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 English Church Architecture.


MADINGLEY, St. Mary Magdalene  (TL 395 603),


(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Lower Chalk.)


A thirteenth and early fourteenth century church

 in a village memorialised in the poetry of Rupert Brook (1887-1915).



Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand

Still guardians of that holy land?

The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream

The yet unacademic stream?

Is dawn a secret shy and cold

Anadyomene, silver-gold?

And sunset still a golden sea

from Haslingfield to Madingley?


        from The Old Vicarage, Grantchester (May 1912).


According to the surviving visible evidence today, this is a building of essentially two periods - the thirteenth century in the case of the nave and chancel, and the early to mid fourteenth century in the case of the N. aisle and tower:  the dates attributed to these parts in the church guide (Richard Seale, St. Mary Magdalene, Madingley; a Short History, 2013, p. 2) are too early, while Pevsner's ascription of the nave and chancel to c. 1300 is probably too late (The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1970, p. 434).   The first period was responsible for the lancet in the N. wall of the nave, to the west of the porch, and for three lancets at the eastern end of the chancel, two to the north and one to the south.  The chancel arch is contemporary and composed of a double-flat-chamfered arch supported on a pair of very broad semi-octagonal responds.  The chancel was shortened by eleven feet in 1779 (ibid., p. 3) but the three stepped lancets that pierce it, are Victorian.



The N. aisle, now atrociously faced in masonry with 'crazy-paving' effect, is dated 'about 1300' in the church guide and 'early C14' by Pevsner, but the design of the arcade seems quite advanced, even for the latter time.  It consists of arches bearing waves and quarter circle mouldings (they are not quite sufficiently sharply defined to be termed 'sunk quadrants'), supported on piers formed of four major and four minor semicircular shafts, with capitals going all the way round but with the annulets below around the major shafts only.  (See the photograph above, looking southeast.)  Piers of like form, probably deriving from the reconstruction of the church in 1331, can be seen at St. Andrew's, Isleham in this county, but arcades very similar overall to these at Madingley and close-dated to c. 1350, may be found fifteen miles to the southwest, at Ashwell in Hertfordshire.  Many others seem to be later again, and Birkin Haward, in his comprehensive guide to the arcades of the churches of Suffolk (Suffolk Medieval Church Arcades, Hitcham, The Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 1993, pp. 331 & 302), dated piers of this section at Rougham and Long Melford respectively to  c. 1350 and c. 1380.  The latter year may be too late for some of the window designs here however.  The best is the easternmost S. window in the nave (illustrated below left), with three lights and drop tracery formed of intersecting ogees beneath a segmental-pointed arch.  It may serve as the model of its type, which seems to have particular associations with Cambridgeshire.  A two-light version of the design can be seen at St. Peter & St. Paul's church, Hemingford Grey.


The tower is unbuttressed and rises in four stages to battlements and a slender surmounting spire, reconstructed in 1926 and lit by two tiers of gabled lucarnes in the cardinal directions.  There is no W. doorway and the two-light W. window in the second stage has reticulated tracery.  The tower arch to the nave (below right) springs from responds of similar section to the piers to the N. arcade, but the mouldings above are different and the arch itself is lancet-pointed and now set in a tall, blank, segmental arch - the probable result of fifteenth century alterations during which the wall was thickened.  Other Perpendicular additions to the building include the N. porch with its unglazed two-light windows, the nave clerestory formed of five pairs of cinquefoil-cusped Y-traceried windows (i.e. they occur on the aisleless south side of the building as well as above the aisle to the north), three windows in the S. wall of the nave below, and the east and west windows to the aisle.



Furnishings and fittings inside the church include the unusual font (below left), formed of a square bowl standing on a square stem, albeit with the angles cut away to create spaces for nook-shafts.  This defies confident dating and Pevsner wondered whether it might be 'C17 work trying to imitate the Norman style'.  The royal arms of George III above the S. doorway is chiefly of interest for being made of artificial Coade stone from Mrs. Eleanor Coade's London manufactory, formerly situated on the site of the Royal Festival Hall.  This material, whose composition has only recently been rediscovered, permitted fine detail to be produced and has proved exceptionally durable.


Finally, among the many monuments in the church are two by Sir Richard Westmacott (1775-1856), commemorating John Cotton (d. 1807, aged 8), and Commander Charles Cotton (d. 1828), who is recorded as having died of a fever resulting from rescuing people at sea.  Neither display an effigy but the latter appropriately features a ship's prow, a sword and seashells.  Another monument with a nautical theme, dedicated to Admiral Sir Charles Cotton (d. 1812), is the work of John Flaxman (1755-1826) and bears a flag, anchor and sword on a large plain marble background. Larger and older than all three of these, however, is the unsigned monument against the N. wall of the sanctuary, to Dame Jane Cotton (d. 1692).  This does carry an effigy and depicts Dame Jane wearing a loose-fitting dress, lying on her right elbow, looking vaguely towards the sky, while above and behind her, putti look out between curtains.