Saturday, 11 April 2015

Biddestone (II), Wiltshire

Going back through my sketchbooks I keep finding extra drawings - this is the font from Biddestone. Our main quarry was this amazing doorway and its delicious wonky Norman cross, which is something quite special. But this font is also so nice in retrospect - it's extremely straightforward (if you ignore the reasonably sympathetic chunky lid). The tub is super simple, decorated with just one massive zigzag.

And the base is also interesting - I'd imagine it's contemporary, which (now B and I have seen a few) isn't always the case. It has four interesting knobbles - and I wish I'd taken more care to examine them, but I do know they'd been hacked about, and I suppose could have been faces (and hence upset the types that went icon-smashing).

Otherwise, my main memory of Biddestone church is the half-eaten biscuits we found lying about. I can't really hazard a guess about them.

Norman carved cross and capitals from Biddestone church, Wiltshire

Images copyright Rhiannon 2015.

Queen Charlton, North-East Somerset

Norman arch at Queen Charlton, North-East Somerset

I'm not sure when I drew this, it would be a couple of years ago perhaps? I had to stand in the road and balance my pot of ink on the wall opposite. The archway isn't part of the church, it's a little way down the road and the wonky gate opens onto a little field. It's rather peculiar to find such a thing. There's a photo by Rick Crowley here but I think someone has cemented back the bit that had fallen off, I don't remember such a wound.

In "Famous Houses of Bath and District" by J F Meehan (1901), it says:
This handsome archway, with its decorated indented mouldings, formed the entrance to the court-house, and was built for the Abbot of Keynsham, with his retinue, to pass under when he visited Queen Charlton on religious business, and is still in fairly good preservation."

I'm not sure if that's really very believable as it's quite small. I imagined the Abbot having to get off his horse to go through it, in an undignified manner. According to its Listed Building record the arch may have come from the church and been set as a 'garden feature' in the 19th century (but see below). The church certainly has other Norman features - I would like to visit soon.

It's in no way as big as the book's accompanying drawing suggests, unless this figure is a pixie:

Queen Charlton Norman arch

Perhaps the engraver had a simple sketch to work from and added a person for interest. I don't know what's going on with that dog either (although it does look a more convincing size) - what's the white thing next to it?

Incidentally, the Queen of Queen Chalton is "apparently" Catherine Parr: Henry the Eighth's last wife. Presumably this was to do with Keynsham Abbey's wealth being snatched at the Dissolution. But nobody calls Keynsham, 'Queen Keynsham', do they? This factoid is repeated many times on the web. But I think I've found its source: the diligent John Collinson and his 1791 'History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset' (volume 2).

After the suppression of the monastery, the manor of Charleton, among other possessions, was settled in jointure on Catherine Parr, the last Queen of King Henry VIII. from which circumstance the parish obtained its name [...]

 The great road to Bath lay formerly through the village; and on account of the salubrity of its air, it has been a place of much resort; particularly in the year 1574, when the plague raged so violently in Bristol, as to carry off two thousand persons, houses were fitted up here for the reception of families from that city. Queen Elizabeth had gone through this place the year before, and granted it a charter for a fair to be held yearly on the twentieth day of July, which fair is still continued.

So you can even imagine the village being named after Queen Elizabeth - at least she turned up.

 He mentions the arch - apparently disproving the idea in the listed buildings statement that the arch is a 19th century displacement:
The abbot's court-house stood on the north side of the street: nothing of it now remains except an old gateway, the arch of which is circular, and decorated with zigzag mouldings.

Now all we have to do is get Time Team in to check whether the abbot's court house existed.

Drawing copyright Rhiannon 2015.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Kelston, North-East Somerset

There's a lot to be said for visiting places with a like-minded companion, because without one, my addled brain misses things. I've just had an excellent time drawing the Saxon carvings in St Michael's church, Kelston. But I nearly didn't get in there at all. I spent quite a long time rattling the door and reading the friendly church-related notices in vain and writing an impotent and entirely unsarcastic message on how they could at least leave a notice about where to get a key. Luckily, as I trudged away in acceptance of fate, I saw instructions, large as life, by the gate: key at Vine Cottage. And doubley lucky, I'm botanically minded enough to know a vine when I see one: and so the key was mine.

But I'm sure B would have spotted it straight away. She might also have recommended taking a photograph of the stone. And also looking at its other sides (one worn side seems to look like a stone at Ramsbury). How did I miss these things? How can a seasoned font-botherer omit this basic stuff. I have no idea. I was too engrossed in drawing and came away ridiculously chilled out though.

Saxon carving at Kelston, North-East Somerset, top panel of knotwork
(The top panel)

The stone has two panels of carving, one above the other. One's very organic, and seems remarkably reminiscent to me of the one at Chew Stoke. I suppose some might call it a 'tree of life' as it's apparently all sprouting from the bottom. You'll also notice a bit of the'classic Saxon motif', the twisted rope design. The other is more standardly knotty, but not in a strict regular fashion. Due to inattention I didn't mark any of the central lines in situ and just drew them in when I got home. So they're probably not entirely 'true'. But one imagines they'd all have been there when the stone was initially carved.

(The bottom panel)

As I didn't take a photo I offer this as a more realistic impresion of how the two panels look together. It's from 'Memorials of old Somerset' by F.J. Snell (1906). But he's not got it quite right either, he's been a bit elaborate in places and omitted the very bottom. But you get the impression.
Saxon carvings at Kelston, North-East Somerset

Now I did notice this below - or rather I noticed a replica of it, built into the doorjamb. Because, like the stones at Nunney and Somerford Keynes (see the bottom of this page), some hell-bound piece of dog excrement STOLE it in 2004. What on Earth?? They must have brought a chisel and levered it out of the stonework it was cemented into. It was a very pocket-sized 3" square. It's obvious, and I've said it before, but if they did it for themselves, could they not see the irony, bearing in mind the subject matter? And if they did it to sell to someone else, could that person not see the irony? It's such a niche interest, it really makes you wonder who's responsible - can there really be very many people who'd want this? And if it's only about the money, it has no provenance they can admit to publicly. What Was The Fucking Point?? You despicable idiot.

So anyway the photo is, I admit it, taken from the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture of South West England, by Rosemary Cramp. But I hope that (hypocrit alert) the person I've stolen it off wouldn't mind too much, since if the actual object ever surfaces, it'd be very good to have a picture of it on the internet in the hope that somebody decent might spot and recognise it.

If we're to go by the sculptures at Langford, then with this Jesus apparently being without his shirt, we're probably looking at Norman not Saxon times. The Corpus also explains that the position of the feet is also important in dating, with side-by-side being earlier than crossed. It's hard to know from this photo though. Perhaps the current holder can elucidate (spit).

Drawings copyright Rhiannon 2015.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Limpley Stoke, Wiltshire

This is not, I appreciate, the world's most accomplished photo. But it shows you something of the amazing narrow and tall Saxon doorway in Limpley Stoke's church. We visited it in August last year. It's got a presence, it's like a portal to another time. I admit it... I closed my eyes and walked through it. (Nothing out of the ordinary happened, I regret to say).

Apparently the church was first dedicated to the Saxon Saint Edith who lived at Wilton, just outside Salisbury, not so far away.

The inner shape of the doorway is reminiscent of the amazing glazed one at Somerford Keynes (but you can't step in and out of that one as you please). The jambs have strange holes and little triangular carvings with crosses:

Finally, another fairly poor photo to illustrate the pleasingly simple design that decorates the "impost blocks" (get me with my terminology) - that is, those distinctive sticky-out bits from which the arch springs.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Iron Acton, South Gloucestershire

Drawing of the Saxon carving at Iron Acton church, South Gloucestershire

After getting a bit lost in Yate (I got the impression I was deliberately being taken round a very long way by obeying the signposts), the housing estates and industrial sites suddenly disappeared and I found myself in a quaint rural village. It was quite strange.

Mr Pevsner had promised some Saxon carving built into the door jamb. And there it is, up above your head just as you enter the church. Only a fragment though, a mere brick's-worth. There are two clear things that say "ooh Saxon carving" about it - the lines down the centre of the ribbons, and the claspy double bit on the left. (I say this, but now I look I can't find a double-clasped example. I must have the idea from somewhere? ed. I've thought of it now - Avening) I can't see anything about it on the internet, nor any pictures, so it's nice to be able to offer the version above.

There were also two huge 'column swallowers' at the tops of the big columns separating the nave from the tower. I haven't found any information about these either, only the short mention of 'quaintly grotesque heads' in the ancient rust-stained leaflet. The motif is certainly a Norman thing - but can these be so old? The leaflet goes on '..although the architecture belongs to the Perpendicular'. If they're real they're utterly cool and surely deserve wider recognition. I know churches are places for Christians to worship, but sometimes I do wish they'd leave more information lying around about architecture :)

column swallower norman sculpture at iron acton, south gloucestershirecolumn swallower norman sculpture at iron acton, south gloucestershire

Is the right hand one smothering two other creatures with his hands? And the left hand one has a leg sticking out? It's difficult to see and they were very high up.
Images copyright Rhiannon 2015.

Westerleigh, South Gloucestershire

(possibly)  Norman font at Westerleigh, near Yate, South Gloucestershire

I got a funny vibe from this font because the carvings were so shallow. And something about their complexity smacked of un-Normanness. But so much about it shouts Norman era - primarily the superb trumpetty scallops, which are indeed solid and bold. Also the spirally volutes on the corners were nice too. But I've never seen such skinny 'wishbone' motifs before, especially squashed in amongst so much stuff. But I'm willing to believe it's the Genuine Thing. Just a more detailed, yet shallower version of the fonts I most like.

Paley's drawing of the Westerleigh font

The picture above is from F A Paley's 'Illustrations of Baptismal Fonts' from 1844 - the engraver probably Mr O. Jewitt. It's quite fun to think I was on the same errand as Mr Paley's correspondent, sitting there in the vaguely damp atmosphere, drawing away. But 170+ years apart! Very strange.

Murray's Handbook (1872) implies the church had recently burnt down.. so maybe the font was lucky to escape.

Image copyright Rhiannon 2015