English Church Architecture -
LITTLE RISSINGTON, St. Peter (SP 189 200) (February 2001)
(Bedrock: Lower Jurassic, Marlstone Rock Formation)
This church (shown above, from the southeast) consists of a chancel, a nave with a N. aisle and S. porch, and a northwest tower. The chancel is Early English, as witnessed by its lancet windows, and another lancet pierces the nave S. wall to the east, although the majority of the nave appears to be Decorated externally, the tower, Perpendicular, and the aisle, porch and nave W. end, Victorian. However, the building history is still more complicated than this and it is best to begin an examination of the church inside, where the most rewarding work is to be found.
This must commence with the porch inner doorway (left), which is Norman-Transitional. The round arch is an excellent example of work of this time, being decorated by six rolls separated by hollows, of which the five outer orders rise from two orders of shafts and the innermost continues uninterupted down the jambs. Above this, the gable line of the lower, mediaeval porch can clearly be seen.
On entering the nave, it is the two-bay N. arcade (shown below right) that is the most striking feature. The arches are low but of exceptional width and composed of two unmoulded, still round arches, on very large, scalloped capitals, supported on circular piers. Upon the apex of the western arch some fifteenth century mason has attempted in his wisdom, to base the southeast corner of his tower, and poor little thing though it is, the dullest observer could have foreseen trouble. However, miraculously the structure did not collapse altogether, and it subsequently proved possible to construct an octagonal pier through the centre of the arch to take the unwonted strain. The arcade minus its addition looks a little earlier than the S. doorway - although it is difficult to imagine how this might be so - and the chancel arch, slightly later, for the latter is pointed albeit still composed of two unmoulded orders, springing here from capitals projecting from jambs which curiously lack supporting responds. The capitals are decorated with a very odd encircled flower motif, some obviously restored but some either original or possibly of thirteenth century date and contemporary with the present chancel.
The chancel is an attractive and complete Early English piece of work that could date from the mid thirteenth century, raising the question of why a new chancel was needed so soon after the original one was built. The N. and S. walls are pierced by three equal lancets each and the S. wall has the addition of a lowside lancet to the west, variously ascribed in the past as a window through which the sacrament might be administered to lepers or as an opening through which the parishioners might hear the ringing of the Sanctus bell. The E. wall displays a group of three stepped lancets set in deep splays internally, with hollows around the heads and circular detached shafts at the sides.
Externally, there is little that can be said about the two-stage northwest tower (shown left) squashed into the angle between the nave and N. aisle, which rises in two stages to two-light bell-openings and battlements. It does appears to be original (late) Perpendicular work, however, whereas the N. aisle was rebuilt in 1850 by Francis Niblett, whose church at Fretherne in this county, B.F.L. Clarke gave as "an example of the worst type of village church, grossly over-ornamented and badly designed" (Church Builders of the Nineteenth Century, S.P.C.K., 1938) although David Verey thought it "a small Victorian masterpiece" (The Buildings of England: Gloucestershire - the Cotswolds, pub. Penguin, 1970). Niblett's work here is not unattractive but the W. end of the nave is certainly not good, using as it does "a rather unpleasant form of rusticated rubble" (Verey). This is by W. Bassett Smith (1830 - 1901) and dates from 1883.