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English Church Architecture -



WESTLEY WATERLESS, St. Mary the Less (TL 618 562)    (September 2003)

 (Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


The church appears to be constructed chiefly of flint and pebble rubble with limestone and clunch dressings but, except at the E. end, it has been subsequently rendered in concrete.  Externally the oldest evidence is the windows with the cusped Y-tracery of the early years of the fourteenth century: there are two on the N. side of the building and four more in the ends of the aisles (i.e. one at each end of both).  The S. windows have been renewed but the S. doorway with its two sunk quadrant mouldings probably takes its form from the second half of the fourteenth century (see Appendix 2 and the entry on Balsham church).  The building consists of a nave and aisles under a single pitched roof, a short chancel and a bell-cote over the nave W. end.  Pevsner says the church once had a round tower and that this fell in 1855, but he also dates the bell-cote to the sixteenth century, which seems very curious, for why would a bell-cote have been needed when the tower was standing? The W. wall of the nave is now pierced by what appear to be two Tudor windows, between but higher up than the aisle W. windows, and there is no sign of any later alterations, so perhaps the tower fell in the sixteenth century and the bell-cote was erected then.  The date 1855 could then refer to the final clearing away of the former tower's lower masonry and foundations.


Inside the church, the nave arcades have a very unusual appearance due to the irregular shape of the capitals.  (The S. arcade is shown left.)  These are octagons but their sides are narrower on the cardinal than the ordinal sides.  Thus the two flat-chamfered orders of the arches appear to merge at the capitals and the piers below also appear to have an irregular section at first glance, although they do not.  These arcades are presumably contemporary with the early fourteenth century windows.  The chancel arch must also be of the same build:  it has two flat-chamfered orders of which the outer is continuous down the jambs and the inner springs from semi-octagonal shafts with capitals exhibiting carved faces towards the opening.  In the chancel itself, just north of the E. window, is a nicely carved ogee-headed niche with leaf sprockets on the gablet and crocketed pinnacles at the sides.


Two other items require mention.  The octagonal font (illustrated right) is probably also early fourteenth century work: the faces are carved with blank lancets, some of which are cusped, and with other motifs including a trefoil in a circle and a wheel of seven circles. More significant, however, and of major importance in the world of brass rubbing, are the brasses in the chancel floor to Sir John Creke (d. 1325) and his first wife, Lady Alyne.  They are exceptionally detailed, in an excellent state of preservation, and thought to be the earliest in the country depicting a man and his wife together.  Sir John Creke was one of the barons who rose in revolt against Edward II.  Previously he had been Sheriff of the counties of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire.  The brass is thought to have been made by one, Walter le Masun, whose mark appears on it.