English Church Architecture -
LITTLE CASTERTON, All Saints (TF 017 099) (August 2008)
(Bedrock: Middle Jurassic, Grantham Formation)
The forty-eight mediaeval churches of Rutland can probably lay claim to be one of the most rewarding groups in any comparable-sized area in England, the credit for which is due in part to the rocks from which they are fashioned. All Saints’, Little Casterton (shown above, from the south), is one of the smallest of the county’s churches, being formed of only a chancel and a short aisled nave with a bell-cote and S. porch, but it holds considerable architectural interest, and Pevsner devoted almost a page to it in the same volume of The Buildings of England: Leicestershire and Rutland (Penguin, 1960) that he disposed of the whole of the town of Loughborough in a mere two and a half.
The church stands next to the cricket ground, behind the houses on the north side of the road, where it displays work of several periods, most notably the late twelfth and thirteenth, and interesting carvings in stone or wood from most of them. The Norman work seems hardly earlier than c. 1180 and consists of the two-bay N. arcade (below left), with round arches of two orders bearing rolls at the angles and chamfered hood-moulds above, supported on a central circular pier (below right) with a square abacus with the corners cut away, and a capital resembling water leaf.
The S. arcade is also composed of round arches supported on a central circular pier and semicircular responds, but the round abaci and wide double-chamfering of the arches make it clear that it is later. It is distinguished by its excellent label stops, in the form of figures above the responds and a lizard or mythical creature crawling down above the pier (shown below left). This work may be contemporary with the chancel arch, which is pointed and supported on corbels with a figure to the north, and with some of the building’s windows, including the W. lancet to the nave, set between buttresses, the two S. lancets to the S. aisle, and the two westernmost lancets in both the N. and S. chancel walls, with keeled hood-moulds terminating in finely-carved head or animal label stops. The S. aisle E. window has what can probably be regarded as a precocious form of cusped Y-tracery (below right), while the N. aisle E. window, with plate tracery formed of two trefoil-cusped lights with a quatrefoil above, may be largely or partly Victorian. In fact, great care is needed in examining several of the church’s windows, where it is very difficult to decide whether they are old work restored or entirely later additions. One important feature of the building that is genuinely mediaeval, however, although so often Victorian elsewhere, is the bell-cote above the nave W. end, with two arches for bells, decorated by side-shafts. Other thirteenth century work inside the church includes, first, the elaborately-foliated piscina in the S. wall of the sanctuary, with a credence shelf, a crocketed gable and more carved label stops, and second, the large tomb recess in the S. aisle S. wall (immediately west of a simple trefoil-cusped piscina), with two rolls with fillets around the arch, springing from side shafts with fillets below. (See the photograph at the foot of the page.)
The nave clerestory is a Perpendicular addition but it is not this but the very low-pitched couple roof above that is the important fifteenth century addition to the building. The outline of the earlier, steeply-pitched roof, can still be seen on the bell-cote’s E. wall. The present roof is constructed in two bays, each framed in two halves and supported by arched braces, with delicately-carved angels decorating the principal rafters, bosses at the intersections of the purlins with the principal rafters, and carved heads where the ridge beam and principal rafters meet.
Finally, the nineteenth century contributions to the church are substantial but subtle. They probably include the majority of the porch, the N. aisle walls and windows, the easternmost lancet on both sides of the chancel, and the chancel E. window with its three lancet lights set in an encompassing arch. This raises the question of whether the chancel has been lengthened and the piscina, re-set, but visual inspection alone seems insufficient to determine this. The easternmost bay is externally separated from the western two by buttresses, however, and apart from the piscina, the chancel interior looks wholly Victorian.