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English Church Architecture.

 

NORTH CURRY, St. Peter & St. Paul  (ST 319 256),

SOMERSET. 

(Bedrock:  Triassic Mercia Mudstone Group, Keuper Marl.)

 

A large and impressive cruciform church

which is chiefly Perpendicular without and pre-Perpendicular within.

This is another important building in the southern half of Somerset, but it is by no means typical of the area as many of the most significant features are pre-Perpendicular.  Its striking and unusual appearance is due (a) to its octagonal crossing tower, (b) to the openwork parapet around the nave, chancel and porch, and (c) to its construction materials, viz. grey sandstone for the tower, blue lias for most of the walls from its outcrop two miles to the south, and dressings from Ham Hill.  The building comprises a chancel, a crossing tower, N. & S. transepts, and an aisled nave with a S. porch.  Pevsner's entry for the church in The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, pp. 258-259) is singularly confused, seemingly because he conflated this church with another when he wrote up his notes.

 

The core of the present building can be ascribed to the late thirteenth or, perhaps, very early fourteenth century, but that a Norman church stood here previously appears to be attested by the N. doorway (illustrated below left), now set in the partially reconstructed N. aisle:  the segmental arch is decorated with horizontal chevron, and there is an order of shafts below the abaci, with capitals reminiscent of water leaf.  The date seems unlikely to be much before c. 1190.

 

The great rebuilding of the church was probably carried out about a century later and to have been defined by the decision to adopt a cruciform plan. The surviving work from this period includes almost the entire crossing tower, from the crossing arches within to the trefoil-cusped Y-traceried bell-openings of c. 1300 above, the S. transept, and the arches from the transepts to the aisles.  The crossing arches are all triple-flat-chamfered but some of the piers that support them seem to have been remodelled for whereas those to the southwest and northwest consist solely of massive, diagonally-cut supports (see the northwest pier, illustrated below left), the southeast and northeast piers assume a complex profile formed of circular shafts, hollows and ogee mouldings (as shown by the southeast pier, below right).  Any attempt to date this work precisely is inevitably speculative but the latter would probably fit the late fourteenth century.  The diagonally-facing tower stair with little gabled roof, in the re-entrant between the S. transept and chancel, has clearly been remodelled, but the narrow lancet in the southeast wall may be essentially original.      

   

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The double-flat-chamfered arches from the transepts to the N. and S. aisles, die into the jambs in the former case and are supported on semi-polygonal responds in the latter.  The W. crossing arch displays the remains of a gable line on its west face, betraying the existence of the former, steeply-pitched nave roof, and the continuation of this to its apex can also be seen above the nave roof, externally from the southwest (as may be seen in the photograph at the top of the page), from where a similar gable line is visible above the S. transept.  Inside the church, however, if one allows one's eye to be led from the base of the gable line above the W. crossing arch, westwards in a line along the N. aisle wall, one encounters just below, three fragments of what must once have been clerestory windows, with ogee lights and, in the westernmost case, fully developed reticulated tracery, which show that by the time the rebuilding had proceeded this far west, the date can scarcely have preceded 1315.  The S. window to the S. transept might conceivably just fit that (see the second photograph above, on the right):  the five lancet lights provide space for trilobes above cinquefoil-cusped, ogee-pointed secondary arcuations below. 

 

Perhaps the fine S. porch is the most distinguished achievement of the Perpendicular period.  Above the outer doorway with its typically complex profile formed of waves and a little inner hollow chamfer rising from an order of shafts with capitals decorated with Tudor flower, three elaborate canopied niches with buttresses terminating in crocketed pinnacles at the sides, contain Victorian statuettes, presumably depicting SS. Peter and Paul, flanking Christ in the centre.  (See the photograph, below left.)  An excellent fan vault within (shown below right) has a pendant hanging from the central circle, and a statue of the Virgin and Child stands on an angel corbel above the inner door, surmounted by a crocketed canopy.   The openwork parapet around the porch, composed of shields in quatrefoils in squares, is probably contemporary (late fifteenth century?) and of a piece with the similar parapet which has been added to the nave and chancel.  The S. transept parapet is decorated with blank trefoiled arches separated by mullions.   The aisles and N. transept are embattled and lit by three-light windows with standard (for this area) alternate tracery and subreticulation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remaining windows are four-light in the N. and S. walls of the chancel (of which there are two to the south and one to the north, west of the Victorian vestry), with ogee lights, alternate tracery filled with two tiers of subreticulation rising from inverted split-'Y's, and cusped intersections in the head.  (See the easternmost S. window, below left.)  The chancel E. window (below centre) is superficially similar yet different in almost every particular, surely indicating it is the work of a different hand:  the lights are two-centred, the subreticulation rises from undivided supermullions, and the head of the window is occupied by what is, in effect, the lower half of a second row of like tracery. albeit this time with an inverted split-Y in the centre.  Further variations may be found in the N. transept:  the four-light E. window has alternate tracery filled with split-'Y's the right way up, and the five-light N. window, which also has alternate tracery filled containing split-'Y's, is, in addition, divided into two by rather incompetently-devised subarcuations rising from the apex of the central light, replete with a quatrefoil in the head of each and a large dagger in the central apex.   The nave W. window (below right) resembles the chancel E. window except in having ogee lights and lacking the inverted split-'Y' at the top.  Either these windows are all somewhat different in date, or else they are the product of a team of masons working alongside one another without close co-ordination.

 

Inside the church, the four-bay nave arcades are earlier than any of these windows and probably attributable to the late fourteenth century: they bear two sunk quadrants running all the way round, a characteristic moulding of that time at least in East Anglia, uninterrupted by capitals at the springing.  (See the photograph below, taken from the west.)  The clerestory, formed of three pairs of fifteenth century windows composed of three lights separated by strong mullions, bears no fixed relationship with the arches below.

Finally, as usual in south Somerset, the church is poorly endowed in furnishings.  The attractive, ceiled wagon roof to the S. aisle might possibly be old but the fan vault beneath the tower is only Victorian.  The Perpendicular font decorated with shields and flowers inside quatrefoils around the octagonal bowl and little trefoiled arches around the stem, serves up the usual fare.  A tomb-chest standing against the N. wall of the N. aisle with a cadaver on top, has cinquefoil-cusped arches containing shields around the chest, divided by supporters.