( back to home page)

English Church Architecture -



BANHAM, St. Mary (TM 063 882)     (March 2015)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


Church guidebooks, unsurprisingly, vary greatly in their coverage, from the exceptionally comprehensive and rigorous (such as that for Crewkerne in Somerset) to the almost totally spurious.  The guide for this church begins, "The Church is a large and handsome building of flint, mostly in the Perpendicular style of architecture...",  whereas, except in the clerestory, the building is probably the most consistently Decorated in style in a wide area around.  However, it is large and attractive, being formed of a long three-bay chancel, a nave with wide aisles and a two-bay S. porch, and a W. tower with a steeple, which is also unusual in this region.  Windows traceries include: (i) the usual reticulated form in the porch bay nearest the nave, the N. wall of the chancel, and the N. aisle (where they alternate with windows with curvilinear tracery); (ii) a restored idiosyncratic curvilinear form in the chancel S. wall (see the example illustrated in the first of the three photographs of windows, below) in which the window head above the ogee-pointed lights is filled with two reticulation units placed one above the other, squashed between two ungainly shapes like winged daggers turned sideways; and (iii) cinquefoil-cusped Y-tracery beneath round arches in the S. aisle (see the second of the three photographs), which through the absence of ogees, manage somehow to look later rather than earlier.  However, the three-light E. windows to the aisles are certainly the most curious, with their narrow trefoil-cusped ogee lights and tracery composed of reticulation units in the apices and the oddest of shapes to left and right below, which are simply the suitably cusped spaces that happened to be left over after the other areas had been determined.  (See the N. aisle E. window, shown in the last of the three photographs.)  The five-light E. window to the chancel is very ostentatious and entirely Victorian.  The tower is angle-buttressed and rises in three stages to a low parapet and a leaded broach spire behind. The W. window and renewed bell-openings have uncusped Y-tracery suggesting the tower is the earliest part of the building, erected, say c. 1280 - 1300, but since this presents some difficulty in reconstructing the church's likely building history, and since, besides, they seem rather at odds with the angle buttresses, then perhaps they are spurious and simply an instance of an earlier form  being used at a later date.   The porch, as already mentioned, has windows with reticulated tracery in its more northerly bay, while the windows in its southerly bay are like those in the S. wall of the chancel.  (See the photograph, top left.)  This seems unlikely to have been the original arrangement, so, perhaps, either one pair of windows has been altered (although they also differ in size as well as style), or else the decision to extend the porch to two bays was made somewhat belatedly and a different mason engaged halfway through.  The porch is diagonally buttressed and there are niches in the buttresses above the first set-offs and a third in the gable. (See the photograph, right.)  The outer doorway rises on semi-quatrefoil responds and carries an inner wave moulding and an outer hollow above, of which the latter holds rosettes at intervals.  The nave clerestory is Perpendicular and formed of cinquefoil-cusped, two-light square-headed windows.


Inside the church the five-bay arcades adopt a characteristic late Decorated style, formed of tall double-hollow-chamfered arches supported on quatrefoil piers with narrow shafts in the diagonals and capitals to the principal foils only.  (See the S. arcade, below left, viewed from the west.) The chancel arch is in similar style, albeit taller and wider, and the tower arch is formed of three orders above semi-octagonal responds.  The N. aisle extends for about 14' (approximately 4 m.) beside the chancel to form a shallow chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist, and a narrow arch bearing wave mouldings, opens between it and the chancel and dies into the jambs.  In the N. wall opposite, partly in the aisle and partly in the chapel, an ogee-pointed tomb canopy contains an effigy believed to represent Sir Hugh Bardolph, who died in 1203, although the style of both the canopy and effigy is that of more than a century later.  The chancel has three equal, rather lethal-looking sedilia recessed in the S. wall, with sharp cinquefoil-cusping hanging down, ready to spear the unwary, and beyond this to the east, there is the expected piscina. Another tomb canopy in the N. wall of the sanctuary, is empty.        


Finally, notable church carpentry is confined to the nave roof (seen right, from the east), of tie beam construction, of which the westernmost displays the date "1622" and the initials of the then churchwardens (shown in the rather fuzzy photograph, left) Queen posts rise from the tie beams to purlins, and king posts to the ridge. The king posts are braced against the tie beams below, and transversely to the ridge above.