Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Cholderton, Wiltshire

After the disappointment at Tidworth, we couldn't finish on a bum note. So we took in one more, at Cholderton. The church is on a rise at the top of a short, narrow lane.

The modern font was pretty dull, but our quarry was on display near the door. It's been a bit thwacked about so I suppose it's considered too rough for dipping infants into. I don't know. Sadly it was so close to the wall we couldn't see all its trumpety scallops. Because they were all pleasingly different as far as we could crane about.

Somebody had painted the most superb list of the church's vicars, but it seemed curiously pagan / fortean, with its devils and dragons and snakes and suchlike. But I liked it with its bright contrasty lapis lazuli style blue, gold and red.

I noticed here that it sounds like until recently the font was outside in the churchyard! Probably put there when they rebuilt the whole church in the 19th century (such a familiar story). So a massive thanks to whoever brought it inside and gave it a sturdy new base. Something c800 years old deserves a bit of respect does it not.

Tidworth (North Tidworth), Wiltshire

We tried Tidworth next. Apparently there's a North and a South Tidworth church, I've only just found that out. And although our (Northerly) Tidworth church looked really cute, it was locked up tight with a big padlock. You can imagine the church in its original rural location - like this - but today it had badly designed modern houses and warehouses right up to it, it felt odd. So I wasn't that surprised it was shut. But I was disappointed. I reckon it's probably shut all the time because I can't find any photos at all of the interior on the internet, other than ones taken by churchgoers in churchgoing time. I found a photo of the font here on the church's website. It's rather nice, one scallop each side.

Ludgershall, Wiltshire

The friendly rector very kindly showed us round Ludgershall church. It's got the most impressive Tudor monument. Pevsner likes it very much. I was suitably awed by the amount of detail and the crazy creatures on it. Sir Brydges and his wife were both resting their feet on little animals. I will include them because they definitely look back to the era of our favourite Norman Knight in Castle Combe. They're not a patch on him, mind :) His and hers:

There was also a super 'green man' in the centre of the church (just outside the Brydges chapel), and some other grotesque faces. We've seen a 'green cat' which must be Norman amongst all the amazing sculpture at Quenington , so maybe this could be Norman too? It's pretty chunky and basic.

But what had originally drawn us here was the promise of something Saxon. The rector proudly drew it to our attention. But it didn't look like anything to us: it looked like someone being Very Hopeful.

Here it is at four different angles. But actually it doesn't have to have been at any of those angles originally.  There's a faintly feathery look about it. But I really can't see anything obviously Saxon, or at least nothing that looks like the knotwork, plant scrolls, or animals from the things we've seen locally. Also it's very thin through isn't it. Why is it so thin?

There's the classic framed Explanation next to it. It says "The Carved centre stone was recently discovered at the East end of the Church, it having apparently been used by the builders for filling in at a previous restoration. As it is thought to be old [?] from an earlier Church, possibly part of a Saxon sculptured Crucifixion, it has been placed here for preservation. E S[?] Builder and Alfred W [?], Rector."  You can indeed imagine the bottom left orientation being a person holding out their arm. But then what would be that lump on the left? I'm not convinced.

Actually one of the coolest things at Ludgershall was this amazing (and surely extremely old) ladder up into the belfry. A beautifully patina-ed, naturally wonky, hand made thing, made precisely for this particular space. It was great.

Everleigh, Wiltshire

This one's looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust. It's massive and 19th century Gothic, and has the most crass and enormous monument bigging someone up that I think we've ever seen. I almost wish I'd taken a picture of it, because it was that outrageous and I can't see a photo on the internet. Tch.

But anyway. We'd come to see the font. Which was much nicer.

It reminded me of the one at Etchilhampton. Which is only about 14 miles away, so not far.

We've been to so many now, and I can't remember the names, so I have to try to communicate them to B by association with other things. Etchilhampton had lots of mining bees in the verge. Oh well. If the carvers worked all over the place, perhaps they had the same problem.

My drawing looks a bit odd and flat. The font was grafted onto a new, very symmetrical base. Which of course is a good thing. But it makes the contrast between organic top and sterile base a bit jarring. This is not an excuse for poor drawing unfortunately, but that's what the sketch reminds me of.

Manningford Bruce, Wiltshire

Next followed one of those wild goose chases which the searcher of things in the landscape will be familiar with. There were a number of churches marked on the map strewn liberally around a muddle of Manningfords (Manningford Bruce, Manningford Abbots, Manningford Bohune). Naturally, and actually fairly inexplicably now I look at the map again, I chose the wrong one. But I suppose we got a walk out of it along a mossy path in the rain, which we wouldn't otherwise have had. So I suppose it's not so bad.

Mr Pevsner had said MB was going to be a very complete Norman church. Which it was from the outside, with its small frugal look and surprising semicircular apse. But inside it was far too neat and restored and kind of disappointing (to me at least, I'm sure lots of people would love it). It didn't even have a contemporary font. But it did have the most amazing door.

It'd be nice to think it was original, it looked ridiculously old. We saw a W cut into it. W for Weird Wiltshire I suspect. I've seen W-ish marks on stone before and I always thought that was about masons. But this was on wood. So a bit more mysterious to me at least.  I expect the wood's like stone now anyway.

I have now found out something about this mark. I bought a copy of Matthew Champion's 'Medieval Church Graffiti'  which I can confirm is excellent and interesting. Not that it can give me any definitive answers! But as you can see here on the Suffolk Medieval Graffiti Survey  
pages, it's been thought that the W isn't a W at all, but two Vs for 'Virgo Virginum'. Who knows. But its apotropaic-ness is suggested by our example's prominent position on the front door.

Rushall, Wiltshire

We eschewed the idea of exciting as-yet-unseen tympanums and beakheads this trip. I can't quite tell if it's because I didn't want a long drive (sounds legitimate) or whether I / we are getting completist and want to see every last damn Norman font in Wiltshire. That sounds a bit perfectionist and obsessive though. Perhaps it's come to that. The 'obsessive journeying' bit has turned out to be true. I don't think I care.

First stop was Rushall, down a bucolic lane with sheep grazing quietly in the fields. The church is apparently some distance from the rest of the village. The door was welcomingly open and all was airy and with a pleasant atmosphere.

Drawing this, I actually managed to shut the inner voice up for a while. But I find I still don't pay enough attention to the overall shape, the way the size of the parts relate to each other. So I made the stem too long, but photoshop has dealt with this well enough. The octagonalness made me feel a bit suspicious, it doesn't seem to be much of a thing in most of Wiltshire. But here isn't far from Upavon and its fancy 8-sided font. So I'll go along with it though it feels like a 'late' feature. I liked the feathery fingery base and its strangely ruff-like top. The Blurb in the church suggested it was an upside-down Norman column and that's rather believable. In fact here it is turned the other way up:

So you're getting two amounts of Norman sculpture for one, which was especially good in a church that was otherwise far too modern and bland for our specialist tastes to hold anything else as ancient and interesting. And what's more, this font rates highly on the 'inoffensive font cover' scale, it was very unobtrusive. The font gets pride of place in the centre of the tower base. It was peaceful here and I wish we'd driven down a little bit further to the bridge over the River Avon - it looks lovely on Google's streetview.