(« back to home page)


English Church Architecture.


KETTON, St. Mary  (SK 981 042),


(Bedrock:  Middle Jurassic, Lower Lincolnshire Limestone.)


A splendid, iconic English parish church,
that was illustrated as such in the 1970 edition of The Shell Guide to England.


Ketton stone is now justly regarded as one of the very best building stones in all England, and yet because it was curiously little exploited before c. 1500, the village church here in Ketton is built chiefly of stone from Barnack, five miles to the east, in a rare but striking example of the mediaeval builder preferring an 'imported' material to an equally fine one immediately to hand.  Also unusual is the fact that the one part of the structure where the local stone has been used, is actually Victorian, viz.  the chancel, which was rebuilt by Thomas Jackson (1835-1924) in 1863. Jackson, however, was a  particularly thoughtful and fine architect, as may also be seen, for example, in his nave, N. aisle and S. porch at the church of St. Lawrence, Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire.


St. Mary’s, Ketton (shown left, from the southeast), is an admirable building that was cruciform until the transepts were truncated in the eighteenth century to bring them in line with the aisles, creating a church that now consists of an aisled nave with a S. porch and N. vestry, an aisled central tower with a soaring broach spire, and a chancel leaning noticeably out of alignment to the north.  The style is chiefly Early English, including that of Jackson’s chancel, but some Norman-Transitional work may be found here too - of a fragmentary nature, it is true, yet not without significance.   This means, above all, the building’s W. front, or at least that part of it below the attractive W. window designed in Early English form by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-78).  The Transitional work (shown below) comprises a round-headed W. doorway and a pointed blank arch on either side, of which the former consists of an arch of three orders, carrying chevron in two planes on the two inner orders and a roll on the outermost, supported on jambs (of which that to the north is illustrated below right) bearing chevron and two orders of shafts in shaft-rings, separated by a line of dog-tooth and with capitals resembling water leaf.   The blank arches each side of the doorway have more chevron round their heads and a single order of shafts in shaft rings with similar capitals.  The other notable late twelfth century work surviving in the building is the straightened arch at the E. end of the S. aisle (visible in the photograph at the foot of the page, on the left), made up of two re-used pieces of stonework that Pevsner thought were once the jambs of another arch entirely  (The Buildings of England: Leicestershire and Rutland, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1960, p. 304).   In their current position, they support a walkway above, connecting a stair in the S. aisle wall with a most precarious-looking but apparently still used wooden balcony projecting above the chancel arch, which conducts the intrepid campanologist to a round-headed doorway leading to the ringing chamber over the crossing.












Much of the Gothic work at St. Mary’s appears to derive from relatively late in the thirteenth century, running into the fourteenth, in spite of the fact that the church is known to have been re-dedicated in 1240, presumably following work done around that time.  The aisle arcades could fit this earlier date (see the E. end of the S. arcade at the foot of the page on the left), consisting as they do of double-flat-chamfered arches supported on circular piers and groups of three demishafts forming the responds, all with capitals decorated with nailhead, and so also could the crossing arches (see the W. crossing arch shown at the foot of the page on the right), which are similar below the springing.  However, the exterior walls of both aisles have ballflower friezes beneath the parapets, which is unfailingly an early fourteenth century motif;  and although the bell-stage of the outstanding tower is still Early English in its details, by the time the spire was reached (which by all appearances was surely integral to the builder’s original conception in at least something like its final form), the date can hardly be earlier than c. 1320.


The bell-stage (shown right) is pierced by three tall, two-light Y-traceried bell-openings on each side, forming a highly skilful and closely integrated composition through the way in which the second order of colonnettes on either side of each individual Y-traceried opening  - by being separated from the inner order by a line of dog-tooth and, unlike it but like the shafts between the openings, by being placed in shaft-rings - is given the dual function both of decorating and emphasizing the bell-openings on the one hand and of forming part of the clusters of three shafts that separate them on the other.  The effect, and the impression of soaring height, is then increased by having the central shaft of each cluster, continue up above the capital to meet the corbel table beneath the base of the spire.  The spire is lit by three tiers of gabled lucarnes, displaying trefoil-cusped ogee-pointed lights - which is the relevant feature for dating here - and crocketing, yet still also dog-tooth.  This can only be the early fourteenth century work of an extremely able mason (of, say, c. 1325), but his self-confidence appears to have been such that he could see no reason to abandon cherished old forms even while adopting what he wanted of the new.  Of course, it can only be a matter of conjecture how far this line of argument may be pursued in suggesting dates for the rest of the building.  In particular, could the bell-stage also be early fourteenth century work like the spire, and, perhaps, of the same man, or is it thirteenth century work and indicative of the tower’s very extended period of construction?  If that were to be the case, then presumably at different times, two masons of the top rank worked here, who happened to be endowed with many of the same artistic preferences, which seems unlikely. Unfortunately returning to the nave aisles, the aisle windows add little to an understanding of the building as they have almost entirely been renewed (by Scott), making it impossible to tell whether or not they are true to their original form.  However, the S. porch appears to be a thirteenth century piece and the clerestory is an incompetent addition of the fifteenth century whose windows in no way accord with the arcades below.  The N. vestry is modern.


The church contains few furnishings of significance apart from what is probably a fourteenth century font and a number of fifteenth century bench ends.  Nor does it contain any notable monuments although some of the wall tablets are mentioned by Rupert Gunnis (Dictionary of British Sculptors: 1660-1851, London, The Abbey Library, 1951, pp. 145 & 199).   One, signed by the brothers John and Charles Fisher (1786 - ? and 1790-1861), commemorates Mary Fortescue (d. 1814).  The others are by a certain Thomas Hibbins, who came from a large local family, several of whom shared the same Christian name.  These date from the years 1834-5.