunnel in the world.  The entrance is not just a utilitarian structural brick arch, but a grand front, impressive, masculine and proud.

Paddington station itself was designed partly by Brunel and partly by Matthew Digby Wyatt.  It is a grand cathedral of a space, whose beautiful ironwork is decorated with little leaf shaped overlays.

At the other end is the world's first railway terminus, Temple Meads station. Its detailing is reminiscent of a grand castle gatehouse, a statement of the Great Western Railway's pride in its achievement.  Behind it is the passenger shed, which is now used as a car park. 

Brunel's railway was such a success, that by 1870 it was already over capacity, and a new building and platforms were added, possibly by Francis Fox.  It is another grand, opulant, decorative structure, impressive, masculine, and beautifully built.

The grandeur, beauty and above all, the pride that these structures convey was wonderful to behold.