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English Church Architecture -



FENSTANTON, St. Peter & St. Paul (TL 320 687)     (July 2003)

(Bedrock:  Upper Jurassic, Oxford Clay)


This is quite a big church (shown left, from the south), built of limestone and sandstone rubble, and consisting in plan of a W. tower with a spire, an aisled nave with a S. porch, and a chancel.  The aisles clasp the tower.


The  chancel is the most important part of the building because it is a fine, dateable piece of latest Decorated work.  Built at the expense of the then rector, William de Loughton, who was the incumbent from 1345 to 1352, it has tall, three-light windows to the north and south, with reticulated tracery in which each reticulation unit is an octfoil rather than a quatrefoil (shown right).  The E. window has seven lights and is one of the biggest in any parish church in Cambridgeshire: the outer lights are subarcuated in threes with ogee arches, and the head of the window is filled with a great wheel of daggers and trefoils.  Internally, there is a nice four-stepped sedilia recessed in the S. wall, with cinquefoil-cusped ogee arches separated by clusters of four slender shafts.  The chancel arch carries a hollow chamfer and a sunk quadrant on its two orders, springing from semi-octagonal responds.


The rest of the church is essentially Perpendicular, much of it early within the period, although it also retains some Early English work from a previous build.  The N. aisle is lit by three, three-light windows, with two-centred arches and supermullioned tracery; the lights are ogee-arched and the outer lights, subarcuated.  The S. aisle windows are four-light and untraceried although this side of the building presents the principal façade.  The S. porch has an outer arch with an order of very slender colonnettes, unless they should be regarded as Perpendicular bowtells(?), for this doorway appears to be a hybrid, from the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries:  the dog-tooth moulding round the dripstone is clearly re-set Early English work.  The attractive, slender tower is angle buttressed and lit by a tall, three-light supermullioned W. window, the bell-openings are two-light and supermullioned, and the surmounting octagonal spire has two tiers of lucarnes.


Inside the building, the three-bay nave arcades are built of Barnack stone from the Middle Jurassic inferior oolite. Formed of piers composed of four semi-octagonal shafts separated by hollows, supporting arches bearing a hollow chamfer and a sunk quadrant, they maintain no consistent relationship with the four pairs of clerestory windows above. The very tall tower arch carries the same hollow chamfer and sunk quadrant, but this time above massive semi-octagonal responds, showing it to be early Perpendicular work springing from Early English.  The arches between the aisles and the tower are triple-flat-chamfered and the blocked remains of two-centred, presumably thirteenth century, windows are visible above.  Presumably these lit the second stage of the tower before it was reconstructed and enclosed by the aisles.


Carpentry of significance in the church is largely confined to the octagonal Elizabethan pulpit with linenfold panelling.  The king post nave roof and the aisle roofs have been substantially restored, although the fifteenth century purlins and principal rafters survive.  The false hammerbeam chancel roof dates entirely from the nineteenth century.


The church contains three monuments of note, one of which, commemorating Lady Frances Brown (d. 1792, aged 38), consists of a female figure stooped over an urn, signed “Coade, London, 1793” (illustrated left).  Mrs. Eleanor Coade (d. 1796) was a remarkable business woman, originally from Lyme Regis in Dorset, who moved to London and set up a manufacturing company for artificial stone on the site of the Royal Festival Hall in 1769. The stone, made from a formula invented by her husband and subsequently never entirely elucidated, was claimed to have the ability to resist frost, the validity of which is testified today by the remarkably crisp condition of many of the manufactory’s works.  The other monuments are noteworthy because of who they commemorate.  The first, to the memory of William de Loughton, now consists of only an indentation in the chancel floor, where formerly there was a brass, but the second is a flat tomb chest dedicated to none other than Lancelot “Capability” Brown (1716-83), the professional park designer who did as much as any man to define the appearance of the eighteenth century English countryside.  He bought the manor of Fenstanton, which remained in his family for four generations, his grandson, Thomas, becoming rector here for a while.