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English Church Architecture -

Rutland (U.A.).


TICKENCOTE, St. Peter (SK 990 095)     (April 2009)

(Bedrock:  Middle Jurassic, Upper Lincolnshire Limestone)


In one respect at least, this is probably the most remarkable Norman church in the country, although that is not obvious externally where everything appears to be the work of the restorer.  This was not a Victorian restoration, however, for the date is 1791 and the architect was Samuel Pepys Cockerell (1754 - 1827), who was most closely associated with domestic work in west Wales and who seems here to have entirely reconstructed the external walls of the former two-bay Norman chancel on the pre-existing foundations, and to have rebuilt the nave in a manner best described as Norman-cum-Classical, removing a little S. porch in the process and replacing it with his own S. porch tower further to the east (as shown in the photograph, left, viewed from the southwest) and, opposite, a tall N. vestry in the guise of a narrow transept (illustrated in the top thumbnail, below right, viewed from the northwest).  None of this really looks anything other than what it is, for neither the hanging triangular motifs around the round-headed window arches, nor the form of the two string courses which encompass the whole building (one about ten feet up and the other, about five feet higher at the springing level of the windows) look remotely like twelfth century work.  A drawing of the E. end of the church made in 1780, however, does show that the arrangement in five tiers of windows and blank arches, has been preserved (see the lower thumbnail, right), as apparently has also the general design of the tier of blank intersecting arches round the whole lower stage of the chancel, formed of discrete two-bay sections separated by buttresses which Pevsner described as “broad demishafts in a French rather than English way”.  Yet none of this is of much consequence in the form it exists today, except as an illustration of how poorly understood mediaeval architecture was in the late eighteenth century and how little interest was then taken over its careful preservation.


Fortunately, however, the interior is a different matter entirely, for while the nave is now Cockerill’s work inside as well as out, the chancel retains the surpassing feature for which it must always have been noteable, which is the extraordinary chancel arch, composed of no less than six orders to the west and two to the east, each differently ornamented, and all except the outer rising from semicircular shafts with carved capitals based on cushion or scalloped form.  (See the photograph below.)  Working outwards from the innermost, these orders comprise respectively a first bearing two rolls, a second displaying an archetypical example of  beakhead, a third with crenellations and chevron moulding on the soffits, a fourth with a fanciful variant of beakhead, formed of the heads of beasts and grotesques whose tongues and beards take the place of true beaks, a fifth with chevron moulding in three dimensions, and a sixth carved with an original motif of approximate triangular shape (which Cockerill probably took as his source when designing the odd motifs round his external window arches), after which there is billet on the hood-mould.  The two orders from the east bear two rolls and a double cone moulding.  The arch as a whole has become depressed over the centuries, which led Pevsner to describe it uncharitably as “incompetently constructed”, though he did also call it “a tour de force of shafting and arch decoration, wildly overdone”  - and so it is, especially for a chancel arch to a small Norman chapel, which must raise the possibility that it was once in an external position, perhaps round an entrance to a  building formed of a single cell, a theory possibly given credence by the similar W. doorway to St. Mary's church, Tutbury, in Staffordshire.  The chancel arch apart, however, even the Norman remains to the east are massive enough for though windows and external walls now appear to be the work of 1791, they are built around the original sexpartite vault, with heavy ribs bearing chevron, springing from shafts at the four corners and midpoints of the north and south walls.  (See the photograph at the foot of the page.)  Above this vault, a priest’s chamber running the whole length of the chancel, could once be reached by steps in the northeast corner (since removed).


Finally, it remains only to mention the font (illustrated in the thumbnail, right), immediately west of the chancel arch, which is presumably later than the Norman work, to judge by the dog-tooth ornament on the angles suggesting a date no earlier than c. 1200.   It has a square bowl decorated with intersecting arches on its faces, and is supported on a square stem with chamfered corners with attached demishafts.