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English Church Architecture -



TAYNTON, St. John the Evangelist (SP 234 136)  (October 2011)

(Bedrock:  Lower Jurassic, Dyrham Formation)


This is a rare thing among mediaeval churches – a building of one age constructed partly in the style of another .  In fact the real date here is revealed by the S. aisle windows of late Perpendicular/ early Tudor design and by a record of 1501 declaring that in that year, a certain “John Gwill, priest, presented the church of Taynton, newly built” [“noviter erectum”] (church notes).  Moreover, to accept this work as truly the product of the early fourteenth century requires one to overlook some unusual extensions of the standard compass of Decorated forms, including, in particular, the elaborate compound pier section of the aisle arcades and the prolific use of sunk quadrant mouldings around arches, doors and windows.  Even so, that having been said, the widespread employment of ball flower (notably beneath the N. aisle battlements, around some of the windows, and on the capitals of the aisle arcades), which is normally such a reliable indicator of Decorated work, is certainly unsettling, and the lancet windows in the chancel, suggesting this part of the building dates back a century further, are also liable to mislead.  It seems probable that a former chancel here, was of that age, but if so, then except for the chancel arch (shown below left), it was entirely rebuilt in 1865 (church notes), albeit re-using some of the mediaeval masonry.  As for the nave and aisles, perhaps they replaced early fourteenth century work, for the present W. window to the N. aisle, with two-light reticulated tracery, and, perhaps, the three-light E. window in each aisle (of which that to the south is now visible only internally, where it looks through to the organ chamber), could be survivals from it, re-used and re-set.  (The N. aisle E. window is illustrated below centre.)  (These E. windows have reticulated tracery also, but the reticulation units in the apices are cusped at the top only.)  In comparison, the three-light N. window to the N. aisle (below right), to the east of the porch, with non-standard curvilinear tracery and ball flower around the ogee hood-mould, is probably a part of the late fifteenth century work, and nor can very much else about this building be judged by immediate appearance.  The church, according to this reading, is an essay in mediaeval eclecticism.


The plan is of a chancel with a S. vestry-cum-organ-chamber, a two-bay aisled nave with a wide N. porch, and a slender W. tower.  The S. aisle can be entered through a wide S. doorway (locked on the occasion of this visit) surrounded by two flat chamfers separated by a frieze of Tudor(?) flowers, while immediately above, there is a four-light, cinquefoil-cusped, square-headed window with a label rising from head labels stops.  A similar window to the east, albeit transomed and double the height, has trefoil-cusped lights below the transom and cinquefoil-cusped lights above.  In contrast, the S. aisle W. window, which is probably an eighteenth century addition, consists of a single round-headed light set in a square surround.  The windowless N. porch has an outer doorway bearing a continuous chamfer and an inner chamfer supported on a pair of semicircular shafts.


The embattled tower rises in two stages (i.e. only the bell-stage is demarcated by a string course below), supported to about halfway up by diagonal buttresses.  The bell-openings are two-light with reticulated tracery and segmental dripstones;  there is a single trefoil-cusped light with a label, beneath in each wall;  and the two-light W. window has a straightened reticulation unit in the head, which in some parts of the country at least, would usually suggest the late fourteenth century.  Indeed, it seems very possible that this is the case here, for the tower seems originally to have been one storey lower before subsequently being raised, so perhaps the bell-stage dates from c. 1501 while the lower section is a century or so older.  The tower arch to the nave is composed of two flat-chamfered orders that die into the jambs.


Inside the church, the aisle arcades are composed of arches bearing two sunk quadrant mouldings supported on compound piers composed of four broad shafts of ogee section with the points chamfered off. (The photographs below show the N. arcade from the west and the central pier of the N. arcade in close-up.)  The capitals are formed of three narrow rolls beneath a ball-flower frieze, which go all the way round the piers, not each shaft separately, and there is a hood-mould above the arches, rising from head label stops.  The clerestory - formed of three, three-light, square-headed windows each side - is set rather erratically above the arcade spandrels.


















The S. aisle adjoins the Victorian organ chamber/ vestry to the east, which extends as far as the beginning of the sanctuary.  The chancel is lit by two N. lancets, one S. lancet (i.e. in the S. wall of the sanctuary), and a group of three stepped E. lancets, all of which are essentially Victorian.  The chancel arch is formed of two chamfered orders, the inner of which is supported on shafts.


Furnishings in the church are generally of little importance but the large and exceptionally fine octagonal font is a notable exception.  (See the photographs at the foot of the page, showing the font from the southwest and southeast, respectively.)  This is formed of a deep bowl, supported by angels on the cambered section below, standing on a stem decorated with trefoil-cusped arches in rectangular surrounds.  The faces of the bowl feature an upper tier of carving formed of recessed blank arcading, with the motifs of the Evangelists portrayed on the cardinal faces, an assortment of exotic creatures - including what appears to be a mermaid - on the ordinal faces, and eight kneeling angels between. The lower level is decorated with an assortment of simple flower motifs, but since all this carving is small-scale and intricate, the overall effect is correspondingly rich.


Jennifer Sherwood, however, who wrote the county section of the Oxfordshire volume of “The Buildings of England” (Penguin, 1974) (as opposed to the section on Oxford city) took the N. aisle and nave arcades at face value and considered them “Late Dec. work... of c. 1360”.  Whether Pevsner would have made the same error – assuming, indeed, that it is one – can only be a matter for speculation, but it would be an easy mistake to make on a hurried visit.  It is rather more unfortunate that it is repeated in the “britishlistedbuildings” web-site, which is just one of many examples of that site's over-reliance on these volumes.