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English Church Architecture.


FELTON, St. Michael & All Angels (NU 178 002),


(Bedrock:  Carboniferous Namurain Series, Millstone grit and Upper Limestone group [Stainmore Formation].)


A church of bizarre appearance, holding many architectural secrets.




Churches of this hotchpotched appearance seem to be something of a Northumbrian speciality.  (Se also Elsdon for example.)  It is due here partly to its crude workmanship (perhaps a measure of the intractability of the stone) but chiefly to the sandwiching together of a chancel with a steeply-pitched Victorian roof to the east, the prominently projecting remnant of a seventeenth century(?) bell-cote  to the west, and, in between, nave and aisles covered by a roof pitched so low as to appear completely roofless!  This last also has a deleterious effect inside, for without a nave clerestory, the interior is gloomy in the extreme.  The width of the nave and aisles also contributes to this.  Indeed, notes in the church describe it as ;one of the four largest.... in Northumberland', which seems extraordinary if true.


Be that as it may, however, the church's size and appearance are certainly no more puzzling than the history of its architectural development for an internal inspection especially, shows it to consist of such a confusing mixture of bits and pieces as should keep anyone guessing, particularly since all the important building stages apparently involved seem to have fallen within a century and a half of each other at the most - that is, from  c. 1170 - 1320.  They can probably be distinguished most readily in the examination of the chancel arch and aisle arcades.  The five-bay N. arcade is all of a piece apart from the E. respond, which is semicircular rather than semi-octagonal, but the S. arcade is composed of three distinct parts:  (i) the westernmost arch, which is separated by a lengthy wall piece from the next arch along;  (ii) the second arch from the west, which is formed of two arches back to back, a round-headed one facing north and a pointed one facing south, and which is also separated by a wall piece from the arches further east;  and (iii), a two-bay arcade in the style of the arcade opposite.


Interpreting this evidence will inevitably be speculative and offer the reader plenty of scope to improve upon it.  Nevertheless, it seems safe to assume that the unmoulded round arch on the N. side of the second arch from the west in the S. arcade (sic) came first and shows that the original church was Norman, perhaps with this arch forming its S. doorway.  The pointed arch replete with side shafts, backing on to it, which is probably the most neatly constructed arch in the entire building, might then represent the addition of a S porch by a skilled mason in the first half of the thirteenth century, but shortly after that, a mason of lesser ability seems: (i) to have incorporated this porch into a southwest chapel;  (ii) extended the nave to the east (or simply reconstructed the chancel arch in the original position if the nave was already its present length);  (iii) built a new porch to the south of the original one, and (iv), possibly added a N. transept.  Evidence for all this includes the ungainly double-flat-chamfered western arch to the S. aisle (shown below left), supported on a semicircular respond with a large ugly capital to the west and a heavy corbel to the east, the very similar chancel arch (below right), with responds on both sides, the large pointed rear arch to the new S. doorway, together with the new S. porch, with its ribbed tunnel vault, and the E. respond to the N. arcade.  This leaves to the fourth stage of operations, the construction of the five-bay N. aisle and arcade (shown at the foot of the page, on the left), possibly incorporating an earlier N. transept, and the continuation to the east of the S. aisle opposite, the date for which is presumably given by the S. aisle E. window (shown at the foot of the page, on the right), with its excellent geometrical tracery, cut from a single stone according to the notes in the church, and composed of five cinquefoil-cusped lights with outer lights subarcuated in pairs above encircled quatrefoils, and a wheel of eight petals arranged round a small circle in the apex.  Throughout most of England, this would be commensurate with a date c. 1300, but a somewhat later one might fit better so far north as this, say c.1320.  The N. arcade and two eastern bays of the S. arcade are formed of double-flat-chamfered arches on octagonal piers with capitals of moderate projection - a design it is impossible to date closely.


Unfortunately the external details of the building provide little guide to the correctness or otherwise of the above suggestions.  The S aisle windows consist of a pair of renewed lancets with the remains of a blocked round-headed window above, west of the porch, and two renewed lancets and a renewed two-light window with a quatrefoil in the head, to the east, followed by the window in the E. wall, just described.  An inscription on the S. wall of the chancel indicates that it was refenestrated and given its ugly crazy paving effect in 1825 at the expense of Alexander Davison (d. 1829), whose monument can be found on the N wall of the sanctuary.  The chancel E. wall, which is pierced by a renewed group of three stepped lancets, bears an inscription to Emerson Muschamp (sic) Bainbridge, together with the date, 1884.  The chancel has no N. windows but west of the Victorian organ chamber, the N. aisle has three renewed cinquefoil-cusped Y-traceried ones with daggers in the heads, followed by a Victorian lancet, two buttresses and then another Y-traceried window.  The W. front has partly original windows in the aisles, each formed of two trefoil-cusped lancet lights beneath encircled quatrefoils.  The porch is windowless with a stone flag roof and exceptionally rough-hewn masonry.  The outer doorway carries a hollow around the arch, the ribs forming the vault are chamfered, and the inner doorway bears two continuous flat chamfers running all the way round, without intervening capitals.  This, then, is by no means great architecture, but an architectural historian could  spend all day here, and still have doubts about the building's correct interpretation.