Saturday, 20 February 2016

North Wootton, Somerset

We had to salvage this trip, find something properly Norman and do some drawing. So we drove in hope to North Wootton. Success at last.

It may be that I'm starting to lose the plot but this font had to get a little pat. It's exactly the type of thing we both like - chunky, wonky, with a bit of strong and honest decoration. In fact I think it's one of the wonkiest we've seen (you can see a photo on Robyn Golden-Hann's website - which slightly annoyingly shows an interesting font at Pilton that we missed). I love the way the old-style rope design changes into a series of up and down chevrons. You can see the place where the lock was (another feature I like to see to believe in a font's ancientness - not that you need that in this case. I wonder why they removed them, you never see one...)

Maybe it didn't use to be quite so wonky - there's also some weird patch towards the base that makes it look like it was reset a bit crooked. Also the photo makes it look much more elongated - I guess the angle I drew it at made it a bit foreshortened. Oh well. It was good to find after such a peculiar day and I felt refreshed from the opportunity to feel relaxed and draw.

I regret that I can't find anything else exciting to say about North Wootton. I'm sure it's a jolly nice place.

Incidentally, we removed the familiar style of hideous cover before drawing (just as I see Ms G-H did, despite her religious nature). I read on this page the eccentric idea that the "18th-century cover [was] probably adapted from the pedestal of a tea table". I think that was probably supposed to be humour but later repeated as fact. The cover was Clunky. Hey, preacher! leave those fonts alone! No really. Lay off the tasteless woodwork. I don't care if it's antique.

Pilton, Somerset

After much to-ing and fro-ing along muddy country lanes, and past empty fields signposted for the Glastonbury Festival, we dipped down into a steep valley and up again to park outside the church at Pilton. It's a big church. It's got a big Norman doorway. The chevrons arching over it weren't evenly sized - there were a couple of small ones squashed in. The whole thing was so neat and unweathered that it looked strange to see the squashed-in ones. It made me wonder about the idea of deliberately not doing things perfectly, that they were consciously doing that rather than not caring. There was something about the neatness that said they were deliberately making 'mistakes' against their better aesthetic judgement. I don't usually get that feeling. I usually feel the bits of disorder are a joyful thing maybe reflecting the disorder of the world. I could be misinterpreting this. Who knows.

I didn't take a photo. I couldn't take a photo, my camera said it had too low a battery and refused to cooperate. We put this down to the pervasive Somerset weirdness but it was probably my lack of organisation and inability to use the camera. There's a photo here, it's the only one I can see on the internet and it's not very clear.

I suppose I'd mainly come here to take photos of the lovely glass in St John's. There were some obviously really ancient bits saved in the windows at the sides of the chancel. A hilarious one can be seen here. The only one I managed to take was this, showing two of the evangelists:

The glass was nice at Pilton, there were some camels in the main window over the altar. But not that much Normanness.

On the Weirdometer, I now discover that Pilton holds its own. It was (supposedly) the place where Joseph of Arimathea sailed to when the Somerset Levels were all watery - with Jesus of course. I actually thought Joseph of Arimathea was supposed to have got off at Wearyall Hill and planted his staff (which broke into leaf)... but doubtless he paddled about a bit, why not.

East Pennard, Somerset

B and I are tired of being stuck indoors and feel we must resume our trips regardless of the weather. But this weekend's trip was beset by weirdness. We had to conclude that Somerset is worse for it than Wiltshire. First stop was to be the church at Lamyat. It's a stupidly tiny village but we couldn't find the church. I convinced myself it couldn't be where it turned out to be, and drove up an absurdly steep hill instead. Lamyat is at the foot of some very strange topography, the sort of hills that make you think 'they're a bit odd looking'. These weird hills are landmarks for miles around.

As we drove up it we knew we were going the wrong way. The hedges were starting to move in on both sides and the road disappearing under mud. At the top was a 90 degree bend, most curious. We felt a bit freaked out. We turned round and drove back down.

If we'd continued straight up the hill, it turns out we'd have got to the top of Lamyat (Lamyatt) Beacon, the site of a Romano-British temple, built about 300 CE and used for a few hundred years. Some little bronze figurines and limestone carvings of gods were found there. There were also burials of cast red deer antlers near to human burials... very curious. There was also a clay statuette of a ram with tightly culed wool, which was felt to be even older (the finds are described in an article in Britannia v17, 1986).

Anyway, none of that explains our inability to find a church, or repeatedly get lost in Bruton, or how we stopped to buy a local map in Castle Cary (the bookshop curiously had none) before finding two local maps in the car.

Finally we made it to East Pennard, where Mr P. had promised a "remarkable" late 12C font with human-headed birds. Sounded fantastic. Having struggled for a while trying to get in the wrong door, we finally made it in. To be disappointed.

I can see that this might be Norman, I mean look at the empty arcade at the top of it. And the foliage tail. But surely it's seriously seriously late. Look at that face - it looks like tinkerbell. It's got a finely modelled face, nothing like the sort of faces we were expecting. The whole thing was too elaborate, too asymmetrical, too thin. Not enough genuine passion in it. The arcade is so flat and even, it's boring. The faces round the bottom (the 'toes') look like gargoyles. You don't get Romanesque gargoyles, you get amazing and amusing corbels.

I don't want to talk about this any more. I was looking forward to something chunky and good and drawable. But it was uninspiring. You may call this opinion controversial but I'm sticking to it.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Bathford, North-East Somerset

I didn't write down anything for Bathford when I originally went through the Pevsner for this area, but I recently found a Lead. The Bathford Society says when the church was rebuilt in the 1870s, the 'effigy of a bishop' was found. In my fevered mind I managed to spin this into the rediscovery by two Romanesque fanatics of a Norman carving similar to the Mary and Jesus one in Langridge. It didn't turn out quite like that. But we did find Bathford church packed with interesting things. So much for my Pevsnering.

The main doorway was evidently, typically, Romanesque. It's got a nice thick band of projecting chevrons, and these surrounded by some bobbles ('pellets') and a bit of saw-tooth ornament round the outside. Also our favourite feature, the non-matching column capitals. I always feel reassured we're onto the real deal when there's non-matching capitals.


And the capitals are quite different to each other.

The left hand one is crisp and geometric. It's so unworn by time. It's rather sharp and exuberant. The right hand one is chaotic and wandering, it's organic like a load of liverwort lobes growing over the surface. Such a contrast.

Inside, the font is quite near the door (traditional spot for fonts, so they say). It's octagonal, which made us think it must be quite late. But I can believe it's still Romanesque, because of the solidness of the 'stalk' and the interestingness of the scallopy/trumpety arrangement. I think the pattern just changes alternately round the sides, but the combining of the low scallopybits and the high scallopybits gives an impression of randomness and instability. But really I think it's quite logical and mathematical. I rather like it.

Meanwhile, a carved head slumbered peacefully over by the windows.

In retrospect this is our favourite discovery at the church. It had such an excellent expression. I can't tell if a lot of that is coming from my brain's propensity to interpret detail out of the little dints and scrapes that weren't really part of the carver's intentions. I couldn't even tell you if the eyes are staring straight out or (as my brain sees it) closed and snoozing, with eyebrows above. But I liked it. It had that something about it.

Some anciently typed guff accompanied the carving. It said it "was found at some depth in the forecourt of the Crown Inn in 1933, probably having belonged to the collection of the late Mr Lavington, and having accidentally fallen into an excavation when works were in progress there." You what?! How B and I laughed at the thought of Mr Lavington wandering past with one of the pieces from his collection, and not noticing it drop out of his hand into a hole, and it going unnoticed by the hole diggers and being covered over. It seems ludicrously unlikely. It is ludicrously unlikely.

Furthermore, the head is referred to as a 'skull', which it clearly isn't (skulls don't have noses and lips). It's got some curious lines around it - is that a close-fitting hat? And there are some lumpy bits at the front. It seems to be carved so as to rest on a horizontal surface, not as though it was part of the decoration of something high up or vertical. But yet it's not at the angle it would be if lying down as part of a body.

Who knows. I can't help but think of ancientness and Anne Ross's heads in 'Pagan Celtic Britain', especially if we believe it was found 'at some depth'. But who knows. I just know I liked it.

Outside (in the graveyard where Nelson's young sister is buried) we sought more sculpture. Several things had been gathered in the shelter of the building near the chancel door. I'm glad they're relatively protected from the weather. But it seemed a bit unfair to tuck them away like this. There was a columnless capital with lovely perforated circles:

Also these three faces:

The left hand one is separate and seems to have a good thatch of hair. The other two are on the same piece of stone, which is interesting - could they be a double corbel? They seem more stylised and so they feel older to me. The left of the pair has a distinct ear (recalling Maperton's Minute Face) and a pursed expression, twisting his mouth to one side. The one on the right is also pulling a strange expression. He's got a stripe across the middle of his face. It can't be a bandage because the nose is uncovered. But it's not very convincing as a moustache either. So I wonder what it signifies.

Also next to the faces is this slab - if you visited somewhere and found only this you'd normally be very happy!This would have been great to draw but it was so very cold and my fingers wouldn't work.

We walked up to the top of the graveyard to find the promised effigy of St Swithun. It was a long way up. Again, it seemed sort of strange that the Victorian restorers would care enough to keep the carvings, but not care enough to actually keep them safe in the church. The good people of Bathford have recently renewed a little roof over the ones installed at the top of the graveyard to keep off the worst of the weather, but as we discovered, there sadly wasn't much left to protect.

The lovely beaded chevron column pieces next to 'St Swithun' are definitely Norman. They look like one at Langridge not so far away.

And there are two capitals, very worn, and they both seem to have heads carved on them.

 That could be a chin on the left hand remnant. But the right one looks clearer - is that a row of even little teeth along the bottom? There are definitely eyes. Is it a skull in fact? On both are the deep V shapes that are still on the main church doorway capital. They're interesting and it's such a shame they're so weathered! I wonder how decayed they were when they were first discovered and taken to the top of the churchyard.

 And what of the main attraction, the alleged St Swithun? He's looking a bit sorry for himself. But I think you can see a number of features that suggest the sculpture has Norman origins.

It's so weathered it's hard to see the details. It seems to be missing the middle section altogether. The figure is definitely clutching a book, which is a motif we've seen lots of times.

The chest has arcs that look rather like ribs. But I wonder if they're folds of clothing. When you look at the foot area, you can see fine lines which also suggest clothing folds. A bit too fine for my liking, I feel Norman sculpture is usually bolder. But I do like the daintiness of the feet, they're very thin and pointy, and remind me very much of the figure on the Cherhill font I recently drew from, or indeed from the sculpture at Stanton St. Quintin.

It's all a bit too worn and decayed which is sad. But it was nice to find.

I thought this church was going to be big and cold and Victorianly over-restored. But it had a very nice atmosphere indeed. I don't think that was just down to the extensive carpeting.

Ooh look

Oh sometimes I can't help laughing at my own amusingness. Although maybe this is how the sculpture was supposed to be. (I think I prefer my original interpretation though). This is photoshopped, honestly. You knew that.