Monday, 28 September 2015

Lullington, Somerset

We've not been to Lullington for ages, but I was flicking through a book this evening and a photo I'd taken there fell out. So I thought it would be a good stress-reducing plan to draw from it. Our last trip out didn't include as much drawing as it might.

So here are three of the amazing beakheads that surround the elaborate doorway (illustrated here).

The carver must have really enjoyed making the creatures' mouths curl round the roll in front of them - they've often made much of their wrinkled upper lips!

You can't beat a good beakhead but it's the way the carvers usually surrounded an entire arch with them, making each one different, that makes them worth travelling a long way to see.

It seems that Wiltshire's not very replete with them. Only Chirton springs to mind right now. Otherwise, the ones we've seen have mostly been in Gloucestershire.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Orcheston, Wiltshire

With all the traffic trying to avoid the closed Shrewton to Tilshead road there was some chaos round here. But we eventually found St George's church. It's under the care of the Church Conservation Trust. It was raining quite hard now, and inside the church felt dingy and cold, so I probably wasn't as receptive to it as I might have been. Then we discovered that the very doorway we'd come to see (admittedly, probably quite a simple Norman doorway with straightforward scallopy columns) was locked away in a slightly undignified way with the lawnmower in the north porch. Oh well.

They seem to to have been everywhere, so I'm grateful to Duncan and Mandy and their website for this photo of the things that most caught my eye at Orcheston - this toothy carved creature (bat?) and his manically grinning portly pal.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Durrington, Wiltshire

I wasn't sure how much I believed in the ancientness of Durrington. Mostly, not a lot, because it was evidently one of those messed-with churches sporting Neo-Norman carvings inside (for example, the bases of the chancel arch). It did have some of the stripey white and green greenstone chunky nave columns though (right hand side only) and I liked those.

Outside, a Norman doorway was promised. But I didn't feel wholly certain about that either. Mr Pevsner and B were happy with it. But I feel a bit funny about the symmetricalness of the columns. They're awfully even and they were the same on either side of the door. Which seems unusual.

To be fair, they were worn. But are they the right stone? Aren't they very yellow? And shouldn't they match the capital above? Perhaps so, perhaps not. I think I approved of the capitals though. Suitably non-matching. But I don't think I have a photo of the left hand one (much more eroded). And there's a decided lack of any photos at all on the internet curiously.

And here, the scales over the doorway. But as the doorway probably wasn't there in the first place, it doesn't seem likely that the scales would miraculously fit in the space above. So I don't think I believe in their oldness either. But here they are anyway. So very, very even. Hmmm.

And it was raining quite hard by the time we got here. So that didn't help either.

Figheldean, Wiltshire

People who have dogs tell me that their pets provide other people a conversational opener, an excuse to start talking to a stranger. And that's a nice thing for us British. I think I've found my dog substitute - a massive purple sketchbook, first outing today. At Figheldean church not one but two people spoke to us as a result, and then someone else turned up too. The building's obviously well used for its original purpose.

We heathens had come to see the carved knights lying either side in the porch, although they were slightly obscured by some very jolly boards covered in colourful magnetic letters advertising the latest goings-on. Encouraged by our enthusiasm for the knights, we were given a kind and very comprehensive tour of the church by one of its custodians. It was interesting to see some greenstone in the columns (photo here though the columns are quite incidental to the photographer's intentions :)

But Figheldean is one of those churches that's been very messed about with, and there's even some neoNormanness going on. So its main attraction for us was the knights. Our guide surprised us by explaining they'd been dug up in a nearby field - perhaps hidden there during Cromwell's time, he speculated.

None seem to be able to compare with the lovely knight at Castle Combe. But these are the second-best we've seen! The cute little dogs / lions at their feet are well carved, with excellent paws (though the right hand one has been reassembled facing the wrong way). One knight has deeply carved folds in what I assume is a cloak. The other looks very comfy on his pillow. It would have been cool to have more chance to look at the pair closely, do a bit of drawing, take some photos without the magnetic letters in the way. But never mind.

It was also instructive to overhear the correct pronounciation of the village name - Fyaldene. I'd have been calling it Figgledene for ever more.

You'd think photos and stories about these knights would be all over the internet. But they're not. I think they should be. These knights are great.

I found some mention of them in John Aubrey's Topographical Collections of Wiltshire. He says:

Near the Belfre, in the South Aisle, are two fair freestone monuments of Knights crosse-legged, with shields, and at the feet of each is a Lyon. I could not learn whose Monuments they were: they are tumbled now, 1671, one on the top of the other. 

 Underneath in that edition, written in 1862, it says: "These effigies, having received some injury in their horizontal position, were for some time placed erect in the chancel: but have lately been restored to the place in which Aubrey saw them.

Pevsner says they're 'probably late 13th century'. But he also says one of the knight's pillows is supported by angels. I can't see it myself from the photos. Perhaps we need a closer relook.

Fittleton, Wiltshire

Fittleton was only a short way from Netheravon so we thought we'd better pop in and check out the font. Mr P had been typically laconic (Circular, Norman, with plain sunk panels).

It is plain, but surprisingly chunky. It kind of gave the impression of being massive. But it's not massive, just looks really sturdy.

This is my drawing. But it's not quite the right proportions, somehow I managed to make it too long and thin. I tried again. The same thing happened.

This is how it looks to a camera (courtesy of B):

As I was looking for information online, I found that someone else had also had Font Trouble. This page purports to show a variety of Wiltshire fonts - the top right corner is Fittleton. John Buckler was no amateur artist. Richard Colt Hoare (of Stourhead and antiquarian pursuits) paid him to draw lots of church architecture around Wiltshire (and beyond), around 1800. So it's fun to think he was trailing round with his pens to many of the places we've been ourselves some two centuries later. But! you will see that his version of Fittleton Font also suffers the same affliction - too thin through. I feel better. Mr Buckler must have been a busy busy man. And he was certainly a better draughtsman than I am. But maybe something about the Font at Fittleton makes you draw it funny. Who knows.

B noticed some light carving on the raised bands. It also seems to have quite a few chips like it's been ill-treated. At least it seems to have been given a sturdy new base.

Elsewhere on the web it's suggested that the corbels holding up the roof are late Norman. But if the rest of them look anything like this then that's pretty late. About as late as My Eye, I'd say.

Netheravon, Wiltshire

The last couple of trips, B and I have arrived at the location most dripping with Romanesque goodness as the last of our stops. And this is not conducive to drawing owing to mental and physical exhaustion. So this time we decided we would go to the most promising place first(ish). This was a good idea, except it started to rain. I could have stayed here a lot lot longer.

It's immediately obvious that you're somewhere different - the tower of the church is very unusual looking (well, certainly for this neck of the woods). I must credit Duncan and Mandy's website again for the photo below.

Anglo-Saxonness abounds. I really loved the fantastic little doorways that opened into the north and south of the tower. I'm hoping B will provide me with photos of these. The stone was beautifully coloured, peachy and orange and sand. If it hadn't started raining I'd have cheerfully painted these doorways. Originally the tower had been central in the church, and you could see where other walls had adjoined it.

On the west end of the tower were large doors, and these were framed by deliciously carved capitals on tall plain columns. They were superb. I drew only one but there were four.

The Quadruped (with classic tail between legs pose) has unfortunately lost its face to weathering. But much of the rest of the carving was fresh and tactile. The colours were warm and very appealing. They weren't necessarily part of the stone though - B's suspicions were confirmed when I geekily got out my hand lens and we squinted at the wall - red lichen.

I suppose the columns may have been moved or carved when the tower was rejigged? How old are the carvings? The tail-through-leg may have started early I guess. There's lots of speculation (and considered deep thought I'm sure) about the church's structure on the Anglo-Saxon-Churches website.

Inside, walking through the tiny south doorway, the tower soared up, with a superb round arch and tall tall columns into the nave. This was really something special. I liked it here a lot.

from Duncan and Mandy's website

Shrewton, Wiltshire

We wandered around a bit in Shrewton. That's because Maddington St Mary's is in the middle of Shrewton. And Shrewton St Mary's seems to be in Maddington. I can't begin to explain this. Perhaps I'm wrong. Today was quite a strange day. It might have been the weather (oppressive), my mood (peculiar) or the incessant guns going off on Salisbury Plain (like being in a war zone).

Shrewton looked old from the outside. But inside we couldn't really be sure that anything we were looking at was genuinely old. The chancel arch capitals were the most convincing. But they looked too recent to be Norman.  The chunkiness of the nave columns looked okish - at least the green and white stripey one that you can see in Neil MacDougall's photo here, at the back of the church. (More greenstone, you'll notice, like in other relatively nearby churches we've been to recently). But the carving on them was so neat and had an unconvincing texture, so we didn't find any of the trumpetiness credible.

The font was definitely neo-Norman but really rather good. Mr P says it's by TH Wyatt, who's responsible for much of the rest of the church. But he did well there I think. It's got a liveliness about it and it's pretty chunky. Far too symmetrical for the connoisseur of the originals! but lively nonetheless.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Great Durnford, Wiltshire

In terms of Whoops Per Minute, Great Durnford turned out to be approaching the top of the league table. It has not one, but two Norman doorways with patterned tympanums. And inside, a stupendous font. And then - look at those weird carvings near the door jamb! And then! a big chancel arch with two crazy winged creatures. And on top of that, some swirly painting. And some absurdly ancient pews. It was all a bit much. There was much squealing. I also squealed a bit at the end when I saw a huge spider in the porch. But B assured me it was dead (as she quickly hurried me away).

This is the amazing font. The amount of work that must have been put into it is huge. But Mr Pevsner lets us down. This is his description: "Circular, Norman; short, primitive interlaced arches; band of volutes over." Mr Pevsner, really?? Is that the best you could have done? You didn't want to mention the little faces created by the design of the mini columns? The sheer number of arches? The fantastic swirliness of the Danish pastryesque designs around the top (which even put me in mind of the swirliest font in the world, the one at Deerhurst.. yet to be visited). Oh Mr Pevsner how tired you must have been not to have been more enthusiastic.

Here's the font in its natural habitat. We removed the cover. It was the most inappropriate and foul thing imaginable. If you've got a strong stomach you can see it in this photo by Rex Harris.  It's absurd, it looks like a silly hat. Yeah it's probably Jacobean. But that doesn't make it tasteful.

By the south door were these slightly crazy sea-anemone-like carvings. They reminded me of something similar at Lullington in Somerset. Those are over the doorway (and at its foot), which you can probably see better in this photo by Phajus. But they're not quite the same. I like the way these are different sizes from each other and a bit randomly spaced. The unevenness is just so appealing, so human.

The design looks properly folded over / pinched in (think Danish pastry again). To create something so organic out of a solid bit of stone is surely quite a feat. I don't know why they're down only one side of the door. I like them a lot. All this talk of food made me wonder if, since there are seven, if they were the seven loaves in the 'feeding of the 5000' (correction - there were 5 for the 5000 and 7 for the 4000. Who knew). But then where are the fishes? There are no fishes. So it's not that. Who'd pass over the chance to carve some fish. But maybe it doesn't need to be anything. Maybe trying to find Explanations For Everything is highly overrated (more of this in my Leominster ramblings).

Meanwhile either side of the chancel arch, perching on the roll at the bottom of each capital, are two creatures. One is very dovelike, but the one on the left isn't so easy to classify. It's got big (feathery?) wings just like its partner, and likewise three little toes on each foot cling to the capital, but it's not a bird. It sports a big cheesey grin, a fat tummy, and sticking-out ears. It might be tempting to see something naughty and impish in it, to contrast with the good dove opposite. But it doesn't look very naughty. Its eyes are outlined in a very nice Norman way: John Vigar has a photo here. He calls it an owl. I'm not sure about that though, they're not renowned for their smiles.

There's plenty more to be drawn from the photos B kindly took at Durnford. So I will do that soon.

Amesbury, Wiltshire

CC image by Rod Allday
 I was looking forward to Amesbury Abbey. But although we visited on a Saturday, it was shut up tight, looking as though it was never open, and without a notice in sight. This was very disappointing, as there's supposed to be part of a Saxon cross inside, and the building itself looks very ancient interesting from the outside. The church's website says 'Visitors Always Welcome' but perhaps they didn't mean visitors inside. We felt a bit miffed. As B pointed out, what if we'd been after a bit of Sanctuary? And we'd have bunged them a quid or two. The road from Amesbury to Stonehenge and beyond was absolutely stationary and solid with cars, and the town itself was bustling. It seems strange not to funnel a few stray tourists into the church.

I can't even find a picture of the cross anywhere, which has miffed me further.

But to make up for it we walked down to the nearby River Avon and watched the water go under the bridge, and quacked at the ducks. The River Avon's been there a lot longer than the church, and as I tried to explain to B, as archaeologists would have it, is important in the whole Stonehenge - Durrington ritual summer winter life death thing that they've made up   surmised from the evidence.

Winterbourne Stoke, Wiltshire

A late summer Saturday in Winterbourne Stoke seems to be dominated by the relentless traffic on the A303 (queues partly caused by a pair of font botherers trying to cross from one side to the other). But immediately off the main road, the village has cute Wiltshire cottages and the traffic soon seems worlds away.

St Peter's has a simple tub-shaped Norman font, at some point raised up on a plinth so it looks very gobletesque. It was topped by a hideous cover (photo here by Trish Steel) which to us looked pretty ridiculous and out of place. But now the cover is a Piece of History and there'll be no chance of chopping it up for firewood, which is a shame :)

Outside over the north doorway were some excellent carvings, some much eroded by the weather before the little porch was built. Some had been replaced. I'm not sure even how to describe them, perhaps shuttlecock shaped with double saltire crosses.

The drawing on the right is the capital of the right-hand column. It was rather organic and sinuous. I'm glad these are now protected by the porch. The south doorway was also Norman but much plainer.

Berwick St James, Wiltshire

There are always nice little surprises when we're out and about tracking our quarry. This morning's was the pack of alpacas opposite the church. They were very nonchalant though and refused to come over.

We couldn't get into the church, but luckily the Thing Of Interest was the north door, protected by an open porch. The arch is 3D chevrons, with a stripey green and white outer border. The tympanum is made of green and white blocks, and underneath there's a lintel with a carved diamond design (a bit asymmetrical, but that's what you expect and want from a Norman lintel).

The green stone is really very green. I've been wondering what it might be and where it might be from. Maybe it's greenstone, really green greenstone?! There's a quarry today that's not a million miles away at Hurdcott. We've not seen this stone used in doorways elsewhere as far as I can remember, so perhaps it's a rather local design. Mr Pevsner mentions its use at Stapleford (the adjacent village), but I can't find any photos on the internet, and I can't fully remember our visit (it was after our creepy experience at Britford). Perhaps we will have to return.