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English Church Architecture -



HEMINGFORD ABBOTS, St. Margaret (TL 283 711)     (July 2003)

(Bedrock:  Upper Jurassic, Oxford Clay)


Hemingford Abbots is one of a number of attractive villages bordering the A14 between Huntingdon and Cambridge, and the fine tower and spire of the church provide it with a pleasing contribution.  The chancel emphatically does not, for this is a nineteenth century reconstruction in gault brick, which is about as hideous as it could be, and the twentieth century has made matters worse by the addition of the appalling little vestry with ridiculous N. façade resembling a cardboard stage set.  These parts of the building are especially unfortunate seen in conjunction with the good quality of the rest, which like many churches in this area is built of calcareous sandstone rubble or what Pevsner calls “brown cobbles”.  In fact, they are not cobbles for these are fractured and irregular pieces of rock, not smooth stones rounded by water, but this is quite an attractive material whatever it is termed, especially as here, in combination with limestone quoins.


The tower is the glory of the building.  It rises in four stages supported by clasping buttresses, to stepped battlements, crocketed pinnacles at the angles, and a recessed, soaring octagonal limestone spire (illustrated left), divided into three by string courses and lit in its two lower stages by gabled lucarnes.  The W. doorway has a complex profile that continues all the way around without intervening capitals.  The three-light W. window has inverted daggers above the lights and the two-light bell-openings have straightened reticulated tracery.  It is probably these, and the absence of supermullions in the W. window, which have led the church guide to ascribe the tower to Decorated times but, in fact, the work is entirely consistent with other work done locally c. 1380.  (See also Appendix 2 for the dating of straightened reticulated tracery.)


The nave is aisled and the aisles continue westwards to clasp the tower, which they appear to predate.  The S. aisle W. window has renewed Y-tracery, while to the south are two Perpendicular, three-light windows without tracery and one which is two-light and resembles the bell-openings.  The N. aisle W. window has renewed geometric tracery, but the N. windows are two-light, square-headed and, surely, perfectly commonplace Perpendicular insertions, notwithstanding  Pevsner’s description of them as “remarkable [work] of c.1300”.  However, this is the likely date of the three-and-a-half-bay nave arcades, which are composed of double-flat-chamfered arches springing from octagonal piers.  (The tower has cut into the original westernmost bay.) The easternmost bay is supported by piers of much thicker girth than the others (that to the south is shown right), and half arches cross the aisles at this point, the explanation of which appears to be that the church had an erstwhile central  tower, supported by these half arches acting as flying buttresses, and that this tower was removed when the present one was erected. 


Finally, the nave roof is of couple construction, nicely decorated with carved angels on alternate principal rafters.  The easternmost bay is attractively painted but not easy to see in the “dim religious light”.