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English Church Architecture -

Cambridgeshire.

 

STETCHWORTH, St. Peter (TL 642 590)     (October 2004)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)

 

The church is built of flint and pebble rubble patched with brick and situated down a short lane, dark beneath overhanging trees.  The building interior is dark too, for there is no clerestory and the chancel windows are filled with heavy nineteenth century glass.  That the chancel is the oldest part of the church, however, is shown by the two lancets on either side.  There is one more in the E. wall of the N. aisle but otherwise the fenestration is composed of a mix of Perpendicular and Victorian windows including two and three-light square-headed ones, variously with supermullioned tracery and without tracery, which appear to be partly original, and four curious windows consisting of quatrefoils in circles, which are not.  The tower W. window is two-light and has a straightened reticulation unit in the head, which appears most often associated with the early decades of the Perpendicular period in East Anglia (see Appendix 2).  The tower itself (shown left from the south) is diagonally buttressed and rises in three stages to battlements decorated with flint flushwork.

 

Inside the building all is gloom and even the electric lighting is inadequate, but the nave arcades are interesting and require careful comparison.  Both are supported on compound piers with shafts towards the openings only, but to the north these are semi-octagonal and sturdy (see the first thumbnail below right) while to the south they are semicircular and relatively slender (second thumbnail).  All have castellated capitals, but above these the N. arcade arches bear a flat chamfer and a recess of rectangular section while the southern arches have a flat chamfer and a large semicircular hollow.  These differences must indicate a gap in time between the construction of the arcades and/or that they were the work of different masons, but one can only speculate.  The tower arch fits the early Perpendicular date of the W. window: it has two sunk quadrants on each of its two orders, and semi-octagonal shafts.  Similarly the chancel arch appears to fit the Early English date of its lancet windows (although Pevsner says it is Perpendicular), having two slight flat chamfers on semi-octagonal responds.

 

Two other features of the building interior should also be noticed.  First, in the E. wall of the S. aisle is an attractively carved, canopied niche supported by an angel.  It obviously once held a statue.  Second, and impossible to miss, at the E. end of the N. aisle there is a large monument and tomb chest to Henry Georges (d. 1674) (see the thumbnail left), the nineteen year old and previously only surviving son of Lord Georges and his wife Bridget.  Lord Georges was Superintendent and Surveyor General to the Corporation for the Draining of the Bedford Level of the Cambridgeshire fens for over twenty years from 1656.  The monument depicts not only the reclining figure of Henry Georges but also the larger than life demi-figures of his grieving parents, and though the carving is rather heavy and the monument now squeezed into too small a space, even today it is redolent of tragedy.