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.

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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.

3 comments:

  1. You woke up the sleeping head!

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  2. I think you should have left it sleeping! but it looks good with eyes.

    ReplyDelete