The problem with Billesley is that the comprehensive rebuilding leaves us totally in the dark about what form the original church took. This wonderful tympanum was recovered from rubble in the walls!
It seems extraordinary that the same man carved Eardisley font. Eardisley is at the far west of the area within which we find the Herefordshire School of carving. Billesley is at the extreme east. The intervening distance is 65 miles. It’s not an impossible distance even in Norman times - but for a man who was surely not “free” in any sense that we would understand it, it does seem rather extraordinary to be pursuing his craft at such a distance. How and by whom was he commissioned? Malcolm Thurlby’s definitive book “The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture” (Logaston Press 1999) specifically tackles this theme and is able to make educated theories. Eardisley font he attributes squarely to Ralph de Baskerville as he does the Romanesque carving at Stretton Sugwas 12 miles to the west of Eardisley. The lands at both those locations were known to have been owned by him.
On my own website for Bredwardine in Herefordshire, itself only 5 miles from Eardisley, I hypothesise that the door lintels were moved there from Eardisley when the latter was re-built in around 1200; and one of the facts underpinning that theory was that Bredwardine too was acquired by the de Baskervilles.
I can find no historic connection between Billesley and the de Baskervilles. What is also significant is that the CCT believes Billesley to have been built in c11 - that is, it is early Norman. Yet the first church at Eardisley is believed to have been built in 1100 and the font to date from around 1150. It seems clear, therefore, that this tympanum could not have been part of the original Billesley church. It must have been added later.
Let’s now throw in the issue of the fragment of a second tympanum at Billesley. I did not see it, but Thurlby has a picture of it in his book. He speculates that it was on the original north door, while the tympanum shown above was on the south side. There’s nothing wrong with that theory at all - but the two tympani do not look to have been carved by the same man so we can only speculate whether or not they were contemporary.
So where is this leading? Well, the tympanum here would not have looked out of place at Eardisley. I already believe that when Eardisley was rebuilt in 1200 its door lintels were re-used at Bredwardine that had acquired a de Baskerville connection. Billesley has no obvious connection with the de Baskervilles so there are two possibilities. One is that the Eardisley carver had the freedom to travel sixty five miles to carve a tympanum at Billesley for a different patron. The other is that the tympanum was originally carved by that man at Eardisley and moved 65 miles to Billesley perhaps 50 years later when Eardisley was rebuilt.
I have seen no discussion of this issue elsewhere or of my theory that door lintels were moved from Eardisley to Bredwardine. The obvious answer is that the church at Billesley needed a new door and our man was asked to travel 65 miles to carve it. Perhaps the de Baskervilles recommended him? But look at that stone. It looks like it is sandstone, the same as that used at Eardisley. What stone is Billesley built from? Blue lias! If Eardisley Man carved here he must have brought his stone with him!