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English Church Architecture.

 

NORTH CADBURY, St. Michael  (ST 615 270),

SOMERSET. 

(Bedrock:  Lower Jurassic, Dyrham Formation.)

 

A large and important village church dating chiefly from c. 1520.

 

This is a church known largely to dates from the early fifteenth century, for in 1523 Lady Elizabeth de Botreaux applied for a licence to make collegiate the church at North Cadbury 'per ibsam de novo edificata et constructa'.  The tower was not replaced in this phase of construction however, and survives from the previous century, but to Lady Elizabeth's beneficence are due the present nave and chancel - built almost as one, with five bays to the former and three to the latter - and the two-storeyed porches which adjoin the central nave bays.  These parts of the building can, therefore, serve as an example of the Perpendicular style in south Somerset before A.K. Wickham's 'Great Epoch' of church reconstruction got fully underway c. 1450, with churches such as St. Mary's, Bishop Lydeard, and St. Mary's, Bruton (Churches of Somerset, Dawlish, David & Charles, 21965, pp. 25-56).

 

To consider the W. tower first, however, the date of which is hard to determine precisely, this rises in three stages to battlements, supported by diagonal buttresses with many closely-spaced off-sets, and is distinguished by a stair turret at the southeast corner, which turns octagonal at the bell-stage and rises higher than the tower itself, to be capped, above the battlements, by a ridged pyramidal roof.   This is also the design adopted for the stair turrets to the upper storeys of the porches (as illustrated in the photograph, left, showing the church from the southeast), indicating either that the upper part of the tower turret is a later addition (the more likely scenario) or else that the mason responsible for the porches, copied this feature from the tower in order to give the church stylistic unity, which, if so, would have represented an unusual degree of artistic sensitivity at such a date.  The three-light W. window has a transom at the springing, subarcuated outer lights, strong mullions, and a central light with a latticed supertransom above.  The W. doorway is four-centred. The internal arch to the nave has simple semicircular shafts attached to the responds.     

 

Except in the porches, the chancel E. wall and clerestory, all windows to the early fifteenth century parts of the building are three-light and supermullioned (although the chancel windows are larger), and both the lights and the sublights are everywhere cinquefoil-cusped.  The cinquefoil-cusping of sublights (as opposed to trefoil-cusping) is almost always a sign of prestigious work before c. 1460 and can be seen also, for example, at St. John's, Yeovil, in this county (built c. 1380 under the direction of the great William Wynford, master mason of Winchester Cathedral when the nave there was designed and built).  As for the use of supermullioned tracery here, that was unusual across much of southwest England from the onset of Perpendicular times, with alternate tracery being preferred instead (see the glossary for an explanation of these terms), and since Kenneth Wickham's attempt to explain the use of supermullioned tracery (The Churches of Somerset, p. 37) as precursory to the later development of the more typical Somerset style, does not really fit the facts of the case, it seems equally or more likely the master mason was not a local man.  The five-light E. window to the chancel (shown in the internal photograph, above left), however, is almost an amalgam of the two styles, for while the mullions between the main lights here do continue to the window head (save for a split 'Y's at the top of the lower tier of sublights), they are nevertheless reduced in section, leaving the thicker supermullions rising from the apices of the lights below, to provide the main vertical emphasis.  The clerestory windows are four-centred and untraceried, as necessitated by the shorter vertical space available for them, and the two, two-light windows in the upper storey of the diagonally-buttressed porches (as seen in the photograph of the S. porch in the second photograph above left, and of the N. porch in the second photograph above right) have simple reticulated tracery, leaving the crocketed ogee-arched outer doorways, the blank arcading above and to either side, and the niches for statues between the windows, to create the distinctly grand impression that these porches present.  They, like the nave and chancel, are also tall and topped with a plain parapet, and inside they are provided with dissimilar lierne vaults.

 

The nave benefits greatly from being glazed with clear glass.  The aisle arcades are tall and formed of arches bearing three sunk quadrant mouldings, springing from piers composed of four major and four minor shafts with capitals going all the way round.  (See the S. arcade, above right, viewed from the east.)  The chancel arch is similar, but so high that it receives two sets of capitals, one at the same height as the capitals of the nave arcades and another further up.  The triple sedilia recessed in the chancel S. wall has been renewed but is attractive nonetheless.  The font is simple and octagonal, with quatrefoils on the faces of the bowl.  There is no rood screen.

 

The attractive nave roof (shown above, viewed from the west), which is presumably contemporary with the clerestory, is of a type rather better seen at nearby Queen Camel, though the work there is probably seventy or eighty years later.  Here it is low-pitched with king posts rising from cambered tie beams, spandrels above filled with eight openwork trefoil-cusped arches, and carved floral bosses decorating the intersections of the intermediate principal rafters with the halfway purlin and the ridge beam.  The bench ends appear to postdate the roof by over a century, to judge from one, dated '1538':  They feature a number of rustic scenes, including a flautist, a man following a horse, and a cross-looking woman carrying a child (illustrated below, from left to right).