English Church Architecture -
STOTTESDON, St. Mary (SO 672 821) (August 2010)
(Bedrock: Lower Devonian, St. Maugham's Formation)
This church (shown above from the southeast) was described by Pevsner as “one of the most important churches in the district”, and so it is the more unfortunate that the interior should be so dark as to make its internal examination very difficult, even on a bright August afternoon. The building consists of a chancel, an aisled nave with a S. porch, and a W. tower. Except in its westernmost bay, the S. aisle was widened and independently-gabled in Decorated times.
The history of the building now begins inside the tower, where an Anglo-Norman tympanum with re-used lintel (it appears to be upside down) can be seen above the door behind the organ, having presumably once led into the nave from outside. Nevertheless, whatever the precise date of this work, it cannot have preceded the construction of the tower by very much, for this is early Norman in its lower parts, as witnessed by the W. doorway (left) with its round unmoulded arch supported on simple chamfered abaci. The tower is unbuttressed and rises in three stages to battlements, with a very narrow central stage and two-light bell-openings with straightened reticulation units in their heads, in both respects resembling the tower at neighbouring Kinlet and suggesting that the bell-stage is early Perpendicular. (See Appendix 2 for some close dated examples of the use of this tracery motif.) Be that as it may, however, returning to Norman times, these were also responsible for the five-bay N. arcade (shown right, from the west) with arches of two unmoulded orders (sic! - pace Pevsner, not one), supported on circular piers with very large square capitals decorated with leaves carved in low relief. The re-set outer doorway to the porch (illustrated in the thumbnail, below left) is probably a little later and was presumably taken from the original S. aisle when this was widened: it is round-arched and formed of a flat-chamfered inner order and an unmoulded outer order springing from corbels resting on three almost-parallel narrow shafts attached side by side along the jambs. However, by far the finest Norman work in the building is the large and beautiful font (shown at the foot of the page), which appears to be the work of the Herefordshire School of Romanesque Carving, active during the reign of King Stephen (1135-54). Malcolm Thurlby describes this as having a "chalice-shaped bowl... decorated with loosely spiralled two-strand stems, and a chamfered base carved on both the upright and the chamfer with a simple undulating foliage trail... The frieze is decorated with symmetrical three-strand interlace with three-strand roundels at the intersections [whilst] below the frieze are eight beaded roundels joined, in all but one case, by grotesque masks and with stylized plants in the spandrels" (The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Carving, Logaston Press, 2013). He then proceeds to show parallels between the beasts in the roundels with some on the Shobdon Arches at Shobdon in Herefordshire.
The S. aisle in its widened form is early fourteenth century in date although the four-bay arcade (shown left), formed of double-flat-chamfered arches springing from quatrefoil piers, between it and the nave, is now only Victorian (of 1867 according to the church guide). Rather curiously, this only begins in line with the porch, leaving extant the westernmost bay of the earlier lean-to aisle, which opens to the nave through a double-flat-chamfered arch supported on a strange arrangement of minor shafts with fillets to the west and a semi-quatrefoil respond to the east. The windows to the widened aisle are two-light and reticulated to the south and three-light and curvilinear to the east, while the west gable is pierced by an ugly modern oval window. The chancel windows include a trefoil-cusped one-light window to the south and a three-light reticulated window further east on either side (i.e. north and south), commensurate with c. 1330. Yet the five-light E. window (right) with cusped intersecting tracery, appears to derive from pre-ogee Decorated times (i.e. before c. 1315) and copies very closely the window in the same position at Kinlet, suggesting the same mason was responsible for both. If this window at Stottesdon dates the chancel, therefore, then it follows that the N. and S. windows are subsequent insertions, perhaps the work of some twenty or thirty years later, around the time the S. aisle was extended. The N. aisle windows, in contrast, now appear to be largely Victorian.
Finally, furnishings in the church include a very good three-stepped sedilia in the S. wall of the chancel, with arches bearing sunk quadrant mouldings beneath gables, while the N. wall of the sanctuary contains a low, flat-chamfered recessed arch that was probably once a tomb canopy. The woodwork appears largely Victorian with the notable exception of the pulpit (illustrated left), which is Jacobean, as shown by the blank arches typical of the period around it, filled, in this case, with leaf carvings. The posts between bear figures and the lower stage has circular motifs decorating the panels. The excellent font has been described already.