( back to home page)


English Church Architecture.


GREETHAM, St. Mary  (SK 924 146),


(Bedrock:  Middle Jurassic, Lower Lincolnshire Limestone.)


Another church in Rutland with a puzzling architectural history.


This is an interesting but puzzling church composed of work in a range of styles, from which a clear building history is hard to deduce.   Its plan is entirely commonplace, however, being formed of a short chancel with a modern lean-to vestry, an aisled nave with a porch, and a tower with a broach spire, and its only overtly pre-Gothic work is now to be found inside, in the fragments of a Norman tympanum, reset in the west wall of the S. aisle, and in the massive Transitional font of c. 1200 (below left), which consists of a square bowl supported on an almost equally wide circular shaft, with carved figures at the corners where the circle meets the square, and a line of dog-tooth ornament running round the bowl.  The bases of the N. arcade piers, discussed below, may or may not be of similar age.


However, the earliest work unarguably incorporated in the essential structure of the building, is in the Early English style, as witnessed by three lancets with hood-moulds in the S. wall of the chancel (illustrated below right), and a restored fourth one in the S. aisle W. wall.  The western end of the chancel S. wall - which encompasses one of the lancets within it - is curious, for it inclines out towards the S. aisle at an angle of approximately 20 and has what appears to be a little arch behind, as well as a small portion of roof above, tiled at a lower level than the chancel proper and not contiguous with it (just possible to discern in the photograph).  The reason for this arrangement is no more obvious inside than out, so one is left to speculate about its origins and the only explanation that comes readily to mind is that it may have been in some way connected with a former rood stair turret, following the demolition of which, this lancet was reset.  The S. arcade is three bays long and decorated with a little nailhead on the capitals of the east and west responds, which have slightly hollowed sides in the ordinal positions.  (The W. respond is illustrated in the second photograph down on the left.)  This might suggest it has a thirteenth century (Early English) derivation, but the arches above - which bear two hollow chamfers of slightly differing widths, with little broaches inclining into the outer order from the capitals - are early fourteenth century in appearance, so, perhaps, this is actually early fourteenth century (Decorated) work which reused some earlier stonework.  The two central piers of the S. arcade below the capitals, appear to have been renewed or heavily scraped.  The chancel arch is wider than the chancel, an improbable situation made possible here by the splaying out of the chancel S. wall already described, suggesting it was constructed in its present form around the time the S. arcade was built and that the S. aisle was not part of the original plan.  


As to the S. aisle itself, this has no east window and only simple Perpendicular, three-light square-headed windows to the south.  It widens out to the east of the S. porch, to give the appearance of a chapel externally, but there is no evidence of a chapel inside, instead of which this part of the aisle now serves as an organ chamber.   The S. porch (below right) has an outer doorway of two orders, of which the inner bears a hollow chamfer above semicircular shafts topped by shapeless capitals.  The inner doorway is formed of a single flat-chamfered order supported on simple abaci and the porch itself has a simple collar-beam roof.


The W. tower  is Decorated (early fourteenth century) and rises in three stages (or four if one can regard the bell-stage as two, since it is divided by a string course at the springing level of the bell-openings).  (See the photograph at the top of the page on the left.)  It is supported by clasping buttresses and has two-light reticulated bell-openings with groups of shafts between the lights.  The broach spire has a fine profile and is lit by three tiers of gabled lucarnes in the ordinal positions.  The tower W. window has been renewed and there is no door beneath, but there is a stair turret built into the southwest buttress, and on the E. wall, the line of the former, very steeply-pitched nave roof can be seen.  Inside, the tower E. wall is supported by heavy buttresses that are clearly a later addition, and the tower arch between is also a Perpendicular reconstruction, being formed of four orders bearing sunk quadrants and hollow chamfers, with the innermost order supported on semi-octagonal shafts with capitals.


The N. arcade (shown below left, from the east) is probably Decorated but there is something slightly odd about its style and proportions, and the cylindrical mouldings set within the hollow chamfers, immediately above the capitals, are curious indeed unless they were intended to be broaches but never completed.  However, what there is no doubt about is that it is spectacularly different to the S. arcade opposite, notwithstanding that the piers there are octagonal too and the arches, also double-hollow-chamfered, for this time there are four bays, and the piers are taller and slenderer, and supported on octagonal bases which themselves stand on earlier square ones.  This probably provides the explanation of why there are four bays on this side instead of three, namely that when this arcade was built, it was erected on earlier foundations.   The age of these square bases (illustrated below right) is difficult to judge, but could be Norman.  The three-light E. window to this aisle is Perpendicular, with strong mullions and a triangular-pointed arch set in a two-centred arch.  The positions of the three irregularly-spaced pairs of nave clerestory windows bear no relationship whatever to those of either arcade beneath, and the windows also differ north to south, being two-light and square-headed to the south and consisting of quatrefoils in circles to the north.  The nave is topped by a plain parapet, which has a row of corbel heads beneath.


















To sum up therefore, there was probably once a Norman church on this site of which the font and perhaps the square bases of the S. arcade remain.  This might have terminated to the east in a rectangular-ended chancel or an apse but in either case, this was demolished in the thirteenth century and replaced with the present chancel, while most of the rest of the church was rebuilt, in a series of campaigns, probably under the direction of different master masons, during the first half of the fourteenth century.  Fifteenth century alterations then included the addition of the nave clerestory, replacing the former, steeply-gabled nave roof, and the reconstruction of the tower arch.  However, since there is much here that is speculative, perhaps the reader can improve upon it...