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Compton (Surrey)

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Dedication : St Michael   Simon Jenkins: Excluded                                       Principal Features : Wonderfully unspoiled gem of an early rural church

We called in at Stragglethorpe on our way back from Brant Broughton. They are 1.5 miles away geographically, about 300 years apart architecturally and on completely different planets in dimensions and atmosphere! Whereas Brant Broughton is a monumental and proud church that shows all that is best in Gothic architecture, Stragglethorpe is tiny, humble and timeless. The contrast between these two churches so near and yet so far from each other is everything I love about English church architecture.  Please don’t ever visit Brant Broughton without calling in at Stragglethorpe. I am not a believer but I would like to think that Jesus was to return to this part of Lincolnshire he would feel more at home here than amongst the well-meaning vanities of Brant Broughton.

The west wall here is Anglo-Saxon. This is very clear from the blocked up triangular headed doorway. Pevsner opines that the rest may be “one transitional job. mixing up round and pointed arches and Norman and Early English motifs” and “To try for any chronological sequence makes no sense”. So I won’t try either!

 The font is unequivocally Norman. The twin east end windows show the lancet shapes of Early English with the round heads of the Norman period. The little north arcade too has the rounded arches of the Norman period but the simple unadorned capitals of early Gothic. Again, the south door has a pointed arch

but Norman billet moulding decoration. Transitional indeed!

Little has changed beyond some later Gothic windows rather haphazardly installed to improve the light within. The bellcote was EE but altered during the Decorated period - see the footnote for more on this. At the same time an unsightly buttress was added to the west wall, redeemed by the charming addition of a little niche containing a statue of the Archangel Michael spearing an unfortunate dragon representing Satan. The furnishings here are spartan. The wooden box pews and two-decker pulpit are a delight.

I was especially fascinated to see that the bellcote has heads and figures carved upon it. In particular, a pair of what look like old men are sprawled across its gable staring serenely at the world! I have never seen such figures on a bellcote and they are hard to spot without binoculars or a telephoto lens. I think it is a reasonable theory that Stragglethorpe used one of Brant Broughton’s masons, perhaps when the man in question had finished his work there. But is it likely that the church here decided to have these figures on some kind of strange whim? More likely, surely, that Stragglethorpe’s structural alterations during the Decorated period were done at the same time and, again, using the Brant Broughton workforce? It’s good to speculate!

Finally, against all expectation there is a fine monument on the north wall of the chancel. It is memorial to Richard Earle  who died in 1697. It was made by Thomas Green of Camberwell and when you think about it this was a lot of trouble to go to! Richard was the last male member of the line which occupied Stragglethorpe Hall. It was commissioned by his mother and the inscription is poignant in its sense of loss. See below for more information.

Left: Looking towards the west end with its Transitional double lancet window. Note the lowness of the ceiling which has actually been recessed on the north wall to accommodate the somewhat disproportionate Earle monument! Right: The Transitional two-bay north arcade looking toward the north west of the church

Left: The view to the west end. The woodwork here has been stripped and restored. With the plainness of the interior walls, floors and ceilings this makes for a spartan look, but this is more the same church as would have been here 700 years ago - which is quite a thought! Right: The font is simple Norman in style.

Left: north aisle looking east. Right: This communal pew sits on the south side nearest the altar. Presumably this was the Earle family pew - but this was a family that was clearly contentnot to put too much distance between itself and the rest of the congregation.

Left: The west end with its blocked triangular doorway which proves incontrovertibly that this church started life in the Anglo-Saxon period, Centre: The grandiose Earle monument. Right: The Archangel Michael in his niche on the west end buttress.

Left: The Richard Earle inscription. He seems to have been quite a well-loved son! Right: The double bellcote. Note the carved figures which, with only the naked eye, could appear to be simple ornamentation.

Stragglethorpe (41)a

Left: A general view from the south doorway. There is something homespun and timeless about this church. The ceiling has had to be raised a touch to accommodate the Earle monument! Right: The church from the south, Notice the “low side window” into the chancel - or “leper’s squint as some would have it.

Above: More Transitional work on the south doorway. The arch is pointed yet there is a single course of Norman billet moulding around it. It is clear to see from the quality of the building work that this church has been impoverished from its very beginnings

Three Pictures Right:  The curious bellcote sculptures. Two craggy old men, coated in lichen straddle the gable of the cote. They are in an exposed position and weathering has damaged them, but the images are still quite striking. Both have huge, crudely carved hands and long beards. The smaller heads that are below each of these figures at the junction between gable and uprights are even cruder. There couldn’t be a bigger contrast with the sophisitcation on show at Brant Broughton just up the road.

Footnote - Thomas Green of Camberwell

The Henry Moore Foundation website has a biographical dictionary of sculptors between 1660-1851 and has this to say about Thomas Green :-

“Green is something of a mystery figure since his common surname makes it difficult to identify him from contemporary records. He was the son of a tailor, Edward Greene of St Giles, Cripplegate, in the City of London,  and was probably born c1659, since he is likely to have been about 14  when he was apprenticed to a London mason, John Fitch, on 27 March 1673...”

“Twenty of his monuments have been identified, either because he  advertised his authorship with a prominent signature or because he  transcribed the inscriptions for publication in John Le Nevea’s Monumenta Anglicana, 1717-19”.

“Green’s first known work, the monument to Sir Richard Earle, was  commissioned by the mother of the deceased, Eleanor Payne, nee Welby,  and was probably completed around 1700 . It has two busts flanking a  tablet with distinctive consoles and above is a segmental pediment, with a heavy curtain drawn up over it to reveal a panel with four winged  cherub heads. The use of a curtain as a dramatic framing device is a  recurring feature in later 17th-century monuments, but Green’s is an inventive, if cumbrous arrangement “