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English Church Architecture -

Darlington (U. A.).


HIGH CONISCLIFFE, St. Edwin (NZ 226 153)     (August 2008)

(Bedrock:  Permian Zechstein Group, Magnesian Limestone)


This is reputedly the only church in England dedicated to Edwin, the first king of Northumbria (which had previously consisted of Deira in the south and Bernicia in the north), who reigned from 616-33 and was described by Bede as more powerful than any previous English king.


The story of the building (shown left, from the southeast) is essentially a Norman and Early English one.  It is composed of a chancel with a N. vestry, a long, narrow nave with a N. aisle and porch, and an unbuttressed W. tower, rising in four stages to a surmounting spire behind battlements supported on corbels.  Its earliest significant feature is the porch inner doorway (illustrated below right), springing from jambs that formerly boasted an order of shafts and whose worn condition shows the porch that protects it, has done only so recently (in fact, since Victorian times).  It carries a flat chamfer around the inner order and a roll around the outer order, but its interest lies in the beakhead ornament surrounding that, and the small, re-set Saxon panel of uncertain age above, portraying the Lamb of God in the centre and an angel trampling a dragon on either side.  Other Romanesque work in the church includes the small round-headed window in the W. end of the nave S. wall, which probably dates the surrounding masonry. The larger, restored window to the east could have a Norman or Norman-Transitional basis, but the three round-headed windows to the east again - beyond the point where the wall thickens (indicated above, by the start of the lower string course), showing where the nave has been lengthened or partially reconstructed -  are either Victorian inventions or entire replacements of the originals.


Nearly everything else at St. Edwin's is thirteenth century in style, though most of the lancets are nineteenth century in date.  The chancel arch is original and probably early within the period, unless its naive design is misleading:  it is surrounded by a hood-mould bearing a thin line of nailhead and carries a series of narrow mouldings on its outer order and a flat chamfer on the inner order, springing from corbel shafts (or truncated shafts) with fillets down the front and carved capitals, that on the left, of stiff leaf form (shown left),  and that on the right, with what appear to be crossed battens (shown below).  The nave arcade (illustrated below left) is either a little later or the result of better workmanship. It is formed of five double-flat-chamfered arches, supported on short circular piers with capitals with octagonal abaci with broaches reaching up to the outer chamfers.  The tower also derives chiefly from the thirteenth century, although the battlements, corner pinnacles and spire may be a century and a half later.  The three lower stages are lit by little rectangular, slit-like openings only, but the bell-openings are formed of pairs of lancets separated by octagonal shafts.  Finally in this style, the building’s other windows include the three reputedly renewed stepped lancets in the E. wall of the chancel, although, perhaps, they are only restored, which might suggest the lancet in the N. wall of the sanctuary is the original.  The trefoil-cusped, one-light clerestory windows on the N. side of the nave, aligned above the arcade spandrels, are Perpendicular and were inserted when the nave was heightened. They may be contemporary with the two-storeyed vestry adjoining the chancel to the north, the upper floor of which was probably once the dwelling of a hermit or chantry priest.  (Cf., for example, St. Mary’s, Staindrop, County Durham, some seven miles to the northeast.)