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English Church Architecture -



ASHLEWORTH, St. Andrew & St. Bartholomew (SO 818 252)  (October 2013)

(Bedrock: Lower Jurassic, Blue Lias Formation)


This attractive little church on the west bank of the River Severn, is flooded at regular intervals, so it is unsurprising that its principal interest lies in its architecture rather than its furnishings. Composed of a W. tower, nave with independently-gabled S. aisle, N. porch and large N. transept, and chancel with S. chapel and N. vestry, there is nothing grand to be found, yet something remains from almost every period, beginning with the nave N. wall with its prominent herringbone masonry.  (See the thumbnail, below right, showing the internal face of the wall on either side of the N. doorway.)  The church guide seizes upon this as proof of the building's Saxon origins, but that may be an unwarranted leap for an early Norman date would fit the evidence as well or better, as expounded in 1934 by Sir Alfred Clapham when he wrote that "though [herringbone masonry] was used occasionally in the Saxon period it is commonly distinctive of late eleventh-century building" (English Romanesque Architecture: Vol. 2, After the Conquest, pub. O.U.P., 1934).  Admittedly, the N. doorway  does appear to be an insertion (twelfth century?), but the original and also Norman, entrance to the building seems to have survived beside it (west of the porch), where it has since been filled with Victorian tracery to form an unconvincing window.


Windows, otherwise, around the building begin with the thirteenth century, with a single lancet in the N. wall of the chancel towards the east and a stepped group of three towards the west, now peering over the flat-roofed vestry.  The Decorated style is represented by the renewed chancel E. window, the tower W. window in the first stage, and the ogee-pointed lancets in the second.  The later date of the bell-stage is demonstrated by its projection (evident in the photograph of the church from the northwest, above), the slightly different quality of its masonry, and its supermullioned bell-openings.  The tower has long projecting gargoyles below the battlements and is surmounted by a ribbed spire lit by two tiers of lucarnes.  The Perpendicular S. aisle and chapel have a four-centred W. doorway with renewed jambs, a couple of south windows with renewed supermullioned tracery, and a three-light renewed E. window with strong mullions and quatrefoils set diagonally above the lights.  The N. porch (right) is Tudor and the transept, Victorian.


Inside the church, both the chancel and tower arches are double-flat-chamfered with the inner chamfer dying into the jambs in the former case and both chamfers running all the way round in the latter.  The tower arch is lancet pointed, raising the question of whether the tower is actually thirteenth century in origin and older than the W. window suggests, or whether the arch is indicative of the tenacity of the thirteenth century style in this region, for compare the similar arch at neighbouring Hasfield.  The odd and rather crudely designed nave arcade (viewed left, from the southwest) is probably fifteenth century work, formed of four double-flat-chamfered, four-centred arches, supported on irregular polygonal piers with capitals formed of four divided semi-octagonal sections.  The wider double-flat-chamfered  arch between the chancel and the chapel is supported on short responds of two orders. The transept, which contains the organ, is entered from the nave, up steps through a wide arch of three orders, while the contemporary nineteenth century vestry is entered down three steps from the chancel.  The roofs in all the mediaeval parts of the building are described as "C15" in the Vale of Gloucestershire and Forest of Dean volume of The Buildings of England, although, in fact, they appear to be largely renewed.


Rather more interesting carpentry is, therefore, to be encountered in the large boarded tympanum above the screen to the S. chapel, just discernably painted with the royal arms of Edward VI or Elizabeth I.  (The letters "E.R." are obviously ambiguous.)  The screen itself is restored Perpendicular work, formed of six divisions either side of the central arch, with trefoil-cusping to the main lights and quatrefoils above. Thoroughly restored also, though nevertheless impressive, is the Jacobean pulpit (shown right), with panelling in four tiers, beginning with a blank, fielded lower tier surrounded by beading, and including the conventional blank arches between Tuscan columns on the third tier, a zigzag moulding on the top rail, and denticulations around the cornice. However, any minor deceptions that may be perpetrated by these pieces are outdone by the "Laudian" communion rails on the south and west sides of the chancel sanctuary, which are really twentieth century in date - the work of the excellent architect and designer, Stephen Dykes Bower (1903-94), who was responsible of the most of the new work at Bury St. Edmunds Cathedral