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English Church Architecture.

 

WANSFORD, St. Mary  (TL 073 992),

Peterborough City. 

(Bedrock:  Middle Jurassic, Lower Lincolnshire Limestone.)

 

A pleasant little church with an attractive late-Norman interior.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a small church but an interesting one, with features from several periods.  (See the photograph above left, taken from the southeast.)  Pevsner considered the nave W. window - now only visible inside, where it looks through to the tower - to be a remnant of Saxon times (The Buildings of England: Bedfordshire and the County of Huntingdon & Peterborough, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1968, p. 361), but this is hardly borne out by the great thickness of the wall, which suggests instead it is likely to be Norman, for as Sir Alfred Clapham pointed out as long ago as 1930, 'Anglo-Saxon walling...is commonly between 2 and 3 ft. in thickness [and this] is seldom exceeded even in the major churches...' (English Romanesque Architecture, Volume1, Before the Conquest, Oxford, Oxford University Press, p. 107).  If this is dismissed, therefore, the oldest features of the building are the nave S. doorway (illustrated above right) and the attractive circular font (seen below from the east and southeast).  The former is very crude, composed of a round arch of essentially three orders bearing rolls and incised grooves, supported on large shapeless abaci and two pairs of round shafts with no properly formed capitals.  However, the font is more rewarding, even while demonstrating the Normans' characteristic sculptural incompetence.  The bowl is decorated with carved figures seemingly representing monks, knights and other contemporary figures, set in blank arches beneath a frieze of leaf scrollwork.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Mary's church today consists of a chancel with a lean-to N. vestry and narrower adjoining organ chamber, a nave with a N. aisle and S. porch, and a W. tower with a short broach spire.  The nave S. wall curves curiously towards the northeast.  The two-bay N. arcade is Transitional work of c. 1210:  the arches are still round but the double-flat-chamfered mouldings they carry and the well-cut quatrefoil piers that support them, albeit not necessarily the nailhead moulding decorating the capitals, bear the look of the new century.  Probably it was considered needful to enlarge the original building at this time.  Another odd feature is that the capitals to the semi-quatrefoil responds at the ends of the arcade are actually semi-octagonal (Cf. the photograph of the arcade viewed from the southwest, below left, and the close-up of the central pier, below right.)  The pointed chancel arch, though in comparable style, is part and parcel of the complete reconstruction of the chancel, carried out in 1902 (as indicated on the base of the E. wall, outside).

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tower is Early English and consistent with the early to mid-thirteenth century.  It rises in three stages, the second of which is demarcated only by being slightly recessed while the bell-stage is divided by a string course.  The two lower stages are lit by lancets and the bell-openings are formed of pairs of lancet lights separated by round shafts, set in encompassing arches.  The spire is an early fourteenth century addition as shown by the two tiers of gabled lucarnes - the lower, two-light and set in the cardinal faces, and the upper, formed of single openings set in the ordinal faces.   Inside the church, the tower communicates with the nave through a rectangular opening topped by a plain lintel.

 

This leaves just the porch, nave clerestory and large S. window to the nave to be described, which are dated '1663' above the porch outer door.  (See the photograph below.)   The nave clerestory is formed of two small pairs of two-light, square-headed, untraceried windows, and the three-light and very much larger window in the nave S. wall is otherwise no more distinguished, but the porch has a neat little round arch supported on entablatures and a hood-mould that rises up at the centre to surround the rectangular plaque bearing the date.