( back to home page)

English Church Architecture.


BARTON-UPON-HUMBER, St. Peter (TA 035 220),


(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Welton Chalk Formation.)


A redundant Grade I listed church with a rather soulless interior yet with one of the three foremost Saxon towers in England.




This now redundant church boasts one of the three most impressive late tenth century towers in England, alongside Barnack in Cambridgeshire and Earls Barton in Northamptonshire, although unlike the churches there, St. Peter's has the misfortune of having been declared redundant (in 1970) and placed today in the care of English Heritage, who seem to be concerned that someone might run off with it.  Kept locked during the winter months, with no key-holder listed, whether it is open even at the advertised times seems dependent on whether someone is available to sit inside and guard it.  Yet devoid as it is of all furnishings, it is difficult to comprehend why it should be considered uniquely vulnerable. 



St. Peter's is probably the best example in the country of those Saxon churches sometimes called 'turriform', in recognition of the fact that they probably once consisted of just a tower and short, adjoining, east and west porticos, of which that to the west still survives here (as seen in the photograph, left).  This, together with the ground floor of the tower, would then have served as the nave of the church while the E. portico functioned as a proto-chancel, and the projecting lesenes on the north and south walls here at Barton-upon-Humber, show this work to have been broadly contemporary with that at Earls Barton, where the church was once probably also 'turriform', as well as that at Barnack, which observably was not.  At both the Bartons, the lower tier are topped by round-headed arches from whose apices rise the triangular-headed upper tier.  At. Barton-upon-Humber but not Earls Barton, the little doorways encompassed within the second 'bay' from the west of the lower tier are round-headed to the south and triangular-headed to the north.  The original bell-stage (the present third stage) has two triangular openings in each wall. of which that to the west is now blocked. The present bell-stage (fourth stage), distinguished by its conspicuously different masonry, is an eleventh century addition which retains its original round-headed bell-openings to both the north and the south.



Inside the church, the east wall displays the fossilized gable line of the original E. portico although some questions must arise about the way it seems to dissect the otherwise presumably contemporary two-light, triangular-headed bell-openings, now tucked in immediately beneath the present-day nave roof.  The one-light 'window' ten or more feet below would once have constituted the doorway to that floor, reached by means of a ladder. Below again, the tower arch, which is unmoulded and springs from two clumsy rectangular stone blocks on either side, serving respectively as capitals and abaci, shows no more evidence of constructional development when compared with the arch in the same position in the seventh century church at Escomb in County Durham, than the eleventh century tower arch in St. Gregory's, Kirkdale (North Yorkshire) shows from it, in witness of the fact that Saxon stone building techniques were going nowhere throughout those four and a half centuries.  The angles of the tower (seen internally, right, where they now meet the walls of the nave), display the long-and-short work that characterised the Saxon method of laying quoins.



Inside the tower, just discernible in the gloom, the arch to the W. portico can be seen to be slightly more elaborate than the tower E. arch inasmuch as the former is formed of two stepped unmoulded orders with step-carved blocks of stone serving as a capitals. The W. wall of the portico encompasses the remains of a large, round-headed, blocked doorway, and above, two circular openings, one of which is tucked into the gable, let in the only light that can ever have reached the interior. 



Turning to consider the rest of the church, in broad terms this is essentially Early English in style in the S. aisle, Decorated in the N. aisle and chancel, and Perpendicular in the nave clerestory.  That the S. arcade predates the present chancel is witnessed by the fact that while the N. arcade is five bays long, the S. arcade comprises just four and a half, after being truncated when the present chancel arch was constructed, leaving the easternmost arch of the arcade to die into the chancel wall.  As for the arches themselves, all are double-flat chamfered while the octagonal piers from which they spring each have a band of dog-tooth ornament running round, just below the abaci.  (See easternmost pier, left.)  The south windows to the aisle are surely contemporary and each formed of three cusped lights beneath two large trefoils and a trilobe, suggesting the date is unlikely to be much earlier than c. 1280.  The east and west windows are Perpendicular insertions.



The N. aisle follows after a period of, perhaps, sixty years, but also presents many minor complications.  All the north windows have reticulated tracery but are alternately two-centred and square-headed while the east and west windows have different variants of flowing tracery.  The arches on this side also are all double-flat-chamfered (as illustrated below) but while the responds and easternmost pier have similar, elaborately-carved capitals, the other three piers, although also octagonal, comprise one with an octagonal capital and two with circular capitals of differing dimensions.







Precisely what this implies about the detailed building history here seems impossible to tell but the present chancel appears to be contemporary with the S. aisle insofar as its square-headed windows without tracery can be reliably dated, and the excellent nave clerestory formed of nine pairs of two-centred, three-light windows with supermullioned tracery is certainly later and probably fifteenth century in date.  The wide, ungainly S. porch with its low-pitched hipped roof has more to say about its indifferent workmanship than its constructional history:  its outer doorway has a Perpendicular profile but could be re-set.  The humble N. porch, built largely of brick, may be early nineteenth century in date.