( back to home page)

English Church Architecture -



COWLINGE, St. Margaret (TL 718 550)     (October 2008)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


Although  this  is  only  a  building  of  the  second  rank,  with  no outstanding features, there is nevertheless a lot here of interest. The church's setting is still a very rural one and on approach, it is the Georgian W. tower (shown left) that makes the first impression. In plan the rest of the building consists of a chancel and an aisled nave with a N. porch, and it is built of the usual local mix of flint, pebble rubble and septaria. The earliest work is Early English, but only two windows in the western end of the chancel remain from this time, one each to the north and south, the former with a badly-shaped quatrefoil above two lancet lights and the latter now with a blocked head.  More significant is the work from the Decorated period, of which the chief windows are two renewed ones to the S. aisle and three original ones to the north, all two-light and exhibiting Pevsner's "four-petalled flower" above (illustrated below right).  (See the discussion of this feature under the entry for Stansfield.)  Internally, the four-bay arcades appear more or less contemporary with these, albeit that the N. arcade may be a little later than its southern counterpart:  both are composed of octagonal piers and arches formed of two orders, but the piers to the north are slightly taller and the arches above display a hollow chamfer and two sunk quadrants compared with just two hollow chamfers opposite.  The chancel arch copies the design of the N. arcade;  above is a mediaeval wall painting showing St. Michael, on the right, weighing souls, while St. Mary, on the left, reaches across with a long pole to tip the balance in their favour.  Other  windows  in  the  building are Perpendicular, most notably the four-light, cinquefoil-cusped E. window to the chancel, with supermullioned tracery and quatrefoils above the pairs of reticulation units to the two central lights.  The N. porch is Perpendicular, but very simple and poor.


The plain, Georgian W. tower is built in three stages, of orange, English-bonded brick, and has shallow clasping buttresses, a plain W. doorway with two orders to the arch, a simple round-arched W. window above, and similar bell-openings in each wall of the bell-stage.  It was constructed in 1731, as testified by the royal coat of arms of George II on its E. wall, facing into the nave above the gallery, bearing the names of the then church wardens.  Beneath is another coat of arms, this time to the benefactor, Francis Dickins, barrister and lord of the manor.  This is dated 1733 and bears an inscription in Latin which may be translated, "He found the roof of this temple made of straw and he left it made of brick".


Dickins died in 1747.  His monument may be found against the N. wall of the  chancel,  signed  by  Peter  Scheemakers (1691-1781), who, like Rysbrack, was born in Antwerp but spent most of his working life in London. His most famous statue is that of Shakespeare to be seen in Westminster Abbey, but he was a fairly prolific artist and important works by him can be found in many places,  including Guy's Hospital, Trinity College Cambridge, Trinity College Dublin, and the cathedrals of Bradford, Ely and Exeter.  The monument at Cowlinge, which is not recorded by Gunnis in his Dictionary of British Sculptors: 1660-1851 (pub. The Abbey Library, 1951), shows Dickins and his wife seated on either side of a pedestal, turned slightly away from each other.  An urn stands on the pedestal, depicting "two crossed and upturned Roman torches, whose flames are about to become extinguished" (The Silent Rhetoric of the Body by Matthew Craske, pub. Yale University Press, 2008) - an example of the "polite" iconography that had now largely replaced the "shrouds, coffins, skeletons [and] tapers" (ibid) that were typical of the seventeenth century.  The monument is sheltered by a broken pediment supported on brackets, and a long inscription on the base records how the charitable Dickins "built the Steeple at his own Expence".


The church contains quite a lot of interesting woodwork.  First, there are the nave and chancel roofs, both ceiled but with the tie beams and king posts showing, and presumably dating from the addition of the Perpendicular clerestory.  Other mediaeval work includes the large chest at the west end of the S. aisle and the fifteenth century bench on the south side of the chancel, as well as the rood and parclose screens.  The rood screen is Perpendicular and consists of ten, one-light divisions, four of which form the gates.  Unfortunately but inevitably, this screen was sawn through above when the rood loft was removed in the sixteenth century.  A parclose screen enclosing the southeast chapel consists of four open bays facing north towards the nave and three more facing west towards the continuation of the aisle.  This is possibly equally old, but it is not especially good, even though it has a brattished cresting of modest pretensions.  Later woodwork is represented by the seventeenth century bench on the N. side of the chancel, the low, eighteenth century communion rails, and, in particular, the eighteenth century wooden balcony, which is carried on three of the slenderest and flattest arches against the tower E. wall.  Presumably this was constructed immediately following the completion of the tower.