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English Church Architecture -



OLD BOLINGBROKE, St. Peter & St. Paul (TF 349 652)     (August 2009)

(Bedrock: Upper Jurassic, Kimmeridge Clay Formation)


This is another church built largely of the oily-green Spilsby sandstone lying unconformably above the Kimmeridge Clay across the Upper Jurassic/ Lower Cretaceous boundary, which - though not very durable - has given many local churches their attractive vernacular character.  The key to the understanding of this building today is an appreciation that what remains is but a fragment of a church once three times this size, that began with a nave and chancel and later saw the addition of a large independently-gabled S. aisle, reputedly at the charge of John of Gaunt (church guide, 2003), father of Henry IV, and subsequently of a broad W. tower (shown left, from the northwest), perhaps some fifty years after. However, the building thus completed was severely damaged during the course of the Civil War, when Bolingbroke Castle was besieged by the Parliamentarians in 1643, and when the dust had settled following that, the nave, chancel and upper parts of the tower, had all been destroyed, leaving the parishioners to try to make  a serviceable church from the surviving S. aisle and now barely attached, lower parts of the tower. This appears to have been done as best as maybe at minimal cost, and the building continued in a similar state, getting progressively more ramshackle, until 1886, when the rector, Edward Pain, mostly at his own expense, engaged James Fowler (1828-92) to carry out repairs and alterations (ibid).  Fowler unblocked the former S. arcade, which had been buried in the N. wall of this make-shift church, and completed the building on this side by adding what was, in effect, a narrow N. aisle and organ chamber of his own where the nave and chancel had once been.  He then finished the tower with battlements and corner pinnacles to create the present short but broad and impressive structure seen today,  The tower extends beyond the N. aisle for approximately half its width, but communicates with it internally through a door in the aisle W. wall.


So much for the brief history of the building.  The church today thus consists essentially of a nave and chancel in one (set out as three bays for the nave and one for the chancel) in what was formerly John of Gaunt’s S. aisle, if that, indeed, is what it is.  The style is still Decorated, with windows with flowing tracery throughout (three-light to the south, four-light to the west, and five-light to the east), though John of Gaunt did not come into possession of the manor until 1363.  Unfortunately, these windows have all been restored but their forms seem likely to be original and the E. window at least (shown right) appears to preserve some old masonry. The S. doorway (within the now wholly Victorian porch) bears a series of hollows and rolls above responds with an order of attached circular shafts with a fillet and leaf capitals, while the hood-mould above is supported on king and queen label stops.   Inside the building, the tall four-bay arcade (once the S. arcade but now the N. arcade) consists of arches formed of four major and four minor semi-circular shafts with fillets, and these mouldings continue round the arches without intervening capitals.  (See the photograph, left, taken from the southwest.)  The sedilia and piscina in the S. wall of the present chancel bay, seem to have been part of the original work and consist, in the former case, of three equal bays with keeled shafts between, rising to crocketed pinnacles at the sides and ogee canopies above the bays, with leaf finials on top.  There is a shallow niche either side of the E. window.


The stately tower now rises in four short stages, supported by angle buttresses, to battlements and crocketed pinnacles at the corners and wall mid-points that are all apparently by Fowler.  The W. doorway carries a wave and a hollow, and above this, the four-light W. window (shown in the thumbnail, right) rises through two stages, with lights subarcuated in pairs, stepped castellated supertransoms above lights 1b-2a and 3b-4a, and a hood-mould springing from huge, grotesque label stops.  The two-light supermullioned bell-openings are probably by Fowler, but whether he was responsible for removing any sign of a former arch to the nave in the now partly-external E. wall of the tower, seems doubtful judging by the worn state of the masonry here, suggesting this may be due to the seventeenth century rebuilding.