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English Church Architecture -



SNAILWELL, St. Peter (TL 642 676)     (October 2004)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Lower Chalk)


This church, in a pleasant position on the edge of a small village, has one of the only two round towers in Cambridgeshire (cf. Bartlow), in this case of Norman origin (see the photograph, left).  Constructed of flint and pebble rubble and quite plain below the bell-stage, it has narrow round-headed windows in two tiers to the west and similar windows at the upper level to the north and south.  The larger bell-openings are formed on each side of a single opening divided into two sub-arches by a shaft with a scalloped capital.  A string course above marks the base of the parapet, which may or may not be contemporary, but inside, the tower arch to the nave is pointed and clearly later.


The rest of the building consists of a three-bay aisled nave with S. porch, and a chancel with cross-gabled N. vestry.  Almost everything is Victorian externally and in First Pointed style.  Chief exceptions are the N. aisle windows with the appearance of c. 1300 - those to east and west with cinquefoil-cusped Y-tracery, and those to the north, with cinquefoil-cusped intersecting tracery, of which the right hand one viewed internally has an order of shafts with castellated capitals and a hood mould bearing a fillet and ending in head label stops.  These windows are probably contemporary with the N. arcade, which is formed of arches carrying a flat chamfer and a hollow chamfer, springing from octagonal piers.  The S. arcade is similar except the arches bear two flat chamfers and the capitals are slightly longer in the neck:  perhaps it pre-dates the N. arcade by a decade or two, which would place the pseudo-Early English style of the Victorian S. aisle in some semblance of congruity.  The nave clerestory consists of three pairs of cinquefoil-cusped Y-traceried windows beneath four-centred arches and is a valuable Perpendicular addition, but the chancel E. window of 1878 with odd curvilinear tracery is less welcome, even though its vaguely Decorated style may be the correct one since internally it retains early fourteenth century, ogee-arched niches at the sides, while in the N. wall of the sanctuary there is a large ogee-headed recess probably intended as an Easter sepulchre.  The partly original nave roof (shown below) was presumably constructed when the clerestory was added:  hammerbeams alternate with false hammerbeams which project above the clerestory windows and are unsupported below but which are decorated on their undersides with carved demifigures of bishops and priests.  The N. vestry, chancel arch and S. porch are all of 1878 again as, one might suppose, is the plan of the very wide S. aisle.  Yet the church guide says both it and the porch were built "on the original foundations", which seems possible only if it was once independently-gabled and there were windows in the S. wall of the nave immediately above, as a lean-to aisle of these dimensions set against the nave before the present clerestory was constructed, would otherwise have cast the interior into almost total darkness.