(ę back to home page)

English Church Architecture.


YELDEN, St. Mary  (TL 011 673),

Bedford Borough. 

(Bedrock:  Upper Jurassic, Oxford Clay.)


A church in mixed style, built of creamy Jurassic limestone.


This is another church in the area running along both sides of the old Bedfordshire/Huntingdonshire border, consisting of a W. tower with a short broach spire, an embattled nave, S. aisle and porch, and a chancel and N. vestry. It displays a number of similarities with St. Nicholasís, Swineshead, but cannot claim to be its architectural equal as the building style is less consistent here, comprising, as it does, work from the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, with various renewals and patchings.


The tower is the principal survival from the early fourteenth century though it is marred by its stubby spire.  It rises in three stages supported by angle buttresses for the first stage only, to bell-openings that display unusual flowing tracery, formed of quatrefoils on 'stalks' above pairs of cinquefoiled lights, and these are each encompassed in an arch of two orders bearing a flat chamfer and sunk wave, making the bell-stage the dominant section of the tower, to which the spire serves as little more than a cap, notwithstanding its two tiers of gabled lucarnes.  The ballflower corbel-frieze between the tower and spire is modest in its effect and not certainly not comparable with the ballflower ornament at Swineshead;  the restored two-light W. window has a quatrefoil and two small mouchettes in the head; the E. wall displays the weathering line of a former, more steeply pitched nave roof, fossilized in the masonry.


The S. aisle has a two-light W. window with a straightened reticulation unit in the head, suggesting this may be a late fourteenth century insertion though, curiously, Pevsner thought it was earlier than the other aisle windows (The Buildings of England:  Bedfordshire and the County of Huntingdon & Peterborough, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1968, p. 177).  The other aisle windows are square-headed and comprise two, three-light renewed windows without tracery (one each to the south and east), and a third, which appears to be mediaeval, formed of a single short light with two little mouchettes above an ogee archlet.  The chancel is lit by two, two-light windows to south and north, and a three-light E. window, with restored reticulated tracery.  The lancet-pointed priestís doorway in the S. wall may be left from the thirteenth century.  The nave N. wall is pierced by an old window towards the west with what is probably idiosyncratic Decorated tracery but the blocked N. doorway could be thirteenth century again.  The nave clerestory is probably a fifteenth century addition, formed of four pairs of two-light, square-headed windows with minimal supermullioned tracery. 


Returning to the S. side of the building, the porch is supported by diagonal buttresses terminating in crocketed pinnacles above, and lit from the east by a two-centred, two-light window with a quatrefoil above cinquefoil-cusped lights.  (There is no window to the west.)  The outer doorway bears a hollow chamfer and sunk wave and is, presumably, contemporary, but the inner doorway comprises two flat-chamfered orders, with the outer order supported on semicircular shafts, and could, again, be thirteenth century work. 


The interior of the building displays a number of features of interest.  The four-bay arcade (illustrated right from the west) is formed of double-flat-chamfered arches springing at either end from corbels supported by figures, and in between, by piers that are consecutively octagonal, circular, and octagonal again.  This again is Early English, but the aisle itself has a tomb recess in the S. wall (illustrated at the foot of the page, on the left), in Decorated style, with a double-cusped arch with leaf carving in the foils and carved heads terminating the lower cusps, a surmounting crocketed gable, and narrow buttresses at the sides.  There are remnants of paintings on the aisle walls, including a fragment of a St. Christopher, of whom almost nothing remains except his feet, standing among fishes. 


The heavy tower arch is formed of three flat-chamfered orders, supported beneath the outer order by semi-octagonal responds;  the stair rises in the southwest angle and is entered through a door aligned in the diagonal.  The chancel arch bears an inner flat chamfer and an outer wave moulding above semi-octagonal responds and has spread to such a degree that it is now much wider at the top than the bottom, as, indeed, is the chancel E. window, which has since been glazed accordingly! The easternmost chancel S. window has a double sedilia below, formed of equal ogee-pointed, trefoiled bays, and east again, there is a trefoil-cusped piscina  (shown at the foot of the page on the right).


Other church furnishings are modest:  the nave benches are just that, although they are mediaeval.  The font comprises a large, plain octagonal bowl, supported on an octagonal stem.  Finally, there is also a low tomb recess in the N. wall of the nave, replete with a carved male effigy:  his feet rest on a dog and his hands are clasped on his chest.