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Kirkdale (Yorkshire) - revised

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Heath

Dedication : None                                    Simon Jenkins: **                       Principal Features : Unadorned Norman church in isolated setting

Buried in the countryside high in the Clee Hills, Heath is just about the plainest, simplest church you will ever see - and therein lies its attraction. If you are capable of mentally blocking out presence of the wooden pews it really is possible to stand inside this gloomy unlit place and imagine oneself in the c12 when it was built. There are subtle traces of earthworks north of the church which indicate that this was a more substantial settlement in c12 than it is today. Nevertheless, by 1327 there were only seven families living here - plague exacted a heavy toll  - so it is hardly surprising that the church is unchanged..

The date of its building is not precisely known, but around 1150 seems likely. At this point it might be worth making a comparison with, for example, the elaborate architectural cornucopia of Kilpeck which is 40 miles away and which was built 10 years earlier than Heath. What a difference a rich benefactor made then - as it does now.

This is a double-cell structure. The south door has some basic chevron ornamentation. The hinges themselves may well be Norman. There is a Gothic window behind the pulpit.

There are traces of mediaeval painting and biblical texts  to be seen on the walls. How much remains to be uncovered, I don’t know.

A casual visitor would hardly find this remote place worth a visit. There must

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have been hundreds of such churches throughout the country, most now either disappeared or rebuilt without much trace of the originals. To the student of church architecture, therefore, Heath represents an almost unique chance to see Norman as it used to be, in the raw and unadorned.

The south door with its decoration and (probably) original hinges.

The west end with the font and original Norman windows.

Looking towards the east end and the hefty chancel arch. Don’t be fooled by the flash photography - this is a gloomy place!

Chancel arch.

Unidentified painting on the south wall of the nave.

Some of the crude but nevertheless interesting wall painting that has been uncovered.

The simplicity of the architecture is reflected in the sparse furnishings as we see in this crude bench end.

The c14 and c15 wall paintings are complemented by post-reformation bibllical texts.

In an area renowned for its elaborate Norman fonts, here is one outstanding in its simplicity. It is badly weathered but we can still discern crude arch shapes at the top of the bowl.

The North side manages the near-impossible by being even plainer than the south! Note the crude rectangular window which is just about the only post-Norman development. Note the narrowness of the Norman slit windows and imagine how dark this church would have been without the new window!

The west end. Note the string course.

Footnote

Although we don’t always agree with his choice or his ratings of parish churches, Simon Jenkins’s “England’s Thousand Best Churches” is rarely out of our car and plays a good part in planning our itineraries.

Finding rural churches is not always easy, but Heath is in a class of its own - you would have to say “in the middle of nowhere”. We spent nearly an hour finding it. Even then, we almost missed it when only 50 metres away - it was hidden behind trees. Just to cap it all, we couldn’t get in. We are indebted to a (lady!) tractor driver who saw us retiring disconsolately to our car and took the trouble to tell us the key was hanging behind the (completely blank) church notice board next to the road. She told us that the sign telling us this “must have blown away”!

Simon Jenkins made things infinitely worse (his ears should have been burning) by saying it is “in a field between Abdon and Clee St Margaret”. It mostly certain is not and we wish we’d known this before searching the road yard-by-yard twice! it is located about halfway along a road joining Upper Heath and Bouldon. From Bouldon you need to be looking on the left hand side. It can be seen only through a rustic “farm gate”. Blink and you’ve missed it! Good luck!