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English Church Architecture -

Oxfordshire.

 

COLESHILL, All Saints (SU 236 938)   (September 2011)

(Bedrock: Upper Jurassic, Osmington Oolite Series)

This is a proud little church (shown above from the southeast), standing on an eminence a few hundred yards from the county border, and although it has undergone substantial restoration externally, there is still much of interest here, the majority of it inside.

 

The building consists of a chancel, nave with N. aisle, and W. tower, with the addition of a steeply-pitched, two-storeyed and deeply projecting S. porch, adjoined to the east by a very low-pitched S. chapel.  The tower rises in three diagonally-buttressed stages to battlements and crocketed pinnacles at the corners and mid-points of the walls, and a semi-octagonal stair turret at the east end of the S. wall reaches two-thirds of the way up the second stage to terminate in a deep parapet.  Between the turret and the porch, a distance of about 12' (almost 4 m.), a shallow lean-to projection houses a gallery passage within, giving access to the upper storey of the porch (which is itself also a gallery) from internal and external doors in the extreme western end of the nave S. wall - an arrangement which in its present form, appears to owe most to the building’s Victorian restoration.  Windows in all parts of the church, though disparate in style, seem largely to have been renewed, but the narrow, ogee-pointed lights in the porch, probably witness the second quarter of the fourteenth century, and the enormous, ugly quatrefoil lighting the chancel from the east - set internally beneath a round arch supported on circular shafts and which is blatantly not mediaeval and not persuasively Victorian either – is actually an eighteenth century, “Gothick” inspiration, better suited to Strawberry Hill or other similar confections.  (Notes in the church date it to 1788.)  The tower bell-openings are two-light with straightened reticulation units in their heads, which in East Anglia at least, would usually indicate the late fourteenth century;  the W. doorway has a wave moulding around the arch, and the three-light W. window has supermullioned tracery with strong mullions.  The parapet of pierced quatrefoils above the N. aisle, is probably fifteenth century work. 

 

The outer arch to the porch, bearing only two flat chamfers dying into the jambs, might possibly suggest the thirteenth century without the evidence provided by the windows.  The inner doorway is trefoil-cusped.  The nave arcades are formed of two bays to the south and two and a half bays to the north.  The latter is Early English and composed of double-flat-chamfered pointed arches springing from circular piers and capitals.  Presumably it originally consisted of three bays until truncated by the tower.  The S. arcade is Norman-Transitional for although the arches are similar to those opposite, the responds supporting them have capitals decorated with flat leaves characteristic of c. 1200.  Moreover, “responds” is indeed the correct word for them, for even the central one is only a half-pier facing north (illustrated left), attached to a wall piece to the  south.  (The E. respond consists of a quarter-pier and the west end of the arcade dies into a wall piece.)  The chancel arch is exceptionally crude and slight, and is formed of two inner rectangular orders and an outer flat-chamfered one, rising from corbels similar in size and shape to teacups. The tall tower arch has an outer order bearing a wave and an inner order which is flat-chamfered below the springing and slightly waved above, but of much greater interest are the remnants of a former vault in the corners of the tower, supported on head corbels immediately above the arch, though whether the vault was demolished or never completed in the first place, is difficult to tell.

 

Church furnishings include the cambered, circular font on a narrow stem, which may be contemporary with the N. arcade, and a not particularly distinguished collection of Georgian box pews that fill the chapel in is entirety. The church is more notable for monuments, however, reflecting its one-time status as the estate church of Coleshill House (destroyed by fire in 1952).  Of these, the oldest (right), set against the sanctuary S. wall, features two clumsy  effigies depicting Sir Henry Pratt (d. 1647) above, who leans uncomfortably on his left shoulder, and of his wife, below, lying still and very dead.  The N. wall of the sanctuary is filled from floor to ceiling by a massive, triple-arched structure (left and below right), supported on slender octagonal columns, which is as crisp today as when it was made.  This commemorates Mark Stewart Pleydell (d. 1768) and his wife, who predeceased him by twenty-one years.  All three arches are crocketed, cusped and ogee-pointed, with the much wider central arch being double-cusped (trefoil-cusping in septfoil-cusping), but the real interest of the piece lies unquestionably in its composition, as it is made of artificial Coade stone.  Even so, more important than either of these monuments is another, a little further west, against the S. wall of the chancel, for this is signed by the great Michael Rysbrack (1694 – 1770), some of whose characteristic mannerisms it displays.  (See the photograph below left.) Harriot Bouverie is commemorated here, who died in  childbirth in 1751 at the appallingly young age of twenty-six.  A cartouche at the top looks out over two chubby putti who hold a medallion carved with the faces of the deceased and her grieving husband in bas-relief, and the inscription below reads:

 

 
“In person, manner, disposition
And uncommon understanding, most amiable;
In gentleness, candour and humility,
In prudence, sincerity and beneficence,
In substantial and uniform piety,
Most exemplary;
The accomplished woman,
The universal friend,
The real Christian.
As a daughter she was obedient;
She was affectionate
As a parent (short, alas, her trial);
Tender, solicitous,
The ornament of her own family,
The admiration of that into which she married,
Loving and beloved with entire unvaried affection
An honour to the marriage state,
She blessed an husband who can never enough lament
The loss of so incomparable a wife.” 

Michael Craske, writing in The Silent Rhetoric of the Body (pub. Yale University Press, 2007) considers this monument to be the only sculpture of its period in which the female portrait overlaps the male, a symbol of the Bouverie family's unusual privileging (for the time) of the wife's place in marriage.  Two raised torches beneath the cartouche, united by a human heart, "are held to symbolise mutual love.  A putto to one side shows how one of these flames has been put out: he extinguishes a torch on a skull. A companion putto suggests the lovers' consolation by holding the emblem of eternity, a serpent biting its tail."