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English Church Architecture -



COTTENHAM, All Saints (TL 455 686)     (July 2008)

(Bedrock:  Lower Cretaceous, Lower Greensand Group)


The W. tower is a famous landmark north of Cambridge (seen left, from the southeast), distinguished by its pineapple-shaped pinnacles, and it is here where most of the church’s architectural interest lies for apart from the chancel arch, the rest of this fairly large building is composed of rather ordinary fourteenth and fifteenth century work, externally much renewed.


To begin with the tower then, this was reconstructed after the collapse of its predecessor in a storm in 1617, as witnessed by Arabic numerals inscribed in two places in the southwest buttress (illustrated below right), betwixt and between what are presumably the names and initials of the masons or benefactors, which include “EIE”, “ETM”, “ERE”, “HJAH”  and “JOHNNORMANMARGRE” (for John, Norman and Margaret?)    The tower is angle buttressed and constructed in pink and yellow bricks above the first set-offs,  showing where the Jacobean work was raised over the remnant of the mediaeval structure.  The W. window and three-light bell-openings have intersecting tracery and transoms below the springing.  The tower arch is formed of three flat-chamfered orders which continue uninterrupted down the jambs.


The chancel arch is the oldest feature of the building, being double-flat-chamfered above semicircular responds, which is a commonplace thirteenth century form.  The three-light chancel windows to north and south, inasmuch as they can be trusted, are probably late fifteenth century work, with their four-centred arches, supermullioned tracery with strong mullions, and supertransoms above the central lights.  (The E. window is Victorian.)  Internally, beneath the easternmost window to the south, a short and viciously-cusped triple sedilia would surely cause serious head injury to any cleric rising quickly from his seat, while a fourth arch further east, encloses a piscina with credence shelf above.  A decorative frieze above the sedilia and piscina is carved with quatrefoils in circles.  The chancel roof, thought to date from c. 1783, is constructed with tie beams supporting king posts and “V”-struts.


The five-bay nave arcades (and not, pace Pevsner, four-bay) are formed of double-hollow-chamfered arches springing from octagonal piers - a design that might suggest an early fourteenth century date except that the profile of the capitals with little broaches above, does not seem quite right.  These capitals are not the same everywhere, however, for in the N. arcade, that to the second pier from the west is deeper than its neighbours, and the N. arcade capitals are all slightly different from their counterparts opposite, which may simply be a reflection of the fact that the sculptors working on the building (probably in the late fourteenth century) had a very insouciant attitude towards measuring and drawing.  The three-light aisle windows have tracery like the chancel windows except that the supertransoms are now castellated and the windows themselves are shorter and have arches with straight upper segments which thus form triangular points.  (See the N. aisle window, left.)  The clerestory is composed of two-light windows aligned directly above.


The church underwent several Victorian restorations which have left it as clean as a whistle of any furnishings of interest.