( back to home page)

English Church Architecture -



SWILLAND, St. Mary (TM 188 530)     (September 2008)

(Bedrock:  Neogene, Red Crag Formation)


The extraordinary appearance of this building is due entirely to the exotic belfry (shown left, from the southeast, and in the thumbnail on the right, from the south) which the late nineteenth century set on top of the surviving lower part of the Tudor brick W. tower.  This is diagonally-buttressed and constructed in mixed bond with diapering in dark headers on each side and a projection for the stair turret at the east end of the S. wall;  the three-light, four-centred W. window has supermullioned tracery with strong mullions and split Ys above the outer lights, and the W. doorway below carries a series of mouldings beneath a label and traceried spandrels.  However, a change in the brickwork above the buttresses witnesses the junction with the nineteenth century work, and there then follows a remarkable half-timbered structure formed of close-studded panels with brick nogging infill, with a tiled roof gabled east to west and jettied dormers north and south, replete with scalloped barge-boards and a surmounting open lantern, topped with a leaded Hertfordshire spike.  It could probably be a folly or a dovecote as easily as a church belfry, and Pevsner, for one, was not impressed.  Yet it is certainly remarkable, and it makes distinctive a little church that would hardly be so otherwise, except, perhaps, for its Norman S. doorway (below right) inside the modern porch.


This is oldest feature of the church and is formed of three orders (although there are only two to the jambs), with two rows of carved saltires around the first (working outwards), a roll around the second, and chevron around the third, and with billet decorating the hood-mould.  The tympanum is supported by the voussoirs of a shallow triangular-pointed arch and there were once two orders of shafts below, of which just the cushion capitals remain. 


The nave is lit from the north by a lancet, and from the south, by another lancet west of the porch and a window with cusped Y-tracery to the east, perhaps of c. 1300. The chancel E. wall has been rebuilt in brick suggesting the chancel has been shortened.


Finally, the church interior adds little to this brief description of the building.  The tower arch is formed of three flat-chamfered orders that die into the jambs, but there is no chancel arch, which leaves only a tie beam to mark the nave/chancel junction.  The nave roof is constructed in four bays, with collars and false hammerbeams.  The pulpit is Jacobean, as shown by the characteristic round arches decorating its middle tier of panels.