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.

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