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English Church Architecture.


GREAT CHISHILL, St. Swithin  (TL 422 389),


(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk.)


A church with spectacularly dissimilar nave arcades.

Externally the church has been heavily restored and the tower, rebuilt from the old materials in 1895 (Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1970, p. 395).  The nave, aisles, S. porch and W. tower are embattled, the chancel is roofed with slates, and the walls throughout are constructed of flint and pebble rubble, but only the N. aisle windows and the formerly two-storeyed S. porch, appear to survive in their original form.  The two, two-light and one, three-light N. aisle windows are formed of cinquefoil-cusped lights separated by strong mullions with a very narrow tier of supermullioned tracery above.  The porch (which is now open to the roof) is unbuttressed and lit by two-light windows to each storey at the sides and by a small window formed of two rectangular slits in the upper storey to the south.  A projecting quarter-octagon in the re-entrant between the nave and the W. wall of the porch, indicates the position of the former stair.  The porch outer doorway is double-flat-chamfered above semi-octagonal responds and the inner doorway bears two hollows..  The tower now rises in three stages supported by diagonal buttresses to the lower two, to a bell-stage with straightened reticulated bell-openings.



None of that is particularly significant but the interior of the building is much more revealing (see the photograph above, taken from the west) because the four-bay nave arcades differ dramatically between the north side and the south.  The S. arcade is clearly early fourteenth century (i.e. Decorated) work, formed of double-hollow-chamfered arches with broaches in the base of the outer order, springing from octagonal piers with prominent moulded capitals, and corbels (as opposed to responds) at either end.  This is sufficiently similar to the S. arcade at neighbouring Barley (Hertfordshire) to suggest it may be the work of the same hand.  In contrast, the taller N. arcade, composed of arches bearing two sunk chamfers supported on lozenge-shaped piers with semi-octagonal shafts towards the openings, is a century or so later.  (See the close-up of the easternmost pier, viewed from the west, below left.)  However, the insignificant little chancel arch, carrying a hollow chamfer and a wave on an inner order supported on figure corbels, seems to be contemporary with the S. arcade.  It is in line with the tower arch but off-centre with the nave, implying the nave was extended northwards when the new N. aisle was added.  This reconstruction provided space for a very large squint immediately north of the chancel arch, giving a wide view of the sanctuary:  it is two-centred towards the nave and four-centred towards the chancel.  The tower arch (below right) is triple-flat-chamfered and might be considered thirteenth century work were it not for the rather later appearance of the capitals.




















Finally, the church contains no furnishing or monuments of interest but there is a blank arch beneath the easternmost N. aisle window, that must once have housed an effigy.  It carries a wide hollow and a wave moulding beneath a label (rectangular dripstone), and has carved spandrels decorated with blank shields in quatrefoils and little daggers below and to the sides.