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English Church Architecture -

Bedfordshire Central (U.A.).


LOWER GRAVENHURST, St. Mary (TL 111 353)     (June 2003)

 (Bedrock:  Lower Cretaceous, Gault)


This is a pleasant little church (shown left, from the southeast), now in the care of the Redundant Churches Fund, and there is enough to see here to justify going to fetch the key.  The building consists of a fairly bulky W. tower with octagonal stair turret at the southeast angle, and a nave and a chancel built as a single unit.  It is constructed of roughly coursed ironstone and situated about a mile and a half from the lower greensand outcrop, on boulder clay above gault.


Externally the building may be quickly described.  The tower is Perpendicular and has a simple three-light W. window and two-light bell-openings.  The north and south doorways to the nave are Perpendicular (of which the former is blocked) and so is the chancel E. window, but the three windows with cusped Y-tracery (two to the north and one to the south) and the two-light S. window with a form of curvilinear tracery, are clearly Decorated, even though the cinquefoil (as opposed to trefoil) cusping, suggests the date is late within the period.


In fact, though, deductions of this kind are largely unnecessary for, most unusually, inside the building in the chancel S. wall is an original inscription in Old French (shown at the bottom of the page), declaring that St. Mary's was built at the expense of Robert de Bilhermore, who is known to have died c. 1361.  His church, which replaced an earlier one on the same site, may have been begun shortly after 1320 but was still unfinished at his death.  The tower is an addition of  c. 1400 and not part of the original plan.


The chancel is divided from the nave internally by a screen composed of seven trefoil-cusped, supermullioned sections that the Redundant Churches Fund believes to date from the fifteenth century.  It considers the benches to be contemporary apart from the two northeastern ones which were added in 1901 by Blomfield.  The octagonal pulpit is Jacobean and retains its nicely carved tester (illustrated right).  The hourglass stand that was presumably once part of it (hourglasses were used to time sermons) has long since been attached to the rood screen. The roof is of king-post construction and largely original.


Finally, two other items to notice are: in the chancel S. wall, a two-bay sedilia and a small ogee-headed piscina; and opposite in the N. wall, a monument to Benjamin Pigott (d. 1606) and his three wives.