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English Church Architecture.

 

GUILDEN MORDEN, St. Mary  (TL 279 442),

CAMBRIDGESHIRE. 

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Lower Chalk.)

 

The most stately church in south Cambridgeshire.

 

This is one of the noblest churches in south Cambridgeshire, due in particular to its uniformity of design, its all-embattled exterior, and the effect of the fine, projecting octagonal rood stair turret in the re-entrant between the S. aisle and chancel.  From outside, the building appears to have been erected in two phases:  first, the tower, constructed of roughly cut limestone ashlar, rising in three stages supported by angle buttresses to a pair of two-light transomed bell-openings in each wall, with straightened reticulated tracery suggesting the second half of the fourteenth century;  and second, the rest of the church, built of sandstone cobbles and limestone rubble apart from the mediaeval N. vestry, with untraceried windows in the aisles and nave clerestory, and supermullioned tracery in the chancel windows, set beneath four-centred arches of probable fifteenth century derivation.  The tower is surmounted by pinnacles at the angles, and surmounted by a narrow leaded spire in the manner familiar in Hertfordshire, barely a mile to the southeast (the so-called 'Hertfordshire spike').  The three-light W window is two-centred, with strong mullions, supermullioned tracery and a quatrefoil in the head.   The S porch is diagonally-buttressed and has untraceried side windows and a very worn outer doorway that once bore a series of complex mouldings above an order of side-shafts.

 

Inside the building, a more complicated story is revealed.  The aisle arcades (seen above from the west) are six bays long and each formed of two distinct parts with breaks represented by a couple of short wall pieces, one in the middle of the S. aisle (illustrated below left), dividing it into two sections of three bays, and one after the fourth bay from the east in the N. aisle (below right), where the wall piece (if it may be so called) is scarcely four inches wide.  Not one of these sections is identical to any one of the others but by far the most dissimilar is the eastern section of the S. arcade, composed of double-flat-chamfered arches springing from tall octagonal piers and semi-octagonal responds, with nailhead around the capitals of the W. respond and eastern pier, characteristic of c. 1170 - 1300.  Pevsner suggested these bays might indicate the length of the original church (The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1970, p. 398), which would have rendered it somewhat out of proportion, but as he seems not to have noticed the subtler difference between the two parts of the N. arcade, which also requires explanation, perhaps the correct interpretation is that the earlier church was four bays long, with - from the thirteenth century onwards - a three-bay S. chapel butting up against a porch to the west.  (Notice the piscina recessed in the east end of the S. aisle south wall.)  The four-bay N aisle could have been added shortly after c.1350, judging from the arcade carrying two sunk quadrants and dripstones rising from large head label stops (the only part of either arcade to have them) above quatrefoil piers with narrow spurs in the diagonals. This building could then have been extended westwards to meet the new tower, around the end of the fourteenth century, necessitating the construction of two additional aisle bays to the north, and three to the south, after the decision had been made to rebuild the porch beyond the line of the aisle to the south.  The arches in both these sections bear a double wave moulding on the inner order and a single wave on the outer order, above piers composed of four major and four minor shafts, with such differences as exist north to south, residing largely in the depth and exact profile of the capitals, and possibly attributable to the involvement of two masons.   The clerestory may be a fifteenth century addition, when the opportunity was also taken to replace the aisle windows. The large tower arch has a wave moulding on the inner order, supported on semicircular shafts, and a complex series of moulding on the outer order, which continue all the way round, uninterrupted by capitals.  The chancel arch carries  a series of complex mouldings above semi-quatrefoil responds with fillets.

                 S. arcade (central pier)                                                    N. arcade (fourth pier from the east)
                   ←east         west→                                                                ←west         east→

 

Furnishings in the church do not amount to much, with one or possibly two, exceptions. The lesser of these is the font, with a circular bowl that is almost certainly Norman, with nailhead decoration in a spiral round the rim.  The major item, however, is the rood screen, though whether it is as special as the notes in the church suggest, which claim it to be unaltered except for the removal of the loft, seems doubtful.  (The northern section is shown below left, viewed from the southwest.)  Rather, Pevsner may have had the measure of it when he declared it to be reassembled from the original rood screen and one or more parclose screens, to form 'a double rood-screen, i.e. with a kind of pew left and right of a central passageway.  Three designs are represented, two very similar and clearly not too late in the fourteenth century, the third, early Perp.'   In fact, the early Perpendicular work forms the back of the screen and the re-used sections of parclose screens, if that is what they are, appear to have been built up against it on the side towards the nave.  The tower clock, however, is a most excellent survival, dated 1749 and of the very early type with a single hand.  (See the photograph, below right.)