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English Church Architecture -



MALBOROUGH, All Saints (SX 707 398)   (March 2015)

(Bedrock:  Devonian, Start Mica Schists)


The architectural interest of this building is not, unfortunately, commensurate with its size, for this is a large grey church (illustrated above from the south) constructed to the characteristic Devonshire plan comprising a W. tower and a long aisled nave & chancel in which the nave & chancel, and the aisles & their respective chapels, continue undemarcated from east to west, save only, in this case, for the presence of a semi-polygonal rood stair turret projecting from the S. aisle S. wall, two bays from the east end.  The tower is surmounted by a broach spire and there is a two-storeyed S. porch adjoining the second nave bay from the west and an enormous two-storeyed vestry, constructed against the easternmost bay of the N. chapel, as large as a small house.  The church is constructed of blocks of grey schist externally, sometimes rendered in concrete, with predictably dire visual results. The arcade piers within are probably made of granite, to judge from the only one (between the chancel and N. chapel) where the stone has been left exposed.  All the others are covered in yellow plaster, producing a faintly nauseas effect and proving an even more unpleasant material, if that is possible, than cement.


Considered as a group and with the region east of the River Exe excepted, Devonshire churches are arguably more formulaic in plan, style and design than those of any other county, Cornwall included.  The majority are late Perpendicular in date and the same window traceries and pier shapes occur again and again.  This can largely be explained by the poverty of the county earlier in the Middle Ages and by the intractability of most of its potential building stones, but it leaves church visiting in Devon relatively unrewarding.  Most of the windows at Marlborough are constructed of granite and left uncusped and untraceried, and those that are not, are of standard supermullioned form.  They are seen at their best by far, at the east end of the church (as shown above), where the five-light windows high up in the chancel and independently-gabled chapels, form a united front towards the village - an effect enhanced by the identical design of the chapel windows and the only very slightly different chancel window between.  At the opposite end of the church, the diagonally-buttressed tower and broach spire stand up proudly against the skyline as one travels towards Malborough from the south or west, but look positively ugly at close quarters, due to the absence of battlements and their featureless surfaces rendered in concrete.  The fortress-like S porch is a better piece of work and encloses within, the church's best feature, namely a sexpartite vault in two bays, reaching back to the inner S. door.  (See the photographs below.  The photograph on the right shows one of the supporting shafts.)  The vestry, notwithstanding its huge size, is lit only by small windows in the E. wall, leaving the N. wall free to support a chimney.


The interior is, frankly, a disappointment, given that one expects a church of this size to display some suggestion of grandeur.  The nave is six bays long, the chancel an additional two, and the aisles and the chapels are wide, so nothing is lacking in dimensions.  However, the piers are slim and all composed of four identical shafts separated by hollows, with rather nondescript carved capitals to the shafts only.  They are inevitably diminished by such a large space, though they would doubtless look more substantial without rendering.  Finally, the church contains no significant furnishings apart from the square Norman font and Pevsner's description of the interior as "long and somewhat chilly" seems quite a gentle criticism.  It must take a lot of human warmth and enthusiasm to make this building a congenial setting for Sunday worship.