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English Church Architecture -

Bedfordshire Central (U.A.).


DUNTON, St. Mary Magdalene (TL 238 442)          (June 2003)

(Bedrock:  Lower Cretaceous, Gault)


The church is in the centre of the village, opposite the shop.  At the time of this visit it was kept locked, but a notice on the door offered five addresses where the key could be obtained and if that continues to be the case, it is worth going to get one. 


Dunton is situated on boulder clay above gault.  St. Mary Magdalene’s consists of an aisled nave, chancel and two-storeyed S. porch built of sandstone cobbles, other fieldstones and re-used Roman tile, to which the nineteenth century has added a tower in limestone ashlar.  The S. porch is Perpendicular and has a semi-octagonal stair turret projecting above it at the southwest angle, but the windows in the S. aisle and chancel are Decorated and include a three-light reticulated one in the S. wall of the aisle and a four-light aisle E. window (below right) with lights subarcuated in pairs above large, ornate but ill-fitting, double-cusped reticulation units, and a similar double-cusped dagger in the head.  This is possibly late within its period but it is not as obviously so as the five-light chancel E. window (illustrated left), where four tiers of reticulation units are curiously fused below and between five supermullions, the foreshadow of things to come.  This suggests the chancel can be dated to the years around 1350 and, perhaps, that its construction followed that of the S. aisle, begun a few years earlier.  The S. arcade supports this hypothesis for it combines quatrefoil piers, a chiefly Decorated form, with arches bearing a flat chamfer and a sunk quadrant, the use of the second of which appears is to have been unusual in this region before the Black Death. (See Appendix 2 and the entry for Balsham, Cambridgeshire.)  The N. aisle is more straightforward yet also less precisely attributable: this is lit by three-light supermullioned windows of which that to the east has a transom at the springing level, immediately beneath the tracery.  The N. arcade consists of arches of two orders, each bearing a hollow chamfer and a wave, springing from compound piers formed of four semi-octagonal major shafts separated by four semicircular minor ones.  It is the sort of Perpendicular work that could probably be ascribed to almost any year in a period of over a century, though c. 1400 may represent the mean. The chancel arch is similar to the S. arcade except that both its orders bear sunk quadrants, but the tower arch has three flat-chamfered orders supported on responds composed of semi-octagonal shafts, suggesting it remains from an earlier, thirteenth century building.  The tower itself fell down in the mid-seventeenth century and was replaced by a very poor specimen in 1712, of which a drawing survives that shows it to have been barely taller than the nave and topped by a pyramidal roof.  This was replaced in its turn by the present tower in 1861, designed in Second Pointed style by Edward Browning of Stamford (1816-82), but although it is certainly taller, it is hardly otherwise more distinguished.