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English Church Architecture.


ROCK, St. Philip  St. James  (NU 202 202),


(Bedrock:  Carboniferous Dinantian Subsystem, Alston Group.)


The remains of a small but once excellent Norman church

 after savage Victorian restoration.


  1. This was a small, entirely Norman church until the Victorians got their hands on it in the mid-nineteenth century.  The first of the vandals was probably Anthony Salvin (1799-1881) (Nikolaus Pevsner et al, The Buildings of England: Northumberland, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2002, p. 551), who replaced the original, probably square, E. end of the church with an apse, inserted a window in the nave W. gable, and placed a bellcote above, all in neo-Norman style, though whether he was also responsible for the groups of lancets inserted in the north and south walls is doubtful for why would he have introduced the Early English style there while he was attempting to replicate the Norman style elsewhere?  What is known for sure is that only eleven years after Salvin had completed this work, F. R. Wilson (1827-94) added an independently-gabled N aisle, also in neo-Norman style and almost equal in size to the nave it adjoined. According to Pevsner, Wilson's concession to the historical importance of the building as he found it, involved the carefully recorded taking down of the nave N. wall and its subsequent reconstruction, stone by stone, Victorian lancets and all, to form the N. wall of the new aisle (as shown below).  Two significant twelfth century features are contained within it:  a small round-headed  Norman window a little east of centre, and a portion of the corbel table above.  Norman features still to be seen around the exterior of the nave and chancel where they have not been disturbed include the similar window and corbel table in and above the nave S. wall (shown  at the foot of the page, on the left), the Norman window in the N. wall of the chancel (west of the Victorian vestry), the tall nook shafts with scalloped capitals at the nave southeast and southwest angles, and most especially, the nave W doorway with chevron round the arch and very worn hood-mould, and an order of shafts with scalloped capitals (illustrated at the foot of the page, on the right).  A corbel table to either side, above, is decorated with grotesques.


However, the most important piece of Norman work at Rock is to be found within and comprises the wide, impressive chancel arch, composed of two orders (as illustrated below left).  They are decorated by two rolls separated by a small spur under the soffit of the inner order, and to the west, by two lines of horizontal chevron on the outer order and two lines of little rectangles containing what look as if they might have been intended to be saltires but which contain only one diagonal line, on the hood-mould.  The two orders of shafts attached to the responds have scalloped capitals above astragals and two zigzags on the abaci.  (The photograph, below right, shows the S. respond.)  The original Norman masonry in roughly squared local stone, contrasts sharply with the urbane limestone ashlar used for the nineteenth century parts of the building, and the junction between the two is nowhere more acute than at the junction between the mediaeval chancel and Salvin's apse.


Neither Salvin's nor Wilson's work justifies detailed description but, in brief, Wilson's three-bay aisle arcade is formed of double-flat-chamfered arches supported on circular piers and semicircular responds with large scalloped capitals, and the rather elaborate E. and W. windows to the aisle, although they differ in detail, each have two round-headed lights set in a round-headed encompassing arch with two orders of side-shafts with scalloped capitals.