English Church Architecture -
ATCHAM, St. Eata (SJ 541 092) (May 2012)
(Bedrock: Permian Zechstein Series, Bridgnorth Sandstone)
The unusual dedication commemorates Eata (d. 686), a Northumbrian Saxon who at various time was Abbot of Melrose and Bishop of Lindisfarne and Hexham (The Anglo-Saxon Age c. 400 - 1042, by D.J.V. Fisher, pub. Longman, 1973). However, the church that is dedicated to him here (illustrated above from the southeast) is not a particularly rewarding one to visit for the Permo-Triassic red sandstone of which it is constructed, although attractive, has not worn well, and the building’s most significant features have all been renewed, and mostly rather badly. The church is formed of a chancel, a nave with a S. porch, and a W. tower, of which the last is the most striking on approach from the north, being of massive construction, embattled and unbuttressed, save only for a slight projection of the masonry at the angles and shallow diagonal buttresses above the nave roof to the east. There are two tiers of bell-openings to the north, west and south, of Early English form in the lower tier, composed of pairs of lancet openings separated by shafts, and Perpendicular on all four sides above, immediately beneath an incised frieze of quatrefoils in lozenges, leading to the obvious conclusion that a thirteenth century tower was heightened in the late fourteenth or fifteenth century. Possibly of greater interest, however, is the large and presumably once rather grand, round-headed W. doorway (right), with five orders of renewed colonnettes with unmoulded capitals, which, at the very least, bear witness to the thickness of the wall, showing this to be Norman or - assuming the colonnettes replace an original feature - more probably, Norman-Transitional, an ascription that would then also fit the large crude lancet above. There is also a small round-headed window in the N. wall of the nave, which might be contemporary or earlier, though whether it could actually be Saxon, as notes in the church suggests, appears distictly doubtful, notwithstanding its internal triangular head: “Anglo-Saxon walling", as Sir Alfred Clapham observed, "is commonly between 2˝ and 3 ft. in thickness..., [a dimension] seldom exceeded even in the major churches..., [whereas] Norman builders seldom employed walling of less..., even in their smallest” (English Romanesque Architecture before the Conquest, pub. O.U.P., 1930).
Other windows in this sparsely-lit building include the E. window to the chancel, composed of three lancet lights set in an encompassing arch, and the presumably contemporary windows to north and south, with Y-tracery characteristic of the mid to late thirteenth century. The nave is lit (aside from the little Norman window) by one three-light Perpendicular window on each side, formed of three lights separated by strong mullions, supermullioned tracery and a squashed quatrefoil in the apex, and in addition in the S. wall, a two-light window immediately to the east of the porch. The porch is an open, half-timbered affair, rising from a stone base and dated 1685 by a Latin inscription over the inner doorway.
The church interior is a place of Stygian gloom on even the most brilliant of spring days, but when one’s eyes have grown accustomed to the darkness, one notices first the massiveness of the tower arch, bearing two flat chamfers supported on corbels. Behind the curtain that is now hung over this arch, the tower itself is actually rather better lit, and here the segmental rere-arch to the W. doorway claims attention, a form generally associated with the fourteenth century or later. There is no dividing arch between the nave and chancel, which together form almost a unified cell, but there is a distinction between their roofs as the chancel roof is heavily trussed with tie beams and appears to be Victorian (a very bold and possibly rash assertion to make in this light, without the aid of binoculars), while the excellent nave roof of wagon construction is dated 1603 on one of the beams (notes in the church). Indeed, the dating of individual features seems to have been a helpful idiosyncrasy at Atcham, for the font (left), formed of little more than an upturned cone, has the year “1675” carved boldly across two of its sides, together with the initials, “I. S.”, “W.P.” and “C. W.”