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English Church Architecture -

Bedfordshire Central (U.A.).


HOUGHTON CONQUEST, All Saints (TL 043 415)     (June 2003)

(Bedrock:  Upper Jurassic, Oxford Clay)


This is an important building and the visitor will need to go in search of the key if it is found to be locked even though the interior is less impressive than the exterior.  This is because the latter owes much of its striking appearance to the construction material of deep brown ironstone rubble brought to courses, dug from the lower greensand ridge that forms a prominent feature in the landscape half a mile to the south.  The church  (viewed, left, from the southeast) consists of a W. tower with stair turret at the southwest angle, an aisled nave, a S. porch and a chancel, and is embattled throughout.  Although all three-light, the aisle windows (which are renewed to the south but largely old to the north) take three different forms, viz. one with supermullioned tracery that is clearly Perpendicular, and two that are still essentially Decorated and feature intersecting subarcuations of the lights in pairs, the first with two-centred subarcuations and an irregular sexfoil in the head (shown in the upper thumbnail below left) and the second with ogee subarcuations and a pinched wheel of quatrefoils squeezed between them (shown in the lower thumbnail below left).  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 date from the fifteenth century: they have supermullioned drop tracery beneath four-centred arches, while the E. window also has five lights and a castellated supertransom.  Against the S. wall - oddly in such an exterior 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 on 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 to battlements, and with a three-light W. window featuring a supermullion supporting a quatrefoil above the central light.   This is a 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 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 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, perhaps around 1350.