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English Church Architecture -

Cheshire West & Chester (U.A.).


TARVIN, St. Andrew (SJ 490 670)     (April 2006)

 (Bedrock:  Triassic Sherwood Sandstone Group, Bunter Pebble Beds)


This is a sizeable and largely Perpendicular building (shown left, from the northeast), constructed of what is probably sandstone from the Triassic "Bunter" pebble beds, on which Tarvin is situated. However, the church was substantially restored and partially rebuilt in both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, while the nave roof introduces a further period, as this dates from 1650, the year following the collapse of its predecessor.  The complicated building plan is formed of a nave, chancel and W. tower, with aisles and chapels that make no positional reference to each other whatsoever and little more to the presumed division between the nave and chancel, although this is not easy to define anyway in the absence of a chancel arch.  Curiously, the narrower S. aisle is independently-gabled while the wider N. aisle is not.  The former consists of four bays which fall some way short of the nave/chancel junction, but a one-bay chapel beyond, extends across this division to run a little way alongside the chancel, with which it communicates not only through the main arch but also through a smaller arch with panelled soffits (“once used no doubt for a monument” [Pevsner]) further to the east.  The aisle arcade consists of double-flat-chamfered arches springing from octagonal piers, from which the fifth (slightly later?) bay to the chapel is separated by the shortest possible of wall pieces which nevertheless changes the nature of this support from a pier in the proper sense to two back-to-back responds  (shown right).  The N. aisle is formed of five wider bays plus a sixth to the east that now opens to an organ chamber.  It extends the full length of the nave and chancel together, save only for the half-bay sanctuary, and has an arcade similar in style to its southern counterpart except that the piers are more slender.  Dates for this work are hard to ascribe with precision, but a fourteenth century and still Decorated time for the S. arcade and S. chapel E. window and a fifteenth century date for the N. arcade and embattled N. aisle are most likely. The S. chapel E. window is three-light, with elongated quatrefoils in the head. The N. aisle windows are four-light to the west and north and five-light to the east, and all supermullioned beneath segmental arches.   The S. aisle west and south walls, and the whole of the chancel, are now largely Victorian, except for the striking Venetian window in white stone in the S. aisle S. wall (illustrated left), a round-headed priest’s doorway with central keystone in the chancel S. wall, and a similar round-headed window in the sanctuary N. wall (east of the organ chamber), which probably derive from the first half of the eighteenth century.  By far the best piece of Perpendicular work at Tarvin is undoubtedly the tower, which is supported by clasping buttresses and rises in five stages to two, two-light bell-openings in each wall and surmounting battlements.  The W. front has a large canopied niche in the third stage, a window in the second stage blocked at the time of this visit, pending repair, and an ogee-headed, four-centred doorway in the first stage, with a niche on either side and a carved frieze above.


The nave roof, previously mentioned, is of hammerbeam construction, so “it is only such details as the brackets that tell the real tale” (Pevsner) (i.e. concerning its date).  The S. aisle roof has a mediaeval wagon roof and there is a Decorated parclose screen between the S. aisle and S. chapel but no other furnishings of particular interest, nor, perhaps surprisingly, any significant monuments.  The oldest is the brass tablet on the N. wall commemorating Henry Hardman (d. 1584), where the hole in the centre is reputedly the damage caused by a musket ball in the Civil War.  Indeed, the church was occupied both by the Royalists and the Parliamentarians at different times in the 1640s.  Finally, Gunnis also records a tablet by J. Blaney of Chester (fl. 1820-40), commemorating Harriet Evans (d. 1837), but there is nothing further one can say about it (Dictionary of British Architects: 1660-1851, Abbey Library, 1951).