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English Church Architecture -



GREAT GRANSDEN, St. Bartholomew (TL 271 556)     (July 2003)

(Bedrock:  Lower Cretaceous, Lower Greensand Group)


Great Gransden is situated at the north-eastern tip of a major outcrop of lower greensand that stretches from here to Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire, dissected only by the River Ivel at Sandy.  The church is built of sandstone cobbles, but the colour is not yet the deep rusty brown to be seen two miles away at Gamlingay.


St. Bartholomew’s church (shown left, from the northeast) is of average size but derives its rather stately appearance from an almost entirely embattled exterior (that is, except for the low-pitched chancel), a leaded flèche rising from the top of the tower 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 style.  Features suggesting 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 (see Appendix 2).  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 two sunk quadrants (see Appendix 2 again, and  the entry on Balsham church), springing from compound piers formed of semicircular shafts towards the openings, separated by casements from wave mouldings applied to the angles facing the nave and the aisles.  (A N. pier is illustrated right.)  The chancel arch has an inner sunk quadrant moulding supported on semicircular shafts, surrounded by casement 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 local churches, including those at Little Gransden, 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 two orders, springing from responds formed of two orders of characteristically shallow, semi-octagonal shafts with mouldings superimposed, and all appear in contexts broadly consistent with the third quarter of the fourteenth century.


Significant woodwork at Great Gransden includes principally the attractive nave roof, displaying carved saints holding shields, decorating the principal rafters.  By contrast, the aisle roofs look Victorian and the wooden angel corbels, as if they have been taken from a pattern book.  The five-bay rood screen is partly original: the central bay is ogee-arched, the outer bays each have delicate two-light tracery, and the stiles have attached bowtells.


Finally, in the S. wall of the chancel is a nice ogee-headed piscina with traceried spandrels  (shown left).  The chancel and sanctuary are attractively tiled.