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English Church Architecture -

Bedford (U. A.).


STEVINGTON, St. Mary (SP 991 537)     (July 2009)

(Bedrock:  Middle Jurassic, Great Oolite Group)


Stevington is a small attractive village that has not yet been caught up in the spread of suburbia, in spite of being barely four miles from the centre of one of England’s least inspiring county towns. The church (seen above from the south) stands at the end of a cul-de-sac alongside the exceptionally winding John Bunyan long distance footpath which runs down to the north to the River Great Ouse. Except for the porches, the building forms a perfect rectangle, for the lean-to nave aisles embrace the tower and end flush with it to the west, and eastward they are continued by chapels which terminate in line with the sanctuary, albeit these have long since been unroofed and the N. chapel is now entirely lacking its N. wall also. They are, as a result, now blocked off from the chancel, but since the N. chapel opens directly into the churchyard, then this, at least, may be examined outside and in, and an external circuit of the church may reasonably begin here.  It retains a low section of wall to the east and the weathering lines of curiously low erstwhile gables to the south and the west (see the photograph, above left, which is taken from the north), fossilized in the chancel N. wall and the N. aisle E. wall respectively, which may suggest that for a time, sheds or similar outbuildings stood here.  To the east of the gable in the chancel N. wall, a trefoil-cusped piscina (behind the drainpipe in the photograph) may date back to the fourteenth century. The nave and aisles are embattled and the aisles, lit by two renewed, three-light supermullioned windows to the east of their respective porches, and by two, two-light reticulated windows to the west, including one each in their W. walls. The N. porch is small, with very small windows, but the S. porch is taller even though its windows are of identical size. The W. face of the church is probably the most interesting for the pre-Conquest origin of the tower (Pevsner said "Anglo-Danish") is evident here in the long-and-short work at the angles (seen in the photograph, right), where it abuts the later aisles, of which that to the north is significantly wider.  The tower rises in two stages.  The nave clerestory is composed of four pairs of one-light renewed windows in Perpendicular style. The S. chapel cannot be accessed and has no external features of note;  the chancel E. window is Victorian.


Entry to the church is gained via the S. porch, which has an outer doorway bearing a wave and flat chamfer, and an inner doorway carrying a complex series of mouldings formed of waves in two orders.  The three-bay nave arcades are dissimilar:  the S. arcade is formed of tall quatrefoil piers with similar capitals, supporting arches of two orders bearing sunk quadrants or waves  (see the photograph, left, showing the E. end of the S. arcade), while the N. arcade consists of piers composed of four main shafts with fillets and irregular capitals, separated by minor shafts, and arches of three orders bearing recessed arcs.  The second is surely the later of these, as agreed by Pevsner (but not the church guide, which claims the opposite), though whether either arcade is as early as his ascription of "c. 1300" and "late Dec." respectively, seems open to question. (See the photograph below right, showing the E. end of the N. arcade.)  The N. arcade pier section was demonstrated by Birkin Haward (Suffolk Church Arcades, The Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 1993) to have been employed in Suffolk from the fourteenth century to the early sixteenth, with the majority of dateable examples attributable to the fifteenth. Firmly dateable examples of the employment of sunk chamfers in eastern England, seem most often associated with the late fourteenth century (see Appendix 2). The present writer’s suggested dating of this work, therefore, is no earlier than c.1350 for the S. arcade and c. 1380 for the N. arcade.  The N. arcade (but not the S. arcade) has a hood-mould with head label stops each side (i.e. facing both the nave and aisle), featuring, among other figures, bearded men and ladies wearing wimples. The blocked arch from the S aisle to the S. chapel (visible in the photograph above left) springs from corbels but copies otherwise the style of the S. arcade, while the chancel arch and tower arch to the nave (shown at the foot of the page on the left), are similar to the N. arcade.  However, the blocked arches from the chancel to the chapels, and from the N. aisle to the N. chapel, though different in detail, are double-flat-chamfered and probably earlier, suggesting the chapels were built before the aisles, perhaps in the late thirteenth century.  The blocked arch from the N. aisle (visible in the photograph, right) has leaf capitals, and to the left, a blocked doorway with a curved wooden lintel.  However, much older than any of this work is the very rough arch from the tower to the S. aisle (shown at the foot of the page on the right), exposed through later plasterwork, which is Saxon (or "Anglo-Danish"), while although there seems to be no equivalent arch to the north, there is a similarly rude window higher up.


Finally, furnishings in the church include the screen beneath the tower arch (seen below left), formed of three one-light sections on each side of a Jacobean door, with varying Perpendicular tracery, suggesting it is formed of a cobbling together of fragments. The font comprises a quatrefoil bowl on five shafts.  The nave roof, which the church guide dates to the fifteenth century on the basis of the inscribed initials of the wool merchants Nicholas and Robert Taylor, is - rather curiously - constructed in four bays and consequently out of synchronization with the arcades below. The rood stair in the southeast corner of the S. aisle, is probably a fifteenth century addition.