12 October 2014
SIG: Archaeology and Heritage
The group outing on 5th September, attended by a small but enthusiastic party, photographed three Northamptonshire churches spanning thirteen centuries of English church building. By Dr Mike Sasse
Earls Barton Church - the Saxon tower of ca.970
St. Mary’s, Wellingborough stands towards the edge of the town, and outwardly is large yet not obviously of architectural significance. Enter within, and you discover a masterpiece of 20th C church building by the celebrated architect Sir Ninian Comper, whose name stands at the head of the visitors book in the church where he was originally to be buried. The style is a fascinating blend of Perpendicular (late mediaeval Gothic) and Classical forms, of English and Italian traditions. Tall nave arches and a fan-vaulted ceiling with pendants from the late Gothic are skilfully blended with the Classical forms of the sumptuous golden rood screen surmounted with angels. The building’s individuality makes an immediate impression, and the party enjoyed a fruitful morning’s photography here.
St. Mary's Church, Wellingborough - view of nave from south aisle
St. Mary's Church, Wellingborough - rood screen and angel
St. Mary's Church, Wellingborough - rood screen and chancel ceiling
A few miles away at Earls Barton we began the journey back in time. The main body of the church is of a variety of periods from the 12th C onwards, but the chief glory here is the large and impressive Saxon tower of around 970, enriched with external decoration that is a virtual textbook of Saxon architectural devices. Usually, Saxon church remains are on a modest scale, but this is not the case either here or at our last visit of the day.
Earls Barton Church - decoration on Saxon tower
Earls Barton Church - base of Saxon tower, showing original doorway into church
A convivial lunch was taken at the Coach and Horses in Brixworth, a short distance from All Saints’ Church, where we visited in the afternoon. This building is of great significance as the sizeable church was substantially built in the mid-Saxon period (probably around 750-800), a remarkable age for an English church of any size. Originally it was even bigger, and reused Roman bricks are much in evidence throughout the building, decorating the impressive Saxon nave arcades.
Brixworth Church - the nave looking west, showing Saxon nave arcades
Brixworth Church - view from south-west
We were given an introductory tour, and were then free to photograph its many facets – the ancient structure, a 13th C Lady Chapel and evidence of an ambulatory, used in the days when pilgrims visiting a holy relic would process round the apse. We broke off photography for a while to enjoy tea and biscuits helpfully provided by staff at the nearby heritage centre, which detailed the life of the village as well as the church.
What a pity more were not present to experience this exceptional trio of churches. Those who came had a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding day’s photography.
Brixworth Church - south wall of nave, showing Saxon arches and Roman bricks
Text and images by Mike Sasse