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English Church Architecture -



WATLINGTON, St. Peter & St. Paul (TF 112 621)      (July 2004)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Kimmeridge Clay Formation)


The village of Watlington is situated on gravels above Kimmeridge clay but carstone outcrops only two and a half miles away to the southeast and the church is constructed almost wholly of this material.  It is a substantial building consisting of a W. tower, aisled nave, chancel and S. porch, chiefly in Early English style but with an attractive Decorated chancel which is probably the best work.  The E. window has five lights and elaborate curvilinear tracery, while the N. and S. windows have two lights and wheels of daggers set vertically in their heads (see the S. window. illustrated left) like those in a number of East Anglian churches, including All Saints', Feering in Essex and St. Margaret's, Cowlinge and All Saints', Stansfield in Suffolk.  This is a characteristic motif of the first half of the fourteenth century, to be carefully distinguished from the wheels of four small daggers set diagonally, associated with the Perpendicular period and the work of Reginald Ely (c.1415-71) in particular, with which Pevsner seemed apt to confuse it.  The Perpendicular motif appears, among other places, at St. Mary's, Burwell in Cambridgeshire and St. Mary's, Cavendish in Suffolk.  By contrast, the Decorated motif exemplified here at Watlington is larger and placed in the apex of the window rather than as one of a pair, either side of an eyelet.  The date is probably c. 1340.  Inside the chancel there is a sedilia of three equal bays set in the S. wall, with a piscina beyond, and in the N. wall, a blocked arch that once led to a small chapel.


Most of the rest of the church (shown right, from the southeast) is Early English in style and, perhaps, some sixty years older.  That includes the tower, nave arcades and aisles, of which the N. aisle retains two of its original Y-traceried windows although those in the S. aisle have all been renewed.  Perhaps that was when they were given their present cinquefoil-cusping, but if their original form is faithfully represented here, then that might suggest that the S. aisle was built somewhat later than its northern counterpart, around 1300, perhaps at the end of an extended period of construction.  The arcades are four bays long although the aisles continue west beyond them to embrace the tower.  The arches bear two flat chamfers and spring from octagonal piers, and both the chancel and tower arches are similar.  The tower rises in three stages to brick battlements and crocketed pinnacles at the corners.  An octagonal stair at the southeast angle, constructed of Tudor brick, displays recessed panels decorated with roughly-shaped pairs of cinquefoil-cusped blank arches.  The bell-openings have been renewed but the second stage windows with Y-tracery to the west and east (the latter, visible inside the church) and the lancets to the north, are original.  The Y-traceried windows have octagonal shafts separating the lights and the east one is almost cut by an earlier gable line that seems to indicate the height of the nave roof before the clerestory was added, though surely not its original height, which was presumably still lower, beneath the Y-traceried window.  But then what should one make of a second gable line (illustrated), visible externally, above the present roof?  The clerestory is in late Perpendicular style but renewed. One possible explanation could be that the nave roof was raised from the lower to the upper gable line, c. 1500, when  the  clerestory was constructed, and then lowered to its present position during restoration of the building in 1902.  


The church contains little old woodwork of quality but the exception is the octagonal pulpit, which is Carolean and of post-Restoration rather than pre-Civil War vintage (i.e. of the reign of Charles II, not Charles I).  In all probability it was only a few years before it was constructed that the font was so sadly mutilated, which is a pity as this was obviously once splendid.  Sixteen elaborately carved figures surround the bowl and eight more the stem, every single one of them, alas, now quite headless.