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English Church Architecture.


GAMLINGAY, St. Mary  (TL 241 523),


(Bedrock:  Lower Cretaceous, Lower Greensand Group.)


An impressive church situated on the Lower Greensand, Woburn Sands Formation,

built of ironstone.



Before the advent of the canals and (especially) the railways, the transport of heavy goods overland frequently cost more than the goods did themselves.  Builders, therefore, used vernacular materials whenever possible, preferably sourced within a mile or two of the site.  Mediaeval stone buildings consequently reflect the underlying geology and churches in particular provide an approximate geological map of Britain, which is naturally most faithful in areas of less complexity.   This general principle is revealed to good effect along the Lower Greensand ridge which rises along the western edge of the Lower Cretaceous outcrop of south and east England, which is itself very narrow in the southeast/northwest direction, yet extensive and continuous from northeast to southwest, as seen below.   Moreover, the rubble building stones to which the Lower Greensand gives rise, which are generally known as carstone (chiefly in Norfolk) or  ironstone,  are a very distinctive, liquorice-brown colour, which is difficult to miss.  Drivers heading northwest from East Anglia to the Midlands along one of the quieter roads that passes through intermediate villages, will suddenly notice one or two village churches (probably no more) that show they are crossing this outcrop, while someone with a will to do so, might set out from Hunstanton on the north Norfolk coast and, except across the Fens, pick his or her way southwest, at least as far as Leighton Buzzard on the southern border of Bedfordshire, and encounter one such church after another.  The churches named on the map below, all of which are represented on this web-site, serve to illustrate this.



The Lower Cretaceous Rocks of Eastern England, laid down 146-97 Ma.

1 = Heacham (Norfolk);  2 = Castle Rising (Norfolk);  3 = Wilburton (Cambridgeshire);    4 = Cottenham (Cambridgeshire);  
5 = Great Gransden (Cambridgeshire);  6 = Bourn (Cambridgeshire);   7 = Gamlingay (Cambridgeshire); 
8 = Everton (CENTRAL Bedfordshire);  9 = Blunham (CENTRAL Bedfordshire);   10 = Eyeworth (CENTRAL Bedfordshire);  
11 = Biggleswade (CENTRAL Bedfordshire);  12 = Edworth (CENTRAL Bedfordshire); 

Gamlingay is situated on the Lower Greensand outcrop that forms a distinctive ridge for much of the distance from here to and Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire, dissected on the way only by the River Ivel west of Sandy.  The church is constructed of an unmistakeable, deep rusty brown, sandstone rubble, that lays bare the underlying geology and owes its impressive appearance partly to this and partly to being stylistically all of a piece, for externally it is Perpendicular everywhere, the windows are almost all alike, being four-centred and untraceried, and all parts of the building are topped by battlements, providing a uniformity of design where the whole really does seem to be more than the sum of the constituent parts.  This is evident from the photograph above, where the two-light bell-openings which do, in fact, have supermullioned tracery, and the four-light transept windows with their modest squash tracery formed from the subarcuation of the outer lights in pairs, contribute very little to the building’s overall effect.  Much more important is the constant angle of pitch of the very low-pitched roofs and the grouping of masses provided by the cross-gabled transepts, the porches and N. sacristy, which endow the whole composition with a robust solidity.  In all, the building consists of an angle buttressed W. tower with leaded flèche above, an aisled nave, N. and S. transepts, N. and S. porches, a chancel and a  N. sacristy.  The N. porch is two-storeyed and has a sexpartite vault above the lower storey.


The interior of the building seems rather commonplace after this grandeur.  The five-bay arcades, which actually prove to be Early English (i.e. thirteenth century) in date, consist of double-flat-chamfered arches springing from octagonal piers, the contemporary arches from the aisles to the transepts have two flat-chamfered orders dying into the imposts, and the narrow but very thick tower arch bears two flat chamfers, of which the inner is supported on semi-octagonal shafts and the outer continues down the responds without intervening capitals.  Only the chancel arch is Perpendicular: here the two orders bear sunk quadrant mouldings and rise without capitals from responds with wave mouldings.  Many of the piers and responds are scratched with ancient graffiti, of which one on the easternmost pier of the N. arcade reads, 'hic est sede Margrete Tayl...d'.  ('Here is Margrete Talyard’s seat.')  Walter Talyard paid for the remodelling of the N. transept in 1466.


Few furnishings require mention. The font is Early English and consists of just an octagonal bowl with a pair of completely plain, blank arches on each face.  The rood screen is old in part and has a central bay with supermullioned drop tracery and four-light outer bays with supermullioned tracery above lights subarcuated in pairs.  Backing on to the dado facing east, are two pairs of misericords.  Finally, in the chancel S. wall there is a recessed Perpendicular sedilia (shown right), comprised of three equal bays, with cinquefoil-cusped, ogee arches.  These modest features are perhaps a little disappointing, but the church is a splendid to this large and growing village.