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English Church Architecture -



ALFORD, St. Wilfrid (TF 456 761)     (August 2009)

(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Lower Chalk)


The most striking aspect of this church (shown left, from the southeast) is its material, which is green Spilsby sandstone from the boundary between the Upper Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous Series, a geologically still rather young stone which outcrops some five miles to the southwest and was laid down around 146 million years b.p. (before present). That this is a less than an ideal building stone is evident from the extent to which it has worn in the walls of the outer N. aisle, which was constructed as recently as 1867 to the designs of Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-78), but it is good to find a local stone employed both at this date and earlier, for nothing else does as much to keep a building concordant with its setting.


In fact though, Scott did more here than use the same local stone, for he also kept largely to the mediaeval churchís architectural style.   That this was chiefly Decorated, the preferred style of the influential "Ecclesiologist" magazine (pub. 1841-68), probably encouraged him, but it showed a welcome and less than characteristic sympathy for an ancient building at this date nevertheless. 


The church consists of a mediaeval chancel, aisled nave with two-storeyed S. porch, and tower, and an outer N. aisle and a two-bay N. organ chamber by Scott.  Scott also added the battlements and pinnacles to the tower and, judging by appearances, probably replaced the bell-openings at the same time.  The tower as first built was a Perpendicular addition to the church, apparently dateable by bequests left for its construction in 1529 and '30.  It rises in four stages supported by angle buttresses and lit by a three-light W. window in the second stage and a two-light window in the third stage, both with supermullioned tracery.  The W. doorway carries wave mouldings arranged in two orders with a deep hollow between, and the wooden door itself appears to re-use some contemporary tracery, 


The chancel is lit by a five-light E. window with reticulated tracery, and two three-light reticulated windows to the south (of which the westernmost is illustrated, right, with a typical area of Spilsby sandstone masonry) and a third to the north, where the sanctuary projects beyond the N. organ chamber.  The independently-gabled organ chamber is lit by three-light N. windows with reticulated tracery and a four-light E. window with tracery composed of rounded trefoils,  presumably to a design of Scottís.   Scottís outer N. aisle has a four-light, four-centred window, east and west, with outer lights subarcuated in pairs, through reticulation, and hood-moulds decorated with rosettes, springing from king and queen label stops.  (See the E. window below left.)  The S. aisle has a three-light window with intersecting tracery to the east, followed by two three-light windows with supermullioned tracery in the S. wall and, beyond the porch to the west, a Tudor window forming a grid of rectangular openings, four lights wide by two lights high.  The wide S. porch is lit by one three-light window only, in the upper storey to the west, but its supermullioned tracery may date the porch to the fifteenth century.  The porch inner doorway bears a hollow chamfer, and a roll with a fillet springing from shafts, of which that on the left retains its original leaf capital.   This looks like Decorated work again (i.e. early fourteenth century), and the door it holds appears to be contemporary, with its tracery and ogee door-inside-a-door construction.


However, if proof is needed, this date is amply confirmed inside the church, where the tall four-bay nave arcades (shown right, from the west) command immediate  attention.  They are composed of arches bearing two flat chamfers, springing from octagonal piers with large leaf-carved capitals of individualistic design (see the S. arcade capital, below left), suggesting the work of a local mason, somewhat isolated from the development of the national style. Thus Scott showed particular sensitivity in adopting this form for his shorter, outer N. arcade. The westernmost bay of the inner arcades has been truncated by the internal buttressing of the tower.  The tower arch is double-flat-chamfered above responds of two orders and, presumably, contemporary with the tower.  However, the chancel arch may be a century older than the chancel and hence the churchís oldest surviving feature: the arch itself carries a single, very narrow chamfer, and this is supported on thick imposts with chamfered under-edges, above jambs with chamfered angles only, suggesting a date hardly later than c. 1220.   Other significant masonry features include the three-bay sedilia recessed in the S. wall of the chancel, with flat-chamfered equal arches without cusping, and gables above decorated with  leaf crockets and finials. There is an opening for the rood stair, northwest of the chancel arch, while north of this, in the E. wall of the inner aisle, a three-light window, now unglazed but with supermullioned tracery and a castellated transom at the springing level, looks through to Scottís organ chamber.  Scott's two-bay arcade between this and the chancel, is composed of arches of two orders, with quadrants at the angles, springing from quatrefoil piers.


Old carpentry in the church, apart from the previously mentioned doors, seems confined to the square pulpit (shown right, from the northwest), which is an excellent piece, dated by the standard Jacobean arches which comprise the main element of its decoration, but which also includes some unusual ornamentation, notably the double shafts at the angles, the elaborately carved top rail featuring a row of friendly dragons, and the nude male and female figures supporting the arch on the west side. 


The church contains just one monument that must be mentioned but this is a very grand affair (shown left), set against the chancel S. wall, with a tomb chest in front on which lie the recumbent effigies of a cavalier and his wife.  The inscription is indecipherable in the gloom, but a helpful transcription declares it commemorates Sir Robert Christopher (d. 1668) and his wife, Elizabeth (d. 1667), he clad in armour and she, in heavy draperies.  The work is attributed by Pevsner  to Edward Strong the Elder (c. 1652 - 1724) who was just sixteen at the time of Sir Robertís death, but Gunnis makes no mention of this work.