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English Church Architecture.

 

BARTLOW, St. Mary  (TL 586 452),

CAMBRIDGESHIRE. 

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk.)

 

One of 181 churches in England with round towers, of which all but five are in Cambridgeshire (with 2), Essex (with 6), Norfolk (with 126) or Suffolk (with 42).

 

Round church towers were almost invariably assumed by Pevsner to have a Saxon or Norman origin.  That is not necessarily the case, and the form is a function of geology rather than age, for the lack of the ready availability of good building stone to serve as quoins made this a cheap design option by avoiding the expense in the pre-railway age of bringing, usually by horse and cart or at best along the rivers by boat, heavy, bulk materials from afar.  The definitive book on this subject is, and is long likely to remain, the late Stephen Hart's The Round Church Towers of England  (Ipswich, Lucas Books, 2003), to which the notes on these buildings are inevitably, to a greater or lesser degree, indebted.

 

 

This is one of only two churches with round towers in Cambridgeshire and one of only thirteen found anywhere in England outside Norfolk and Suffolk.  The other Cambridgeshire example is at Snailwell, where the work is clearly Norman, but here, pace Pevsner, the tower is essentially thirteenth century in date, with a few fourteenth century modifications (though Stephen Hart avoids this complication by ascribing the whole tower to 'late in the Early English period').  The bell-openings are original and consist of narrow, single lancets, but the two-light W. window is Decorated and probably an early fourteenth century insertion, while the tower arch with its sunk quadrant moulding on the inner order and two small hollow chamfers on the outer, although apparently part of the basic structure of the tower, seems likely to represent a fourteenth century remodelling of an arch that may once have been similar to the chancel arch.  That has two continuous flat chamfers running round the arch and jambs, without intervening capitals, whereas while the tower arch similarly has double-chamfered jambs and no capitals, the mouldings merge upwards into the sunk quadrant and hollow chamfers previously mentioned, and the effect is not entirely convincing as a representation of the original form.

 

St. Mary's church is constructed throughout of flint with limestone dressings and consists, besides the tower, of a nave with a N. porch and a chancel with a cross-gabled S. vestry.  The nave and chancel are both largely Decorated in style, with some Perpendicular insertions.  Windows are mostly renewed but have curvilinear tracery except for the Perpendicular chancel E. window, which is supermullioned.  The S. doorway and the inner and outer doorways to the N. porch have Perpendicular profiles and are set in square surrounds with traceried spandrels.  The vestry is Victorian.

 

On entering the church, it is the wall paintings that are most striking, even though they are faded and discoloured.  Above the N. doorway, the remains of a St. George and the Dragon is visible, although only the dragon can really be made out (as illustrated below left), while opposite on the south wall, it is possible to discern the outline of St. Michael Weighing Souls on the right (shown below right) and St. Christopher carrying the Infant Christ on the left.

 

[Other churches with round towers featured on this web-site are Snailwell in Cambridgeshire, Quidenham, Roydon, Rushall, Shimpling and Thorpe Abbotts in Norfolk, and Aldham, Brome, Hengrave, Higham, Little Bradley, Little Saxham, Rickinghall Inferior, Risby, Stuston, Theberton, Wissett and Wortham in Suffolk.]