English Church Architecture -
CREWKERNE, St. Bartholomew (ST 422 095) (October 1998)
(Bedrock: Middle Jurassic, Inferior Oolite Group)
Among its many exceptional features, this church must surely boast one of the most comprehensive and rigorous little guidebooks written for any parish church in England (by Simon Andrew, pub. Crewkerne P.C.C., 1993) and except, perhaps, in the matter of photography, it is quite impossible to equal that here, much less add to it. Anyone seeking a full account of the history and architecture of this building should, therefore, obtain a copy. The note below, by comparison, can provide only a summary.
St. Bartholomew's, Crewkerne, is a large, all-embattled and important Perpendicular church, constructed entirely of Ham Hill stone, where some of the work can probably be dated because its architect is known. He appears to have been William Smyth, master of Wells Cathedral from 1475 until his death in 1490, who was considered by Dr. John Harvey (in his book The Perpendicular Style, pub. Batsford, 1978) to have been the foremost mason in the west of England during that time. Smyth was responsible for work at Sherborne Abbey as well as at Wells and St. John's, Glastonbury, while here at Crewkerne, at least the W. front, S. transept and S. porch, seem largely attributable to him. He is also likely to have been the man recorded as having taken up the freedom of the city of Wells in 1475, where he received an annual retainer of £1.6s.8d and a house, rent free, in addition to his fees. His work shows the frequent use of the ogee arch in window traceries and he was responsible for some important fan vaults at a time when the construction of the great majority of these still lay in the future.
St. Bartholomew's was constructed to a cruciform plan for the simple reason that it was raised on top of the twelfth or thirteenth century foundations of an earlier building, for which the only surviving evidence above ground is some of the lower stonework of the crossing tower, including the single, blocked, Early English window, visible internally to the north. The tower's Perpendicular replacement (shown above left, from the southeast) was probably the earliest of what A. K. Wickham called the "South Somerset Group" of church towers in his book, The Churches of Somerset (pub. Phoenix House Ltd., 1952), a full explanation of which may be found under the entry for St. Mary's church, Norton-sub-Hamdon.
The building today consists of a crossing tower with projecting southeast stair turret, a short three-bay nave, aisles running for four bays beside the nave and crossing, transepts extending beyond the aisles (one bay deep to the south and two to the north), a tall S. porch, and a chancel with inner and outer N. chapels (but no S. chapel). The chancel and inner chapel are each three bays long, as defined by their windows, but because the chapel bays are narrower, the chancel still projects beyond the chapel to the east. The outer chapel consists of a single bay tucked into the angle between the N. transept and inner chapel, where it is responsible for the best internal perspectives of the building, which are obtained when looking northeast from the nave. Externally, the church appears at its most impressive from the west (see the photograph, right), where between the nave and aisle on either side, a projecting stair turret rises above the nave in three and a half stages.
The details of some of this work are as follows:
Inside the church, the four-centred arches of the nave arcades spring from very tall piers composed of four narrow shafts with capitals, separated by wave mouldings and deep hollows that continue round the arches. The similar but naturally heavier crossing arches have especially thick shafts to north and south, however, showing where Perpendicular detail has been applied to earlier masonry as already described. The nave clerestory, formed of five pairs of two-light windows, is completely discordant with the arcades below. The best perspective within the building, again as previously mentioned, is provided by the little outer chapel, as a result of the way in which the four-centred E. arch from the N. aisle to the inner chapel and the similar N. arch from the same aisle to the transept, provide views through to the narrower, less depressed arches between the outer and inner chapels and the transept and outer chapel respectively. This also has the effect of isolating the column at the northeast angle of the aisle, which throws out arches in all four directions, across the aisle, transept and both chapels.
The best roof in the church is the panelled N. transept ceiling reminiscent of the nave roof at Martock. The very high but low-pitched nave roof is supported on large carved stone figures, which themselves sit on shafts rising between the clerestory windows. The sloping wooden galleries above the W. ends of the aisles are all that remains of a larger gallery of 1811. The wooden vault beneath the crossing, like the nicely-carved chancel reredos, dates only from 1903.
Finally, perhaps surprisingly after this, the church is not rich in furnishings, but it does contain three monuments which were mentioned by Gunnis (Dictionary of British Sculptors: 1660-1851, pub. The Abbey Library, 1951), the first commemorating Samuel Sparks (d. 1813), by Samuel Gibbs of Axminster (fl. 1773 - 1821), whose “work is well above the average of the contemporary small-town statuary of the period”, and the other two dedicated to the Hawkesley family, c. 1830, and to Samuel Wills (d. 1833), by Joseph and William Stephens of Exeter (fl. 1810-33), whose work, unfortunately, was not. The large square font in the S. aisle, with six incised arches on each face, is probably Norman.