English Church Architecture -
Bedfordshire Central (U.A.).
MEPPERSHALL, St. Mary (TL 134 360) (June 2003)
(Bedrock: Lower Cretaceous, Gault)
Meppershall is a street village situated on gault, little more than a mile from the lower greensand outcrop to the north. St. Mary's is built of ironstone rubble from this formation, with limestone dressings, and has been much restored and partly rebuilt, but the basic fabric of the Norman crossing tower and transepts remains, as does that of the thirteenth century chancel. According to Pevsner, the present aisled nave was erected by Sir Arthur Blomfield (1829-99) in 1875-6.
First, then, the tower and transepts. The tower (shown left) is now embattled and has simple two-light Perpendicular bell-openings, but just below (and barely above the ridges of the chancel and transept roofs) are small, partly original Norman windows that anticipate the massive tower arches within. These crossing arches have been restored (witness the heavy repointing) but retain their old ironstone voussoirs. They have the usual Romanesque thickness and are unmoulded except for their chamfered abaci and the thick roll around the western arch on its west side. The only obvious contemporary feature in the transepts is the blocked Norman arch to be seen to the north, set internally in the E. wall. This is very significant, however, for it probably implies that the transepts once had apsidal E. ends. In plan, both the transepts and the crossing tower splay noticeably to the west, which has the effect of widening the view from the nave and aisles to the chancel and, by sharpening the perspective towards the east, of appearing to increase the length of the building.
The chancel is also interesting. From the masonry on the north side, it is clear that it has been lengthened and, indeed, the lancet in the eastern end of the N. wall, is Victorian, even though the equivalent window to the south is partly old and, presumably, reset. Internally, both these windows, and the nineteenth century group of three lancets in the E. wall, have keeled rolls around them and an order of shafts at the sides. This could be entirely the invention of the restorers, but further west in the chancel walls, the remains of thirteenth century shafts, presumably from the original fenestration, have been left visible in the surrounding stonework. The only windows in this end of the chancel now, are Perpendicular.
A brief note should be added about the nave and aisles. The clerestory consists of pairs of lancets and the aisle windows are three-light and square-headed. The gabled S. doorway has keeled rolls around the arch and an order of shafts.
Finally, there are a few furnishings to mention. The screen between the crossing tower and N. transept is made up of fragments from the former rood screen. In the N. aisle there is a very old wooden chest with the traditional three heavy locks for the incumbent and church wardens, two of which are still in working order. In the S. wall of the chancel is a monument to Timothy Archer (d. 1672), once vicar here: It has an inscription in Latin and, for a seventeenth century divine, the usual bust of a figure reading from a book.