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English Church Architecture.

 

EVERTON, St. Mary  (TL 203 513),

CENTRAL BEDFORDSHIRE. 

(Bedrock:  Lower Cretaceous, Lower Greensand Group.)

 

A church situated on the Lower Greensand outcrop, built 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); 
13 = HOUGHTON CONQUEST (CENTRAL BEDFORDSHIRE);  14 = LOWER GRAVENHURST (CENTRAL BEDFORDSHIRE).

 

 

 

St. Mary's, Everton, owes its striking appearance entirely to the rusty brown ironstone of which it is built is built, a material that seems to deepen in colour in Bedfordshire as one travels southwest.  externally, the tower is the most impressive feature but, in fact. almost all other parts of the building are actually older and of more real architectural significance, for this is otherwise a surprisingly complete Norman church which has preserved both its plan and much of its fabric from the twelfth century.  It consists, apart from the tower, of an aisled nave, chancel and S. porch, and retains two small, original round-headed windows on each side of the chancel, together with a fifth, still thought to be in situ, in the W. wall of the S. aisle.  The S. porch inner doorway is also Norman and displays roll mouldings arranged in two orders, with the outer order resting on a pair of (now broken) shafts with scalloped capitals.  Most importantly, inside the church, the aisle arcades - which are almost identical - are also contemporary, each composed of three unmoulded arches springing from circular piers with scalloped capitals, and the interior as a whole retains an uncluttered, ancient charm. (The N. arcade is shown in the photograph below right.)

 

It is difficult to be precise about when the tower was added. Pevsner considered this was in the early fourteenth century (The Buildings of England: Bedfordshire, Huntingdon & Peterborough, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1968, pp. 87-88)), for which he might have claimed as evidence, perhaps, the fact that the renewed W. window with Perpendicular tracery is set internally in a simple arch consisting of a single flat-chamfered order rising from a pair of semicircular shafts which look older.  However, the tower arch is very much like those at neighbouring Potton and Sutton in this county, and at Great Gransden and Little Gransden, just a few miles to the northeast in Cambridgeshire.  These have a complex series of mouldings springing from characteristic shallow responds formed of two orders of semi-octagonal shafts with superimposed mouldings, and are all to be found in unambiguous Perpendicular contexts, which makes it difficult to believe that this one could predate c. 1360 at the earliest.  Externally the tower is diagonally-buttressed and rises in two stages to stepped battlements and prominent pinnacles.  Peculiarly, except for two tiny slits in the S. wall, it entirely lacks bell-openings.

 

Other features of the building the visitor will notice outside include the present low-pitched, leaded roof to the nave and the steeply-pitched, tiled roof to the chancel, the frieze of blank quatrefoils around the base of the porch together with its Perpendicular outer doorway bearing two sunk quadrants, and the assortment of small inserted Perpendicular windows in all parts of the church, including the chancel (towards the west), the S. aisle (at  the E. end), the S. porch, the N. aisle and the clerestory. The last seem mostly to have been inserted piecemeal for certainly no system is obvious.   Inside the church once more, the chancel arch with two sunk quadrant mouldings, the inner rising from semi-octagonal shafts, is probably early Perpendicular (i.e. late fourteenth century),  the present, low-pitched nave roof is tie beam construction, characteristic of the fifteenth century, but the carved grotesques supporting the wall posts were probably part of the earlier, steeper roof.