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English Church Architecture -



NORTHLEACH, St. Peter & St. Paul (SP 112 146)   (February 2001)

(Bedrock: Middle Jurassic, Upper Inferior Oolite Group)



This is one of the great Perpendicular "wool" churches of the Cotswolds - all embattled and seemingly of a piece.  Formed of a W. tower rising in four tall stages supported by diagonal buttresses, a five-bay aisled nave with independently-gabled aisles, a four-bay chancel with two-bay chapels, and a sumptuous two-storeyed S. porch, the principle façade of the building lies to the south (as seen from a small distance in the photograph above), where all the buttresses reach high above the parapets and end in crocketed pinnacles.  The clerestory windows are very large, creating the "Perpendicular glasshouse" effect encountered in churches of similar age in East Anglia.  However, this is a church that is more impressive outside than in, where the very tall octagonal piers with hollowed sides are distinctive but not entirely satisfactory.


In general then, the building exemplifies the grand Perpendicular manner best in a circuit round the exterior. The window traceries and the S. porch are worthy of detailed attention.  The former take many forms, but subarcuation of the lights in pairs is to be seen in most, and transoms, latticed transoms, supertransoms, latticed supertransoms and through reticulation in some.  In brief, beginning at the E. end and moving clockwise around, one finds the following:

(i) the chancel E. window (right) is two-centred and has five cinquefoil-cusped lights, the two-centred outer lights subarcuated in pairs, and the central ogee-pointed light sandwiched between strong mullions and replete with both a supertransom and a latticed supertransom above that;

(ii) the chancel S. windows (east of the chapel) and the S. chapel E. window, are four-centred and have four cinquefoil-cusped ogee lights, subarcuated in pairs;

(iii) the S. windows to the S. chapel and S. aisle are either:  a) two-centred with four, two-centred lights subarcuated in pairs and through reticulation; or b)  the same as this in their upper parts but with, in addition, transoms halfway up, and the lights below, ogee-pointed and double trefoil-cusped, with little quatrefoils in circles in the spandrels (seen in the first thumbnail, below left);

(iv) the tower W. window has been restored, but has four lights, subarcuation in pairs, through reticulation and supertransoms at two levels;

(v)  the N. windows to the N. aisle and chapel are two-centred and have four lights subarcuated in pairs, through reticulation, and a latticed transom effect at the springing level, created by inverted arches beneath the reticulation units (seen in the second thumbnail, left);

(vi) the clerestory consists of five pairs of four-centred windows, each with four ogee-pointed lights, subarcuated in pairs with through reticulation, and there is also a window above the chancel arch with no less than nine lights.


None of these forms can be described as original, but the effect is undoubtedly grand and imposing - an impression to which the S. porch very considerably adds. This is a massive structure - two-storeys high and two bays deep to the south.  The outer doorway is decorated with a crocketed ogee surround, and the diagonal buttresses rise with three set-offs, the lower two of which hold crocketed ogee niches designed for statuettes.  The buttresses assume clasping form above the second pair of set-offs, and their sides are then decorated with blank trefoil-headed arches.  They end in crocketed pinnacles, while two further buttresses at the sides of the porch, similarly terminated, rise to demarcate the bays.  On the S. front again, the wall at second storey level is decorated with another six elaborately carved niches, the outer four grouped in pairs, and the inner two, which are larger, placed one above the other, with the lower containing a (much worn) Virgin and Child.  (See the photograph, left.)   Above the centre of the gable there rises what appears to have been a little crocketed bell turret. Inside the porch, the passageway is covered by a lierne vault (shown right), while underneath, between the supporting shafts, the walls are decorated with three-bay blank arches, cinquefoil-cusped above and below the transoms, with mouchettes above the outer lights and pairs of elongated reticulation units above the central lights. Finally, yet another canopied niche holds central place above the porch inner doorway.


The W. tower is rather earlier than this and almost plain by comparison, although the two-light bell-openings are encompassed within ogee-pointed, canopied, crocketed arches, and there are similar blank arches to either side, separated by flat pinnacles.


Unfortunately, inside the building, the octagonal capitals to the very tall piers with their concave sides, seem to have outgrown their proportions.  The tower arch is more conventional:  the responds are composed of two orders of shafts separated by deep hollows, and there are sunk quadrants, wave mouldings and hollows around the arch.  The chancel sedilia is formed of three bays with cinquefoil-cusped arches, each with secondary trefoil-cusping.  The pulpit appears to be contemporary with the rest of the church and displays two blank trefoil-cusped arches beneath crocketed ogees on each face:  it stands on a slender octagonal column, again with all the sides hollowed.


How might this work be more precisely dated?  The odd piers can also be found at Chipping Campden, suggesting both churches were designed by the same master mason. The base of the easternmost pier in the S. arcade here at Northleach, bears the name "HENRIE WINCHCOMBE"  (as shown in the photograph, right) carved in it, and so he might be the man.  Two unusual mason's marks may also be found here, one of which occurs again at Winchcombe and the other at Chipping Norton, where the church is known to have been under construction in 1447.  In addition, we know that the nave at Northleach was largely paid for by John Fortey, who died in 1458.  This church, then (except for the tower of c.1400), appears largely to have been constructed around the middle of the fifteenth century, and it can serve as a model of the Perpendicular style in this region at this date.