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Cowlam (Yorkshire)

North Grimston (Yorkshire) and St Simeon Stylites (Syria!)

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Dedication : St Peter    Simon Jenkins: Excluded                                               Principal Features : Norman Font of East Riding Group; “Sykes Church”

Langtoft is another of the many churches in this area restored or rebuilt by the redoubtable and philanthropic Sir Tatton Sykes’s - father and son - of Sledmere. For more about them see the footnote on the Cowlam page.

Unless you have an interest in the Sykes churches themselves, Langtoft shares with Cowlam the dubious distinction of being of little interest other than the fact it houses one of the East Riding Group of Norman fonts. Langtoft, however, is vastly bigger than the “farmyard church” of Cowlam.

The oldest parts of the church are the c13 tower, south aisle and nave. The chancel is early c14 with a slightly more recent chancel arch.

Restored in 1900-03, this was the last of the Sykes Churches and the work was done by Hodgson Fowler. The nave glass is by Kempe.

The font is of exceptional interest. We cannot, however, deduce that a Norman church existed here because the font was originally at Cottam Church which is, sadly, derelict despite being only 3 miles from Sledmere, the ancestral seat of the Sykes family. We do know, however, that Langtoft is an Anglo-Saxon name so the settlement is an ancient one. We also know that Langtoft was within the area devastated by William the Conqueror in his infamous campaign known as “The Harrowing of the North” - what we might nowadays call a “Scorched Earth” policy.

So to the font. The church’s information board claims a common theme for the scenes depicted on the font: the fall of Man and his gaining redemption through patience and suffering. No gain without pain, it seems! The rarest depiction is of St Andrew enduring crucifixion on a saltire cross. The rest are quite common themes: the temptation of Adam & Eve (a theme shared with Cowlam font), St Margaret of Antioch, the martyrdom of St Lawrence on his griddle and a Tree of Life. There is also a rather odd-looking dragon thrown in for good measure. Overall, it is an unsophisticated piece - again very like Cowlam but without the total naivety of the font carvings at North Grimston in the East Riding Group.

Left: Looking towards the east end. Right: No, this is not the Norman font! It’s the Victorian one that’s in use today. It is, I suppose, not better nor worse than hundreds of others but it is so well-mannered and “safe” compared with the Norman one! If fonts were produced in factories and sold via catalogue I suspect this would be a best-seller!

Left: The second of Langtoft’s fonts. The churchwarden explained to us that a church is only allowed to have one font. Apparently you get round this by declaring - verbally - that the extra ones are not fonts any more. No, I’m not sure I “get it” either! Right: The Norman font is kept in the south west corner of the church and has pride of place, complete with its own little spotlight (that makes photography more difficult rather than more easy, as you can see)! In my experience most churches with Norman fonts fully know their value to historians and “church crawlers”, are proud of their stewardship,  and provide as much information as they can. Langtoft is no exception.

I suppose you would hardly know that these three pictures are of the same font but in fact they just show the difficulties with photographing a font in difficult light. The ambient light was poor and the little floodlight meant that each side received differing degrees of light and I can vouch for the fact that normal camera flash washed out all the detail of church carvings. So what you have here is my desperate efforts to make the designs on each side visible, at the expense of accurate colour reproduction. Left: The rare image of St Andrew being crucified on a saltire (that is, diagonal) cross. Centre: The Tree of Life Right: The rather unspectacular  dragon

Left: The temptation of Adam & Eve. Eve (to the left) take fruit from the serpent entwined within the Tree of Knowledge. Adam already clutches his. Conflating events rather, both Adam and Eve are already clutching leaves to cover their nakedness. The Tree of Life to its right is perhaps meant as a counterpoint to this scene. Right: St Margaret of Antioch bursts from the side of the dragon that had eaten here, showing the triumph of good over evil. What with two martyrdoms and the Fall depicted on this font, the carver obviously felt that a bit of optimism about the human condition was in order!

Left: The unfortunate St Lawrence is roasted on his griddle as another tormentor adds to his pain with a spear of some sort. Right: Close up of St Lawrence. In general, sculptors and artists right through the Norman and mediaeval periods were unwilling to depict any kind of pain on the faces of the martyrs. Perhaps it signified the knowledge that the victims would shortly be in Heaven.

The best indication that there was a Norman church here is not the font itself, which came from Cottam, but these fragments on display in the church. Left: An unmistakable Norman corbel. carved corbels were common in the area. Right: I’m not sure what this is but, again, it clearly comes from Norman church.

Left: The huge font cover. Whoever installed - and it is Victorian -  this seems to have been influenced by similar mediaeval designs. See Ufford in Sussex for one of the finest. Unfortunately, as the churchwarden explained, the carver had little knowledge of practicalities. It does not have a crane mechanism for lifting and lowering so it hangs there to catch the head of any unwary cleric carrying out a baptism! D’oh! Right: The church from the north east.