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English Church Architecture -

Bedfordshire Central (U.A.).


BIGGLESWADE, St. Andrew (TL 188 446)     (June 2003)

(Bedrock:  Lower Cretaceous, Lower Greensand Group)

This is a large town church (shown above, from the northeast), predominantly Perpendicular in style but heavily restored, interestingly by William Butterfield (1814-1900).  He has not, however, left much here that is distinctive of his style.


The church is situated on river gravels above lower greensand, and it is this that has provided much of the stone.  Pevsner’s description of this material as “ironstone” is the only fitting one here, for the colour is precisely that of a sheet of rusted iron.  In the walls of the chancel, it has proved capable of being cut into blocks and brought to courses, but the aisled nave and S. porch are built of uncoursed ironstone rubble and fieldstones, while when the W. tower was constructed in the eighteenth century, grey limestone ashlar was used. Pevsner gives the precise date for the latter as 1720 but it is not work of high quality – perhaps because being at the end of the church furthest from the road, it was thought to matter less.  The rest of the building is on a rather grander scale and appears to date chiefly from the late fourteenth/ early fifteenth century, except for the two-storeyed S. porch with ogee-arched outer doorway (shown right), which must be later.  (Dr. John Harvey considered the use of the ogee on a large scale in Perpendicular work to be indicative of a backwash of continental ideas into England following the conclusion of the hundred years war in 1453, and which was given further impetus by the return of Edward IV from exile in 1471.)  The porch lower storey has a tierceron vault. Windows around the building are all renewed and three-light, but some have supermullioned tracery, some, straightened reticulation units in the heads, and some, secondary subarcuation over the outer lights and supertransoms above the central light.  The chancel N. wall has a part cross- and part transversely-gabled vestry built against it, dated 1954, and there is a large, modern suite of rooms to the north of the nave, to which it is connected by a corridor.


Inside the building, the four-bay nave arcades consist of arches bearing two sunk quadrant mouldings separated by casements, springing from piers composed of four similarly separated, semicircular shafts, which are narrower to the north and south than they are towards the openings.  The tower arch, however, is a thirteenth century survival bearing three flat chamfers above semicircular responds, and the blocked arch in the W. end of the S. aisle S. wall may be contemporary with this, although the piscina at the E. end of the same wall, appears to be Decorated. Presumably, the repointing of the masonry in the nave walls above the arcades is due to Butterfield, who must also have been responsible for the nave roof.  The nicely panelled chancel roof with painted purlins and principal rafters, and the equally attractive painted screen and wooden altar in the N. aisle, may be eighteenth century work.