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English Church Architecture -

Durham County (U.A.).


BARNARD CASTLE, St. Mary (NZ 051 163)     (August 2008)

(Bedrock:  Carboniferous Namurian Series, Yoredale Group)


Barnard Castle is an attractive market town distinguished by its fine market cross and dramatically-sited castle overlooking the River Tees, but the much-altered parish church is a bit of a hotchpotch and it is difficult to unravel the building history from the surviving architectural evidence.  The long, high chancel now looks down a steep flight of six steps into the four-bay aisled nave with unequal transepts,  a northwest tower at the W. end of the N. aisle now doubles as a porch while the former N. porch further east has been closed off to form a store-cupboard,  and a cross-gabled N. vestry adjoining the chancel towards the east, is connected to the N. transept by a former organ chamber, since converted to a chapel. 


Among all this, the earliest work is late Norman and formed of the three western bays of the N. aisle, two round-headed windows set in deep splays in the N. wall of the chancel, now looking through to the vestry (see the upper thumbnail, right), and the rather grand S. doorway, re-set in the S. aisle.  The three western bays of the N. aisle are composed of wide round-headed arches formed of two unmoulded orders, springing from circular piers with square capitals (illustrated left), the easternmost of which has been renewed.  It seems unlikely that the large square bases on which the piers stand, were originally intended to be seen, suggesting the nave and N. aisle floors were once closer to that in the chancel. If they were subsequently lowered, however, the work must have been carried out before the construction of the S. aisle, for the feature is absent from the octagonal, late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, S. arcade piers, with prominent but shallow capitals.  (See the lower thumbnail.)  These support four double-flat-chamfered arches which together extend rather further to the east than the three round arches opposite, necessitating the addition of a narrow fourth arch in the later style (albeit with a chamfer to the inner order only), to bring their eastern ends into alignment.  It is almost the only thing that is, for the transepts are of different widths, the windows of the church are a hotchpotch of (mostly renewed) Perpendicular forms, and the position of the clerestory windows - three to the north and four to the south - take absolutely no account of one anothers' positions.


The construction of the S. aisle would obviously have required the re-positioning of the former Transitional doorway (shown right), now set in the S. wall.  This is the best individual feature of the church, with its arch of three orders enriched with chevron in the horizontal plain, supported on three orders of shafts with volute capitals (the outer two, now renewed), and surrounded by a hood-mould decorated with nailhead - a characteristic thirteenth century motif. The date cannot be much earlier than c. 1210.


The original date of the transepts is difficult to determine for there is probably now nothing preceding the fifteenth century about either of them, and little enough preceding the nineteenth.  Their W. walls align neither with each other nor their respective aisle arcades, so in their present form at least, they seem unlikely to be contemporary, though they probably both postdate the S. arcade and easternmost bay of the N. one.  Possibly the only mediaeval window in either transept is the three-light, supermullioned E. window to the S. transept.  (According to the church guide, the boar on the left of the external hood-mould is the emblem of Richard of Gloucester, later Richard III [reigned 1483-85].)  However, the N. transept has two tomb recesses beneath the N. window that could be fourteenth century work.  The best Perpendicular feature of the building as a whole is arguably the chancel arch, formed of two hollow-chamfered orders, the outer with floral motifs at intervals and the inner, springing from semi-octagonal responds with hollowed sides and castellated capitals.  


Finally, the northwest tower dates from c. 1870, when it replaced a humble mediaeval structure in the same position.  It rises in five short stages (as seen in the photograph, left) (the fourth, barely deep enough to house the clock) to a bell-stage pierced by two, two-light openings in each wall, with straightened reticulation units in the heads, and surmounting  battlements and crocketed pinnacles at the corners and the mid-points of the sides.  The first stage now acts as a porch and a repository for some very grubby eighteenth and nineteenth century monuments.