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English Church Architecture.


GREAT GRANSDEN, St. Bartholomew  (TL 271 556),


(Bedrock:  Lower Cretaceous, Lower Greensand Group.)


A church situated on the Lower Greensand outcrop, built largely 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); 

Great Gransden 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 built of ironstone cobbles (as shown below right), but the colour is not yet the deep rusty brown to be seen two miles away at Gamlingay.


St. Bartholomew’s is a church of average size which owes its stately appearance to its almost entirely embattled exterior (that is, except for the low-pitched chancel) and, in particular, a rood stair turret rising above the nave at the northeast angle, between the nave and the aisle.  The nave has an aisle and porch on each side and is built chiefly in late fourteenth century Pependicular style.  Features supporting this dating externally include the two-centred arches to the three-light, supermullioned aisle windows,  and the bell-openings which consist of two tall, two-light openings per wall, with straightened reticulation units in the heads.  Rather later in appearance are the more individual north and south windows to the chancel, which are four-centred and have supermullions above the central lights and secondary subarcuation over small quatrefoils above the outer lights.  The E. window has been renewed.


Inside the building, the church’s early Perpendicular construction is further indicated by the four-bay arcades, composed of arches bearing sunk quadrant mouldings, springing from compound piers formed of semicircular shafts towards the openings, separated by deep hollows from wave mouldings applied to the angles facing the nave and the aisles.  (One of the N. arcade piers is illustrated right.)  The chancel arch has an inner sunk quadrant moulding supported on semicircular shafts, surrounded by hollows and wave mouldings that continue down the responds without intervening capitals.  The design of the tower arch is one which, with slight variations, has been much employed in other local churches, including those at Little Gransden in this county, and Everton, Potton and Sutton in neighbouring Bedfordshire, and it seems almost certain that the same mason was responsible for them all.  They are distinguished by arches of somewhat varying profiles but essentially comprising two orders, springing from responds formed of two orders of characteristically shallow, semi-octagonal shafts with mouldings superimposed, all of which are to be found in contexts broadly consistent with the third quarter of the fourteenth century.