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English Church Architecture.

 

HOUGHTON CONQUEST, All Saints  (TL 043 415),

C ENTRAL BEDFORDSHIRE. 

(Bedrock:  Upper Jurassic, Oxford Clay.)

 

An impressive church situated in sight of the Lower Greensand ridge,

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).

 

All Saints', Houghton Conquest,  is a significant, proud building, and the visitor should go in search of the key if it is found to be locked, even though it is less impressive inside than out.  This is due to the masonry, constructed of deep brown ironstone rubble brought to courses, dug from the lower greensand ridge that forms a prominent feature, half a mile away to the south.  The church consists of a W. tower with a stair turret at the southwest angle, an aisled nave with a S. porch, and a chancel, and is embattled on all parts.  Rather curiously however, the aisle windows (which are all three-light and renewed to the south but largely old to the north), take three forms, viz. one with supermullioned tracery that is clearly Perpendicular (as shown in the photograph, left), and two that are still essentially Decorated and feature intersecting subarcuations of the lights in pairs (i.e. there are sub-arches over lights 1 & 2 and lights 2 & 3 which inevitably intersect above light 2), the first with two-centred subarches and an irregular sexfoil in the head (shown below left) and the second with ogee-pointed subarches and a pinched wheel of quatrefoils squeezed above and between (as shown below centre).  It seems impossible to tell for certain whether these designs are contemporary or whether the supermullioned form represents a replacement of some of the others.  The chancel windows (one of which is seen left) appear to be later than any of these, and probably no earier than the middle ofthe fifteenth century: they have supermullioned drop tracery beneath four-centred arches to north and south, while the E. window has five lights and a castellated supertransom.  Against the S. wall, oddly in an external position, is a canopied tomb chest (and not a seat, much as it might so appear).  The date of the tower is known precisely for a contract for it still exists, signed November 1st, 1392 by William Farele of Dunstable and Philip Lessy of Totternhoe, whose only known work this is.  The price was 40 and for that the parish got a stately tower with angle buttresses, rising in three stages, lit by a three-light W. window featuring a supermullion supporting a quatrefoil above the central light, like a lollipop on a stick.   This is an idiosyncratic design found in a number of local churches and so it is useful to have it closely dated here.  The very worn  doorway beneath has a complex profile composed of wave mouldings, sunk quadrants and hollows.  Finally on this exterior circuit of the building, the grand (though not large) S. porch (shown below right) has stepped battlements and a canopied niche set between two orders of crocketed pinnacles in the gable, with a blank, double-cusped quatrefoil either side. 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the building, the four-bay aisle arcades are very tall and consist of double-flat-chamfered arches supported on piers of quatrefoil section, with narrow secondary shafts in the diagonals.  The chancel arch is similar but carries one flat chamfer and one sunk quadrant.  In the chancel itself, the windows have an order of bowtells at the sides and there is a double piscina recessed in the S. wall but no sedilia.

 

The church contains several unrelated features of note which will be described from east to west.  First, in the chancel is a monument to Dr. Thomas Archer, rector of Houghton Conquest from 1589 to 1631 and erected in his lifetime!  It features the bust of a  figure reading from a book placed on a cushion, a characteristic posture in seventeenth century monuments to divines.  Next, the remains of a 'Christ in Glory' painting can be seen above the chancel arch, which is probably almost as old as the arch itself.  The screen below has been much renewed and repainted in 1870, but the nave and aisle roofs appear to be still largely fifteenth century work, the former being of tie-beam construction.  Finally, at the W. end of the nave, the font still has Decorated (ogee) blank arches on each of its six sides, suggesting it was installed on completion of the present nave and aisles, and which would fit a date c. 1350.