Sunday, 12 March 2017

Stratton on the Fosse, Somerset

Priston, North-East Somerset

Radstock, North-East Somerset

Kilmersdon, Somerset

The lych-gate at Kilmersdon was the perfect place for a picnic. It's disappointing in a way, but we now feel we must appear sufficiently middle-aged looking that we don't attract disapproving looks from passing locals. So not looking like a youf does have its advantages. B had expertly prepared the picnic and it included boiled eggs (so I felt like Columbo) and highly carameliferous wafers. Plus tea in a flask. You'd never get that level of care from me. But the hot drink was greatly appreciated.

We soon found out that the door was resolutely bolted. This is always immensely disappointing and bemusing, particularly in a country village where the risk of people stealing damp hymn books and charity leaflets would seem to be particularly low, but the likelihood of ramblers wanting to pop in and leave a quid or two would seem to be particularly high. However. I suspected that there would be lots of interesting things outside.

Pevsner just says "Much Norman evidence" but doesn't particularly mention that there are carved corbels on the south side of the church, and surely they're Norman. I think we know a Norman corbel when we see it these days. They always have a nice simple style and might include animals or people Doing Things.

There were some great big medieval gargoyles on the north side of the church, really quite excellent. I tried to draw one but the angle made it difficult (I say this but B seemed to manage perfectly well). There's much to see and appreciate here.

Hemington, North Somerset

Hemington didn't seem to be hugely bigger than Hardington Bampfylde, but its church is just massive. It's got aisles, and a sort of chapel open to the south side of the altar. The latter was where we found the excellent Norman font with its petally scallops. Pevsner calls the decoration 'lobes'. Sometimes I think he just didn't care about Norman fonts at all :) But I mustn't feel too irritated by him as his books are essentially the reason B and I have found so many interesting places to visit. And at least we have the luxury of enjoying wherever we go. His explorations for the books must have turned into sheer slog. Monetarily rewarded slog of course. With the opportunity for the occasional sarcastic remark. But slog nonetheless. "Right let's go, we've got 15 more to do before teatime."

The chancel arch is Norman in style too, but very sharply carved, to the extent where we were doubting its age. It's not got the personalised soft variety of the carving of the font. But I was kind of swung by the slight asymmetricalness of the design of the capitals - the pairs to left and right don't quite match. Plus there are traces of bright paint on them - does that not indicate their Normanness? I don't know. The age of the foot of the columns seems easier to acknowledge, again asymmetrical with chevrons on one of them. And what's that... yep at the bottom of one of the ones on the left, there's a strange little head. It reminded us a little of the "minute face" at Maperton. 

What an unexpected and curious thing. What a nice thing that the carver of the columns stole the opportunity to add this little character. It rather humanises the otherwise quite severe archway. What did it mean to people of the time I wonder? It's tempting to read something un-Christian into it, something to do with spirits being in everything around us. But you can't imagine that would have been entertained at all, though is it possible that Evil spirits might be lurking about. I don't know. I liked the little face though. I gave it a proper dusting. In fact there were lots of interesting carvings in Hemington, a whole row of them along the south aisle, though not as old. 

And another thing we appreciated about Hemington was its toilet, unlocked. Such a boon to the fonting traveller. I'm not kidding. It was also nice to have a look through the ferns in the little well opposite the church. The watery theme continued as we drove up out of the village and spotted water pouring out of the roadside at the top of the hill. We had to stop. It was a liverwort jungle, and with such a soothing sound.

Hardington Bampfylde, North Somerset

If you wanted a journey to epitomise 'Wiltshire Wandering' it could be the one to Hardington Bampfylde (except it's not in Wiltshire of course). What I mean is that it requires scrutiny of the OS map to find this excellently named location. And then we're rumbling along the main road thinking 'is it this little turn? nope... must be the next one... OMG HERE IT IS' with a sudden dash down into a little lane. Followed by the immediate sensation that the busy everyday world is left behind, and now you're properly in the country, with rolling fields and hedges both sides of the narrow road, and the sensation that something interesting lies ahead. Plus, we found ourselves diverting off this road onto a track, heading uphill across dung and into a farmyard. The little church stood amongst the farm buildings. It was an entirely promising sensation. A good place to begin today's wanderings.

The church is owned by the Churches Conservation Trust so there was no trouble opening the door. It had a peaceful damp air and with its Georgian woodwork felt remarkably authentic and unmessed with. The chancel arch looked simple and Norman, and straining a bit to fall outwards. I see Mr Pevsner says it's not medieval. But who knows. He only had his eyes to go on like we did. And it looks pretty good to me, it's certainly the right style, and I don't see anyone aping the Romanesque in the rest of the building, it's all pointy windows. So I'm going for it, personally.

Also in the Norman department was the amazing chunky font. I tried to draw it. The proportions came out wrong in disappointing fashion. When you've got such a simple design, the proportions are everything. It makes you realise what beautiful aesthetic sense these sculptors had nearly a thousand years ago. B and I always love to see another example. I think it's safe to say we're obsessed connoisseurs of them.

Also there were drawings on the wall opposite the door, in red - faces and twirls and vegetation. I wonder how old these are? Clearly it would rather depend on the wall. I wonder if it would ever be possible - maybe not from the style, which you'd imagine would depend a lot on the hand of the artist. But maybe from whatever the paint is derived from, or... I don't know. Anyway I enjoyed trying to copy some of them.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Minstead, Hampshire

Lamb of God from the Minstead font

Double bodied creature

Eagles and ?

Minstead baptism? scene

Scenes from the Minstead font, considerably tidied up from my original sketches. So tempting to just make them stark black and white (as if I'd done them in cut mountboard). But I kind of like the slightly textured scratchiness of the scraperboards I've used.

Bear with me while I amuse myself, my animation skills are severely last century.

The lamb of god gif. Has there ever been such a thing before in the history of the internet.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Kelston, North-East Somerset

A week or two ago we tried to visit some churches in North-East Somerset: Bitton and Queen Charlton. But they were both locked up tight. This is always very disappointing and really rather bemusing. Especially when there's no friendly notice about where a key can easily be retrieved (a neighbouring door is always nicer to knock on than a bald list of mobile phone numbers, the owners of which could be anywhere at all).

I've found some additional information about the carvings at nearby Kelston though.

This beautiful fragment of a Saxon cross was found by the late Rector, the Rev. F.J.Poynton, thrown aside amongst the rubbish of the old church at the time of its restoration in 1860. The stone isa n oblong square, and appears to have been in use at some former time as a door-jamb. It measures 2ft. 9in. in length, by 1ft. 3in. in width. When discovered, two of its sides were entirely defaced, and a third so injured that only faint traces of carving were visible at the top. The fourth side was smoothed to a surface with mortar, and had then received several coats of whitewash. It was in this state when Mr. Poynton undertook the removal of this facing, an operation in which he entirely succeeded and thus exposed the original carving to view. 

The sculpture is divided by a cable-roll into two parts, and a roll of the same pattern borders it, as in the cross at Bedale, in Yorkshire. In the upper division, which is the larger, is represented two central steps supporting a square, from which spring two stems. The stems are sub-divided, and artistically formed into turning convolutions, each terminal ending in a cordate leaf. Here and there small ovate bodies are introduced in the axils of the branches, which may be taken to mean either buds, or fruit, probably the latter. At no single point do the branches from the two stems unite. 

From the resemblance of the design to the figure of a tree, it has been conjectured that it illustrates a rude attempt to portray the Tree of  Life, but the presence of the fruit points rather to the other tree in the Garden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, since the "Tree of the Fall" is not infrequently met with in early religious art, and is sometimes seen displayed in mystic and typical connection with the Cross. Although, in this instance, the rigid form of the Christian symbol is not apparent, yet the accessories of the steps forming a Calvary, and a block for the socket, together with the flexible tracery of the branches are not a little suggestive of the union of the Cross witht he Tree, particularly as we find in some early examples - as that on a slab at Bakewell, Derbyshire - that the distinctive character of the Cross is preserved in the Calvary and stem, while it is lost in the interleaving knotwork that forms the head. The introduction of transitional foliage int o the curved lines of the coil renders this unique fragment one of high interest. The lower division is filled in with the usual form of the endless interlacing knot.

In order to preserve it from injury, Mr. Poynton has had this valuable relic placed inside the Church, fixed in the wall of the chancel on the north side, just exposing the sculptured face in projection. Late 11th Century.

 Yes I have been rubbishing some other interpretations of the things we see. But this time maybe I like the idea of the 'steps forming a Calvary' from which the stems emerge. And although two stems rather goes against the theory, perhaps we can just have them as nice planty knotwork.