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English Church Architecture.


EDWORTH, St. George  (TL 222 407),


(Bedrock:  Lower Cretaceous, Gault.)


A church situated close to the Lower Greensand, Woburn Sands Formation,

built largely of ironstone.


Before the advent of the canals and (especially) the railways, the transport of heavy goods overland frequently cost more than the goods did themselves.  Builders, therefore, used vernacular materials whenever possible, preferably sourced within a mile or two of the site.  Mediaeval stone buildings consequently reflect the underlying geology and churches in particular provide an approximate geological map of Britain, which is naturally most faithful in areas of less complexity.   This general principle is revealed to good effect along the Lower Greensand ridge which rises along the western edge of the Lower Cretaceous outcrop of south and east England, which is itself very narrow in the southeast/northwest direction, yet extensive and continuous from northeast to southwest, as seen below.   Moreover, the rubble building stones to which the Lower Greensand gives rise, which are generally known as carstone (chiefly in Norfolk) or  ironstone,  are a very distinctive, liquorice-brown colour, which is difficult to miss.  Drivers heading northwest from East Anglia to the Midlands along one of the quieter roads that passes through intermediate villages, will suddenly notice one or two village churches (probably no more) that show they are crossing this outcrop, while someone with a will to do so, might set out from Hunstanton on the north Norfolk coast and, except across the Fens, pick his or her way southwest, at least as far as Leighton Buzzard on the southern border of Bedfordshire, and encounter one such church after another.  The churches named on the map below, all of which are represented on this web-site, serve to illustrate this.



The Lower Cretaceous Rocks of Eastern England, laid down 146-97 Ma.

1 = Heacham (Norfolk);  2 = Castle Rising (Norfolk);  3 = Wilburton (Cambridgeshire);    4 = Cottenham (Cambridgeshire);  
5 = Great Gransden (Cambridgeshire);  6 = Bourn (Cambridgeshire);   7 = Gamlingay (Cambridgeshire); 
8 = Everton (CENTRAL Bedfordshire);  9 = Blunham (CENTRAL Bedfordshire);   10 = Eyeworth (CENTRAL Bedfordshire);  
11 = Biggleswade (CENTRAL Bedfordshire);  12 = Edworth (CENTRAL Bedfordshire); 


Edworth 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, 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 church consists of a W. tower, aisled nave, chancel, and N. and S. porches.  It is built of a mixture of ironstone rubble and ironstone 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 (Decorated) 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 comprises two hollow-chamfered orders, and the tower arch, two flat-chamfered, orders, both springing form semi-octagonal responds.  As to furnishings there is, in particular, a rare pillar piscina of c. 1200 at the E. end of the N. aisle (illustrated right), and two fifteenth century stalls in the chancel have poppyheads in the form of a lion and a baboon. 


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, late fifteenth century in date.   In fact, the Churches Conservation Trust  seems to be nearer the mark in suggesting the tower postdates the aisles, but perhaps there is also the possibility, in view of the sunk quadrant mouldings of the arcades, that the aisles are later too (say, c. 1360), for some Decorated-style windows were certainly still being constructed in other eastern counties at that date and, indeed, later.