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English Church Architecture -



TATTERSHALL, Holy Trinity (TF 213 576)          (August 2009)

(Bedrock: Upper Jurassic, Ampthill Clay Formation)


This is an enormous church (shown above, from the southeast), some 180' (55 m.) long from east to west, 100' (30 m.) wide from north to south across the transepts, and, perhaps, a third of that in height to the top of the nave, chancel and transepts.  It is constructed of Ancaster stone from the Middle Jurassic Lincolnshire limestone (Bajocian stage), which outcrops some nine miles to the west and is roughly equivalent in age to the Barnack stone found near Peterborough (see the entry for Barnack), and was erected in a single extended campaign that appears to have encompassed much or all of the second half of the fifteenth century.  The building boasts a comprehensive guide (by Roy Done and others) and a particularly full entry in the Lincolnshire volume of The Buildings of England (by Pevsner, Harris and Antram, 2nd edition, Penguin, 1989), to which the visitor should refer.  This note will confine itself to a brief résumé of the building’s history, and a somewhat more detailed description of its architecture.


The exceptional ambition displayed by the founders  - William Alnewick (Bishop of Lincoln), Henry Beaufort (Bishop of Winchester and Cardinal of All England), Sir Ralph Cromwell, Sir Walter Hungerford (Admiral of the Fleet), William Paston, Sir John Scroope, and Walter Talbois - arose from the permission granted them by Henry VI in 1439, to demolish the church that stood here at the time, and establish in its place a collegiate church and associated domestic buildings required to support seven priests together with their clerks and choristers, who, although secular, would live a communal life and adopt as their principal function, the saying of masses for the souls of the benefactors and their relations (church guide).


Neither the precise year when work on the new church began, nor the master mason responsible, appear to be known, but it was still unfinished around 1480 when John Cowper (fl. 1453-84) took charge (English Mediaeval Architects by John Harvey, revised edition, Alan Sutton, 1984), though whether anything more then remained to be done beyond the completion of the tower, seems impossible to tell.  The funds available for the project were obviously considerable throughout its duration, yet when building on a scale like this, it was almost inevitable that something would have to give and, in Pevsner’s apt phrase, the result was a church clearly intended for “a man who wanted size rather than pretty decoration”.  This is shown especially in the absence of cusping in all the window traceries, which gives the building a more Tudor appearance than might be expected at this date.  The rather stark quality this gives the church would then been lessened when it was finished, by the stained glass in all the windows, though that would also have made the interior very dark.  However, the stained glass was surreptitiously removed by the vicar in 1754, for this very reason, and replaced by clear glass, thus transforming the aisled nave in particular, into the great open hall it appears today, an impression heightened at the time of this visit by its doubtless worthy and sensible, yet also rather indecorous use as a venue for a café and a sprawling white elephant stall, accompanied by an unfortunate choice of canned music.


It would be excessively tedious to describe this church in the same detail reserved for smaller buildings, especially as it is essentially the same age and style throughout.  However, a reasonably complete description of the church exterior will now follow, succeeded by a more succinct account of the building’s principal internal features.  The church, which is tall in all parts, consists of a W. tower rising in four stages, a three-bay aisled nave with aisles encompassing the tower (i.e. the aisles themselves are four bays long), exceptionally high transepts two bays in depth, and a long five-bay chancel, with all bays separated by buttresses.  There is a surprisingly modest N. porch adjoining the central bay of the N. aisle, and there was once a similar S. porch opposite.


The church is surmounted by unbroken parapets throughout.  The aisle windows are four-light and two-centred (see the N. aisle window, illustrated left), with outer lights subarcuated above daggers and inner lights with a castellated supertransom resting on the lights and two tiers of subreticulation units above that, separated by a latticed supertransom described in triangles instead of arcs, which is another simplification characteristic of the building’s design.  The nave clerestory is formed of two, three-light four-centred windows per bay, with just a little supermullioned tracery above the springing, and these windows continue along the upper part of the west and east walls of the gargantuan transepts, which are fully as high as the nave, while the west and east windows below (of which there is one in the first case and two in the second beside the aisleless chancel) copy the aisle windows. However, the N. and S. windows to the transepts are huge and take up most of their respective walls.  (See the S. transept S. window, right.)  Formed of six lights tied by a transom, lights 1 & 6 are subarcuated above daggers and remaining lights display two tiers of reticulation units separated by stepped latticed supertransoms.  The S. transept S. window has a doorway beneath. 


The chancel windows to north and south are three-light, four-centred and transomed, with strong mullions, drop supermullioned tracery, outer lights subarcuated above the subreticulation units, and central lights with an oval (or an uncusped quatrefoil if such a shape can be postulated) in the apex.  The E. window (left) is seven-light and transomed, with outer lights subarcuated in threes, supermullioned tracery above, strong mullions to the central light, and a castellated supertransom above lights 3 - 5. 


The tower has angle-buttresses which reduce above the parapet to tall crocketed pinnacles at the corners.  The bell-openings are three-light and four-centred, with a little supermullioned tracery above the springing.  The W. window in the second stage is separated from the doorway beneath by a row of shields set in squares, and is five-light and transomed with outer lights subarcuated above daggers, two tiers of subreticulation units separated by latticed supertransoms above lights 2 & 4, and a castellated supertransom higher up in the central light.  The elaborate W. doorway (shown right), composed of two orders bearing deep hollow chamfers between rolls, separated by an even deeper hollow, is set inside a traceried rectangular surround, to either side of which a blank ogee arch terminates in a crocketed finial.  The N. porch has little square-headed two-light windows at the sides, very Tudor in appearance, diagonal buttresses ending in crocketed pinnacles, a wave, hollow and roll around the outer doorway, traceried spandrels above, and a niche at the apex.


The interior description of the church must begin with the nave arcades and the arches of the tower and crossing.  (See the interior view of the church below, taken from the west.) The piers to the nave arcades (i.e. excluding the westernmost bay alongside the tower) stand on lozenge-shaped bases approximately 7' (2 m.) in height, above which they consist of a group of three semicircular shafts towards the openings separated by casements from single, wider semicircular shafts to north and south.  The mouldings continue around the arches, interrupted by capitals above the shafts only, and a string course sits on top, in the manner seen, for example, at the Suffolk churches of St. Mary's, Bury St. Edmunds, constructed c. 1424-33 under the direction of William Layer, St. Nicholas's, Denston, attributed to Simon Clerk (fl. 1434-89), and St. James's, Nayland, attributed to John Wastell c. 1493, while above again, shafts rise up to separate the clerestory windows into pairs and seemingly to support the wall posts of the low-pitched couple roof.  The arches between the tower and the aisles are more elaborate;  the tower arch to the nave has soffits panelled in three tall, cinquefoiled tiers, between semicircular mouldings.  The transept arches are so tall as to have their springing level almost in line with the clerestory windows but their responds are otherwise similar to the nave arcades in style.  The chancel arch, insofar as it can be seen above the screen, appears to be a lower version of the nave arcade arches. 


The stone screen between the nave and chancel was erected some time before c. 1528 at the expense of Robert de Whaley, who was buried beneath it in that year (church guide).   Its depth (east to west) is such that it runs not merely beneath the chancel arch but rather between the chancel arch and the E. and W. responds of the nave arcades.  The pointed barrel-vault below (for such, in effect, it is) is panelled with four rising columns of cinquefoiled arches, and there are small doorways in the centre on each side, giving access to the loft above and a small canted projection looking out over the chancel to the east, containing two stone desks for the reading of the Epistle and the Gospel.  On the west side (the side shown in the photograph above), the screen is faced by three large, double-cusped ogee arches, with  two orders of bowtells at the sides and two tiers of blank arcading above, topped by brattishing.  The central arch is obviously open for the passageway, but the north and south arches contain side altars.


The sedilia and piscina in the chancel S. wall (illustrated at the foot of the page) consists essentially of four equal, four-centred, ogee-pointed bays, albeit with the sill in the piscina obviously set higher.  There are shafts between the bays, a complex series of mouldings around the arches, blank arcading in the spandrels. and a frieze of carved beasts topped by brattishing (now largely broken off) above. 


Finally, mediaeval carpentry in the church seems largely confined to the roofs and pulpit.  The pulpit on the N. side of the chancel (shown left) appears to be made of sections of a fifteenth century screen.  The roofs in all parts of the church are essentially original and exceptionally low-pitched, being of simple couple construction, with castellated purlins half-way up, and the wall posts of the chancel roof rise from angel corbels.  Surprisingly, although the church displays a number of brasses (outside the usual scope of these notes), it contains no monuments of significance.