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English Church Architecture -



GREAT COXWELL, St. Giles (SU 269 934)   (June 2012)

(Bedrock: Upper Jurassic, Lower Calcareous Grit)

There need be no particular controversy over the history of this church (shown above from the southeast) for it was clearly first built in the early thirteenth century, remodelled about eighty years later, and subsequently provided with a tower and a few assorted, additional windows.  It consists of a chancel, nave, W. tower and humble N. porch, and is constructed of ragstone for the walls and limestone flags for the roofs.


The first period is witnessed by a tall S. lancet in the chancel (as seen in the photograph), which is original and probably functioned as a lowside window, and four shorter, restored N. lancets, two each to the nave and chancel.  Notes in the church describe this work as Norman-Transitional, but the walls fail to display the characteristic Romanesque thickness and a date c.1220 probably fits better than one twenty years before.  The N. doorway and blocked S. doorway (now with a window in its head) are round-arched but slight, commensurate with the late use of an outmoded form, when former constructional considerations have ceased to apply. 


As for the remodelling of c.1300, this did not extend the building beyond the already existing plan but added the attractive cusped Y-traceried window in the nave S. wall (illustrated above and far left), the two-light window with cusped rounded triangle in the head in the chancel S. wall (illustrated above and near left), the new chancel E. window, formed of three trefoil-cusped lancet lights set in an encompassing round arch, the niches on either side of this window internally, and the present chancel arch composed of two hollow chamfered orders, the inner of which is supported on corbel shafts (as seen below on the near right).  This may also have been the time when the rood stair was inserted, between the nave and chancel to the  south:  its presence is betrayed externally by a slight projection of the masonry and a tiny rectangular light, while inside, the open entrance to the stair survives, about 2' 6" (75 cm.) above the floor (and presumably once reached by three or four wooden steps), and the blocked exit is just visible directly above. The tower arch formed of two hollow-chamfered orders with the inner springing from responds with capitals, is also in Decorated style, but since the tower itself appears to be Perpendicular, perhaps this is either another example of the re-use of an earlier design or an indication that the tower is no later than the late fourteenth century, when Decorated and Perpendicular forms could sometimes be found together.  The tower rises in four short stages to two-light, square-headed, cinquefoil-cusped bell-openings and surmounting battlements, supported by diagonal buttresses to the lower two stages.  The third stage has little one-light openings to the north and west, and on the north side there is also a larger, blocked opening, a little lower down to the right, that may once have lit the stair.  The restored W. window, formed of trefoil-cusped lancets within an encompassing arch, was probably taken from the nave W. wall and re-set here when the tower was added.  The two-light, easternmost S. window to the nave is Perpendicular, but the curious window high up in the same wall to the west, is believed to date from a restoration of 1795 and to have been inserted to light a gallery (since removed) (notes in the church).  Perhaps the large, three-light S. window was also inserted then, to cast light, in this case, on the pulpit.  The N. porch is a half-timbered structure of uncertain date (but possibly late mediaeval), with no windows and an outer arch formed of a single heavy timber in the shape of a shallow inverted V.  A fifteenth century wooden door hangs from the flat-chamfered inner doorway, constructed of four vertical boards with applied tracery.


Inside, the church is modestly furnished. The pulpit is Jacobean but unremarkable, formed of a demi-hexagon wrapped round the southeast corner of the nave. Two eighteenth century wall monuments face each other across the chancel.  The wagon roofs of the nave and chancel are both modern.


As an aside, a note of irritation that may perhaps be excused is the observation that the entry for this church in The Buildings of England, appears in the volume for Berkshire (sic), notwithstanding that the latest edition for that county (by Geoffrey Tyack and Simon Bradley) was published as recently as 2010.  The perverse refusal by this series to adjust to county boundaries that changed before half the population of Britain was born, is a frequent source of confusion when consulting these volumes, and every new edition raises by a further notch its level of absurdity.