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English Church Architecture.


HEMINGFORD GREY, St. Peter & St. Paul  (TL 293 708),


(Bedrock:  Upper Jurassic, Oxford Clay.)


A church that once featured in The Shell Guide to England for the beauty of its position.



This church is notable above all for its picture postcard appearance, situated as it is at a bend on the very bank of the River Great Ouse, and surmounted by the stump of a former spire, which was crowned by a ring of eight ball finials after most of it had blown down in a hurricane in 1741.  (See also the photograph at the bottom of the page, on the left.) It is built of sandstone and limestone rubble,... or is it sandy limestone.... or calcareous sandstone?Yet however it is termed, it is mostly mid-brown and it does certainly give the walls a warm glow that detracts attention from the renewed and rather lifeless windows with their nineteenth century geometric traceries.  Among these, one original lancet remains in the chancel N. wall to show that the basic masonry of at least this part of the building dates back to the thirteenth century.  The W. tower has a three-light W. window with supermullioned tracery and a supertransom above the central light, but the two-light bell-openings have straightened reticulated tracery, suggesting the date of this work is not later than c. 1400.  The apparent local fashion for retaining tracery such as this, so closely allied to early fourteenth century reticulated, into the second half of the century, has been a source of dating confusion in a number of neighbouring churches.  The restored chancel S. window with tracery formed from the intersection of an ogee with an inverted ogee (as shown in the photograph, bottom right), is probably of genuine Decorated derivation.  This is another regional design, perhaps dating this time from c. 1340, which can be seen at a number of Cambridgeshire churches, including St. Mary Magdalene’s, Madingley.


Inside the building one’s attention is immediately drawn to the three-bay nave arcades in which each arch seems at first sight to take a different form from its neighbours. Indeed, so rigidly do these arches cling to the fashions of their respective dates, that the eastern pier of the N. arcade actually displays a capital which is rectangular and scalloped to the west (i.e. towards the central arch) and semicircular to the east (as illustrated right).  These forms would fit the mid twelfth and mid thirteenth centuries respectively.  The western arch of this arcade is also thirteenth century, but either earlier or later:  its two flat-chamfered orders die into the jamb on its western side.  Both the central and  the western arches of the S. arcade are Norman, yet they are somewhat later than the central arch opposite.  All three are composed of two orders, of which the outer is unmoulded and the inner, flat-chamfered, but the chamfer is wider and more confident to the south, and the capitals below are circular.  Finally the eastern arch of the S. arcade copies the N. arcade arch opposite.  It seems likely that the church’s original Norman nave was two bays long and that it was subsequently lengthened, perhaps when a central tower was removed and the nave and aisles had to be extended to meet the chancel.  This would not, of course, explain why the south arcade postdates the north.


The chancel arch is probably thirteenth century work again.  Here three flat chamfers are  borne on  very  thick,  semi-octagonal  responds.   In the chancel S. wall there is a nice two-bay sedilia, formed of intersecting semicircles and supported by a group of colonnettes between.  A two-bay  piscina based  on this  design can  be seen in the S. transept at St. Andrew’s, Histon (where it is better executed) and in the piscina of Barnston church in Essex (where the design is more florid).  Opposite is a two-bay aumbry, formed of the simplest round-headed arches.  The tower arch is Perpendicular and bears a hollow chamfer and a sunk quadrant, the latter springing from semicircular shafts and the former continuing down the jambs. There are no furnishings or monuments in the church that need particularizing.