English Church Architecture -
Bedfordshire Central (U.A.).
SHILLINGTON, All Saints (TL 124 339) (June 2003)
(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Lower Chalk)
This is an interesting and rewarding building, standing impressively above the village on a tiny chalk outlier that drops sharply to the gault in all directions but especially across the churchyard to the west. It consists of a W. tower, an aisled nave and chancel built as one with square turrets at the E. angles (illustrated left), and a nineteenth century S. porch. The building material is everywhere roughly-coursed ironstone rubble from the nearby lower greensand outcrop except for the tower from the W. window springing level upwards which is constructed of eighteenth century brick laid in header bond. An inscription on the S. wall tells how "The Ancient Steeple of this Church fell down in 1701 and was rebuilt 1750 by a Brief Rate and Subscription collected by the Rev. Geo. Story, faithful curate of this Parish for 31 years". Beneath, in the stone remnant of the old tower, is a round-headed blocked archway not mentioned by Pevsner, that appears to be Norman (shown below right). There is very little else around the building that appears old externally, however, apart from the N. and S. doorways (the latter inside the porch), each composed of five orders bearing rolls with fillets. They are probably Decorated, which is the style of all the renewed windows except for that in the chancel E. wall. This last is set in a larger, blocked arch that reflects the fact that shortly after the chancel was completed, the building began to move on its foundations, leading to the decision not only to reduce the size of the E. window but also to block the easternmost arches of the three-bay arcades between the chancel and its chapels, the work being known to have been carried out while Matthew de Assheton was rector, whose long tenure extended from 1349 to 1400.
Inside the building the nave and chancel, and the nave aisles and chancel chapels, are divided four bays from three by the chancel arch and the arches from the aisles to the chapels, yet the general impression created is one of stylistic uniformity and, indeed, some grandeur, the result, especially, of the chancel being roofed and floored at the same level as the nave. The aisle and chapel arcades on both sides consist of arches bearing a flat chamfer and a sunk quadrant springing from quatrefoil piers with little hollows in the diagonals (the arcade to the N. aisle from the nave is shown left), and the arches from the aisles to the chapels are similar except that they die into the jambs without responds. The date for this work seems unlikely to be much before 1345 (see Appendix 2 and the discussion of Balsham church, Cambridgeshire, for the dated use of the sunk quadrant moulding in East Anglia). Only the chancel and tower arches introduce different forms, although in the case of the very tall chancel arch, probably not a different date: it carries a flat chamfer and a wave moulding above semi-octagonal responds whereas the tower arch, which appears to be later, has a complex profile above responds formed of an inner order of large semi-octagonal shafts and an outer order of narrower, quarter-circular ones.
Having thus looked round, however, the blocked doorway in the tower S. wall possibly excepted, the oldest work is yet to come, for descending from the E. end of the vestry (which is situated behind the blocked arch in the N. chapel), a staircase leads to an apparently thirteenth century crypt consisting of four bays arranged in a square around a central, circular pier (shown right), with flat-chamfered ribs supported at the walls on semicircular shafts. This is obviously a survival from an earlier building phase and is an indication of the importance of this church in the district from an early date.
Finally the church has a lot of significant woodwork which must be described briefly. It is particularly rich in screens, for these may be found not only between the nave and chancel, but also between the chancel and its chapels (nine bays each side), between the chapels and the aisles, and between the tower and the nave. They are difficult to date closely but are all loosely Perpendicular: the very tall rood screen and the screen between the chancel and the N. chapel, have supermullioned tracery, while the screen between the chancel and the S. chapel has alternate tracery. Then there are the nave benches, nearly all of which appear to be old, the canopied chair against the N. wall of the sanctuary, and the canopied benches for the churchwardens on either side of the tower arch. Last but not least, the nave, chancel and independently-gabled aisle roofs all appear to be largely of fifteenth century date. The nave and chancel roofs are both of tie-beam construction, the easternmost bay of the former retaining its paint and gilded bosses and the latter adopting an odd mansard form.