SPENNITHORNE, St. Michael (SE 137 890),
(Bedrock: Carboniferous Dinantian Subsystem, Liddesdale Group.)
A puzzling church where it is pleasant to linger.
This is not an especially large church, but it is a quite complex one, deserving careful examination. It is attractively situated on the edge of open countryside, just two miles from Leyburn, and any visit here is likely to be a pleasant one. The building is formed of a W. tower, an aisled nave with a S. porch, and a chancel with a N. chapel and vestry, and includes work of all centuries from the twelfth to the seventeenth. Externally, the dominant impression is created by the Decorated style of the early fourteenth century, but since the oldest and most striking work is inside, that is a better place to begin. It comprises the three eastern bays of the N. arcade (shown below), the easternmost of which is narrower than the others, formed of arches of two orders, supported on circular piers with large, square, scalloped capitals. This arcade was subsequently extended by a fourth bay to the west, as demonstrated by the fact that the pier between it and its neighbour is not strictly speaking a pier at all but a meeting of two responds, divided by the narrowest of wall pieces. Above the springing, however, except in the absence of a hood-mould, this final arch is virtually identical to the previous two, posing questions about its date. Pevsner considered it a thirteenth century extension of the building, contemporary with the S. arcade opposite, presumably assuming that the masons involved in the construction of the latter, took the trouble to replicate work here in what was considered then a discredited, outmoded style. If that seems doubtful, perhaps another possibility is that this arch is essentially twelfth century work too, either contemporary with the other bays or following shortly after, and that the dissimilarities are the result of a partial reconstruction made necessary by the sort of structural problems that might have arisen when the tower was added in the early fourteenth century. Be that as it may however, the S. arcade is formed of three arches which together span the same distance as the four to the north. (See the internal view of the church at the foot of the page, viewed from the west.) These are double-flat-chamfered and supported on circular piers with square abaci. This arcade probably be ascribed to the early thirteenth century (i.e. before 1250), if only because such a date fits the aisle windows better.
Externally, the S. aisle has a corbel-table of carved heads running round beneath the parapet (see the two short sections illustrated below) and is lit to the east of the porch, by two, two-light, trefoil-cusped windows with trefoils above, in which the tracery in the first, seems to verge on plate tracery, a form increasingly uncommon from c. 1250 onwards. (See the photograph at the top of the page on the right.) The porch is windowless but the wide hollow chamfer round the arch may suggest this is Decorated; its notable feature is the tunnel vault within. However, the porch inner doorway (illustrated by the second photograph below on the left) fits comfortably with the presumed date for the aisle: it has three roll mouldings round the arch and three orders of colonnettes at the sides, with capitals resembling stiff-leaf but actually formed of continuous rows of faces. (See the detail of the left hand capitals in the second photograph below on the right.) The N. aisle has a doorway towards the west with the Sacred Monogram above, and an undistinguished group of restored Perpendicular windows further east. The chancel is lit by two, two-light reticulated windows to the south and a four-light Perpendicular window to the east, with lights subarcuated in pairs, through reticulation and a quatrefoil in the apex.
The tower, as previously mentioned, is Decorated, and rises in two stages to two-light, reticulated bell-openings and a tall crown of battlements which, as notes in the church point out, were probably intended to be able, in extremis, to fulfil a defensive role. It is supported by angle buttresses and has a strong rectangular projection for the stair turret at the east end of the S. wall. Inside, the arch to the nave is formed of two flat chamfered orders, of which the outer chamfer continues down the jambs and the inner chamfer is supported on large, indifferently-carved figure corbels. This is also the form of the chancel arch, suggesting it is contemporary. The extension of the N. aisle as an organ chamber, but formerly as a chapel, was ascribed by Pevsner to c. 1620 (The Buildings of England: Yorkshire North Riding, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1966, p. 352).
Church furnishings include a free-standing stone bench on the S. side of the chancel, acting as a sedilia. There is an arrangement of nineteenth century monuments on the N. wall of the sanctuary, dedicated to the van Straubenzee family, and there are various other monuments elsewhere.