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English Church Architecture -



OVER, St. Mary (TL 372 708)     (March 2018)

(Bedrock:  Upper Jurassic, Ampthill Clay)


This large and impressive church (shown left, from the northwest) is predominantly the product of two architectural “periods” - the early fourteenth century Decorated in the case of the aisled nave and W. tower, and the late fourteenth/fifteenth century Perpendicular in the case of the chancel.  There may not be much difference in date between them, however, for the Decorated work is late, to judge from the nave arcades, perhaps even post-dating the Black Death of 1349, and the Perpendicular work is early, probably no later than the end of the same century.  However, although the tower has been invested with Decorated ornament, there is reason to suppose it is Early English (thirteenth century) in its core:  the arch to the nave is sufficiently steep to be almost lancet pointed and carries simple mouldings, and the second stage windows have uncusped Y-tracery while the bell-openings have cusped Y-tracery, characteristic of the Early English/Decorated transition, c. 1300.  The tower rises in three stages to a spire, supported by angle buttresses and lit by a renewed three-light supermullioned window above a W. door with a defaced carved panel between two empty niches above, that probably once depicted Mary in the company of angels.  The spire is lit by three tiers of gabled lucarnes, the lower two of which are two-light, with slightly ungainly-looking trefoils in the heads.  Yet rather more notable is that this is neither a broach nor a splay-footed spire, but one supported at the angles by what might best be described as sloping buttresses.  The nave aisles and porch are surrounded by a line of ball flower ornament, diagnostic of the mature Decorated style, running beneath the battlements, but what looks at first glance like a similar line around the top of the tower (i.e. immediately below the spire), turns out on closer examination to be an inventive frieze of figures and animal heads, quite obviously derived from it.  The porch (seen right, from the west) is two bays deep and has unglazed two-light side windows with lights separated by colonnettes, but more strikingly, it is supported at the southeast and southwest corners by buttresses comprising clusters of keeled shafts, that rise to form hexagonal pinnacles with more ball flower ornament of reduced dimensions, which terminate in ribbed spirelets.


The aisle windows adopt one of two forms - the first, four-light and segmental-pointed above two tiers of over-large reticulated tracery (illustrated below left), and the other, confined to the two easternmost windows on either side, three-light and composed of two large intersecting ogees, like the easternmost south window at Madingley, except that here the windows are segmental-arched instead of, as there, segmental-pointed (illustrated below right).  The three-bay chancel is lit by three-light, four-centred transomed windows which differ in design from north to south, though both have minimal tracery squeezed in above the springing line.  The five-light E. window is double-transomed and has outer lights subarcuated in pairs and a crocketed ogee-pointed hood-mould above.  Another marked feature of the church exterior is the projection on all sides of large, grotesque gargoyles holding the water spouts projecting from the gutters.


Inside the church, chancel arch carries an inner hollow chamfer and an outer flat chamfer above chamfered wall pieces, which might suggest it is approximately contemporary with the tower arch and that a building of this length existed in the thirteenth century, before it was remodelled and partially rebuilt in the early fourteenth. The nave arcades are certainly of the latter date and are six bays long and supported on compound piers with octagonal shafts in the cardinal directions, separated by flat-ended spurs with hollow chamfered sides.  These shafts have individual carved capitals displaying floral motifs and castellated abaci.  The very simple clerestory consists of short two-light windows positioned above the apices of the nave arcades below.  The chancel windows and the three-light nave aisle windows are set within wider blank arches, with sunk quadrants around the heads, supported by an order of side-shafts.  (The photograph below left shows the interior view, looking east.)

Finally and briefly, the nave and chancel roofs are of king-post construction, though only the chancel roof appears to retain some old timbers.  The wooden reredos and all the chancel furniture is new but the very dark wood pulpit (above right) is Jacobean and by far the best piece of carpentry in the building:  it has an ogee domed tester above, a tier of panels round the drum, decorated with the usual carved arches, a shorter tier above displaying characteristic lattice work, and a bookrest supported by consoles.  The simple octagonal font has carved shields on the faces of the bowl and cinquefoil-cusped arches with crocketed gables round the stem.