English Church Architecture -
Bedfordshire Central (U.A.).
EDWORTH, St. George (TL 222 407) (February 2015)
(Bedrock: Lower Cretaceous, Gault)
Edworth, the population of which in the 1971 census was just 43, is not so much a village as a few tucked-away farms and cottages, but it is certainly a pleasant and still deeply rural spot, even though the A1 trunk road passes less than half a mile to the west of the church. Mercifully it does so in a short cutting that takes it across the low rise of Topler’s Hill (formed of boulder clay on middle chalk), and St. George’s manages to retain an atmosphere of profound calm – always providing that one can find it, up a track that winds through the centre of Manor Farm. Maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust, it is surrounded by a large area of mown grass, and although kept locked, at the time of this visit, the key could be procured from Edworth Manor, the large house one hundred and fifty yards to the north.
St. George’s (shown, above, from the north) consists of a W. tower, aisled nave, chancel, and N. and S. porches. It is built of a mixture of sandstone rubble and sandstone cobbles, with other fieldstones, re-used Roman tile, and much patching in brick and cement. The tower rises to battlements in two short stages, and has angle buttresses to the first stage only and two-light, renewed bell-openings with straightened reticulation units between, characteristic of early Perpendicular times in this area. The embattled nave has a clerestory of two-light, square-headed Perpendicular windows and the chancel - which was shortened in 1836 - has three-light untraceried Perpendicular windows to north and south, but the N. aisle has a two-light E. window with reticulated tracery and the equivalent window in the S. aisle has curvilinear tracery. However, of finer quality than any of these are the two porches, with traceried spandrels above the outer arches, the dating of which will be considered below.
Next the church interior must be examined. This seems curiously larger than the exterior. The aisle arcades extend along the eastern half of the nave only and have arches of two orders with a sunk quadrant on the outer order and two on the inner, and the piers are quatrefoil with narrow semicircular shafts between the foils. The chancel arch has two hollow-chamfered, and the tower arch, two flat-chamfered, orders, both springing form semi-octagonal responds. Of furnishings there is, in particular, a rare pillar piscina of c. 1200 at the E. end of the N. aisle (illustrated below right), and of woodwork, there are a pair of fifteenth century stalls in the chancel, two of the poppyheads of which take the form of a lion and a baboon. The chancel roof is panelled and largely old – it retains its arched-braced collar beams. There is a broken rood stair in the nave northeast angle that once led to a loft.
Reviewing this evidence together, some further consideration of dating is required. The church had two leaflets available inside when visited in 2003, of which the earlier ascribed the basic fabric of the nave to the time of the pillar piscina, and considered the aisles, chancel and tower to have been added c. 1340, and the porches, c. 1400. However, the second, produced by the Churches Conservation Trust, while agreeing that the aisles and chancel are early fourteenth century work, considered the tower to be a little later and the porches and clerestory, of the late fifteenth century. Neither of these writers agreed with Pevsner, who said simply that the aisles, tower and porches are all Decorated but that the S. porch is “probably earlier than the north”. To propose one’s own chronology in such circumstances, therefore, is probably to add to the confusion, but Pevsner is surely wrong about the porches, and the Churches Conservation Trust seems nearer the mark than the other authors in suggesting the tower postdates the aisles, unless - which is not impossible, particularly in view of the sunk quadrant mouldings - the aisles are later too (say, c. 1360). Some Decorated-style windows were certainly still being constructed in other eastern counties both at that date and later.