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Chaddesley Corbett

Dedication : St Cassian          Simon Jenkins: **                                                       Principal Features : Norman Font of Herefordshire school. 

Chaddesley may have had a Saxon church, but if it did no evidence remains of it. The village is certainly ancient. Part of the old Kingdom of Mercia. It had connections with many of Mercia’s  famous men such as Leofric (of Lady Godiva fame), Edwin and Morcar A Norman church was built here in the mid-late c12. “Corbett” emerged as part of the name somewhat later when the Corbett family took over the manor, probably in c13.

Of this period, the most conspicuous - indeed, famous - legacy is the font. It has the characteristic deep decorative carving of the Herefordshire School. Less elaborate than some others of that school - for example Eardisley, it is nevertheless strikingly elegant with its chalice shape, continuous decorative band of dragons or monsters and also in its complex basket-weave motif around the base and at the rim. Malcolm Thurlby in his indispensable book “The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture” points out that these decorative motifs are almost identical to those at Eardisley and concludes, to my mind incontrovertibly, that they were carved by the same Master. Indeed, he believes that there was a “Chief Master” carver of the “School” and that he worked at Kilpeck (one of England’s greatest gems) and Hereford Cathedral as well as at Eardisley and Chaddesley.

 It is worth commenting on the economy of the design: the dragons have heads, ears and tongues attached to barely discernible “bodies” which are in turn linked seamlessly by interwoven decoration. There is little of actual

Dragon there, in fact, but the lasting impression is of a riot of carving. I see a parallel with the White Horse of Uffington where again, on a much larger scale and in a much earlier era, a few well-drawn lines produce a rich “picture”. Such is the skill of the true artist.

The North aisle also dates from that period. By Norman standards the arches are tall and the columns slim - and they are unadorned. This tells us that they are quite late - around 1150 perhaps. The south aisle has pointed arches and much longer bays, yet still with Norman-looking square scallop capitals that match those on the north. There is debate as to whether the pointed arches indicate a later date or whether, as proposed by Pevsner, the aisle was reconstructed to accommodate the extension of the nave westwards in the late c12. In the west wall of the tower there is also a Norman fragment believed to be from an original tympanum. The Norman north door also survives although, as usual, it is now blocked.

A North chapel was added in the late c13 by the Corbetts. A two bay arcade leads to it from the chancel whilst a single arch in the same style leads from the North aisle. The chancel itself was rebuilt in c14, completely eradicating its Norman predecessor. The arcade to the north chapel was retained, however.

The chancel itself is extremely attractive. It is somewhat narrow for its height and length but this serves to draw the eye to the beautiful east window. The tripartite sedilia has heads between its bays. The piscina is very much in the Perpendicular style with crocketing and surmounted by an ogee (first convex then concave) arch. Yet the east window is in the Decorated style. Perhaps there was some discontinuity in the construction or, much more likely in my view, that the masons were simply reflecting a transitional period between the two architectural styles. We talk of a discrete Transitional Period when Norman and Early English styles overlapped, but my observation is that there were transitions between any two architectural styles. In the case of Decorated and Perpendicular we are talking of quite a long period but there was more evidence of the two styles being mixed rather than of a distinctive style that drew on both.

Looking eastwards. Note the similarity of the north and south aisles capitals, but that the south aisle bays are considerably wider and the arches are pointed.

The view west from the chancel. To the right is the arcade to the north chapel. The chancel arch has been heavily restored.

The South (left) and North (right) arcades. The difference between the bays is obvious from these two pictures but the similarities of the capitals also. Note also the differences between the aisle windows. Those of the south aisle are almost square in the Tudor style and were inserted during a program of changes that included the raising of the South aisle walls just before the Reformation. Those of the north were put there during Victorian restoration in 1863-4 that included the rebuilding of this wall. The North Aisle has a much steeper roof line.

The Font is described in the text above. Note the lovely inter-lace work at the base and the cable moulding design at the base (above). To the right we can see that the font did require repair at some point in its long history. It is disappointing that the “new” stone is so conspicuous. Note also, however, that the inter-laced carving at the rim is “tighter” in the repaired section and in some indefinable way loses some of the exuberance of the design in doing so.

The chancel. Note the attractive waggon roof.

The very elaborate piscina is very Perpendicular in style. How amusing to see the two rather incongruous heads either side of the bowl amongst all of this rather grand decoration!

Sadly, the light from my flash has rather spoiled this picture of the brass effigies of Thomas and Margaret Forest. Originally in the nave floor it was moved to the east end of the south aisle during the 1863-4 restoration and then to the chancel in c20.

The tripartite Sedilia has ogee arch canopies like that of the piscina (above) but is much less decorative. Heads decorate the “piers”, however.

The remaining fragment of what what was surely a “Christ in Majesty” tympanum over the Norman south door. We don’t know when this door was lost.

The simple Norman North door that was in fact moved during the rebuilding of the wall

This is believed to be a monument to Roger Corbett who became rector in 1306.

The chancel roof is modern, but of a very attractive design.