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The Demon Carvers of the East Midlands

The “Demon Carvers”  Please click here for the important historical background to the Demon Carvers.

Over the years I have often thought about the men who built our churches and carved the images that so lavishly decorated them. What manner of men were these? How did they live? Did they work on more than one church?

We know that the answer to that last question is “yes” but, of course, all church building would require a number of masons. Some, we might surmise, were commissioned as teams and others perhaps operated as travelling journeymen. In Herefordshire and Worcestershire we can see several examples of the celebrated “Hereford School” of Norman architecture where common architectural themes and devices appear repeatedly throughout the region. Experts feel able to make conclusions about the churches where a group of masons may have worked.

Although books and architecture are sometimes able to speculate that a master mason may have been responsible for the design of more than one church in a given area, I haven’t seen any examples outside of the “Herefordshire School” where it is possible to speculate that individual pieces of carving in separate churches might be attributable to a single man. In Rutland, Leicestershire  and south Lincolnshire, however, I have been able to identify the work of possibly one man, but much more likely a whole group of like-minded carvers at a number of churches.

Initially, I was convinced that I was discovering the work of an individual carver - and indeed I think this is unmistakable at Ryhall and Oakham - but gradually I came to realise that it was more likely that it was a regional style that was emerging and that I was possibly seeing the output of a whole group of masons. This is supported by the growing practice of “shop work” in the later mediaeval period where many architectural features such as windows were carved at the quarry rather than at the church. It is known that masons were given a pretty free hand on external carving. So what we may well be seeing in Lincolnshire, Rutland and Eastern Leicestershire is the continual cross-fertilisation of styles and ideas between individual masons  leading to quite a cornucopia of styles but amongst which we can spot recurring themes.

The Demon Carvers at Ryhall   To see a gallery of the entire magnificent Ryhall Frieze please click here

This story begins at St John the Evangelist Church in Ryhall. I happen to live next door to it!

I was keen to find something about it that would justify a page on my website, but I wasn’t optimistic. Ryhall’s is a fine church but none of the church architecture books give it the time of day. As it turned out, it has a stunning frieze of carvings around the parapets of its aisles and chancel. Everyone will have their favourite church carvings. Gargoyles, in particular, are popular with even the casual church visitor and several books have been written about them. You can even buy cast “gargoyles“ at your local Garden Centre! Ryhall, however, has a frieze with more than a hundred carvings around the roofs of its aisles and chancel. Friezes are not common. In the case of Ryhall’s frieze we see a tapestry of humour, cheek and scenes from everyday life.

One group of the Ryhall carvings particularly caught my eye. They surround the south aisle. They are of fantastic creatures. They may be lions, they may be dogs. Take you choice. Their defining characteristics, however, are black stones for eyes, exaggerated manes or fur and mischievous grins. There are also quite exaggerated claws or talons. I did not know that they would lead to the “Trail of the Demon Carver”.

Two of the maned Demons from the south aisle of  Ryhall Church. Note the black stone eyes, conspicuous manes and beards, pronounced limbs, claws and teeth - and those cheeky faces!

The Demon Carvers at Oakham

To see a gallery of more of the Oakham Frieze please click here

A visit to Oakham Church a few months later revealed similar carvings around the north aisle. They were quite unmistakable and are surely by the same individual. Two other things caught the eye: a gargoyle of a demon with a woman in a contemporary headdress astride his back and, best of all, on the west wall of the south porch a man mooning - legs apart, head between legs and a strategically placed hole! Just to cap it, a smaller mooning man is clearly visible to those with binoculars or a telephoto lens on the south side of the clerestory. It is these three elements - black eyed, maned figures, the mooning men and the piggy back gargoyle - that connect the external carvings on several churches in Rutland, South Lincolnshire and Leicestershire.

Two of the Maned Demons of Oakham Church. The one on the left even has a smaller creature apparently on his back - note the two smaller black-stone eyes to the left. On the right hand carving note the missing black-stone eye

Seeing the link between Ryhall and Oakham not surprisingly led me to believe that the same carver might be seen elsewhere. This became something of a quest, with the appropriate Pevsner guides as a valuable (although not totally reliable!) source of clues. This became something of an odyssey as one church led to another. Initially I was inclined to be looking for evidence that all of the carvings were by one man. As time went on, I realised this was unlikely. The most obvious question mark was in the sheer quantity. If I looked at all of the churches that seemed to be part of this “school” of carving the number of carvings was approaching an implausible four figures. For every group of carvings that seemed similar to a group I had seen elsewhere, there would be another that was somewhat nondescript.

As I have traveled round and viewed and re-viewed the photographs I have vacillated between seeing many connections and then just as quickly demolishing them!  If you are of an especially sceptical nature you can maybe pick the arguments to pieces. Just as I would like to see a connection, perhaps you would prefer to believe in a more random and less “industrial” approach to church carving. Well, we are never going to know so please feel free to have your own theory! I hope and believe, however, that some of the connections are well-nigh inescapable but you may disagree. Just follow the “trail” and decide for yourself - it’s fun!

Let’s start with what I believe to be the most incontrovertible of the links: the gargoyle with the lady on his back. For all I know, there are other such gargoyles in England. In each of these three, however, at Oakham in Rutland and at Lowesby and Tilton-on-the-Hill in Leicestershire, the carvings are nearly identical and the women all wear the same square headdress.

Above: The Piggy Back Gargoyle at Oakham. Note similar exaggerated wavy carved lines similar to those on the Maned Demons. Also note the recessed eye sockets. Might these originally have contained black stones?

Right: The Piggy Back Gargoyle at Lowesby. The similarity with Oakham is surely incontrovertible? Note the second female figure between the Demon’s legs! Only the head is visible on the Oakham gargoyle due to the intrusion of a modern downpipe!

Left: The Piggy Back Gargoyle at Tilton-on-the-Hill. Unfortunately weathering has robbed it of a lot of detail. The second lady is there between his legs, however. Intriguingly, however, this secondary figure is being held by the demon himself, whereas on the other two the figure is holding the legs of the demon with her own hands.

If you find this connection between these three churches unconvincing then you are indeed a sceptic and perhaps you should read no further!

Oakham is connected with Ryhall via the Demon Carvers. If Oakham has a trademark gargoyle it shares with Lowesby and Tilton-on-the-Hill does that mean that they too are ipso facto linked to the Demon Carvers?

I wanted to think so, but sadly the answer seems to be “no”. Tilton’s clerestory, according to the Church Guide, is reliably dated to 1490 and it is on this that its Piggyback Gargoyle is mounted. It is hard to believe that something so distinctive was plagiarised nearly a hundred years later. It seems to me well-nigh certain that Oakham, Lowesby and Tilton had their gargoyles carved by the same man or group of men but probably not those responsible for the blackstone-eyed demons at Ryhall and Oakham. All three also have friezes that are not contemporary with the gargoyles, however, and they are possibly linked with the Demon Carvers.

The Ubiquitous Mooning Man

For more about the Mooning Men, please click here.

I hope you are still with me...because this is where the real fun starts!

Oakham, as i said previously, has two carved figures of what I call “mooning men”. We also see Mooning Men at Tilton-on-the-Hill and Lowesby, giving a second link (besides the Piggyback Gargoyles) between these three churches. It gets better, however, because we can also see the Mooning man at : Cottesmore, Whissendine and Langham in Rutland; Edenham and Brant Broughton in Lincolnshire! That’s EIGHT churches with this wonderfully rude and irreverent motif. At this point the more sensitive souls amongst you might wish to avert your eyes. But don’t because this bit’s really interesting!

Oakham Church Mooner, south parapet. It’s blackened so it’s difficult to see, but there is a head between those legs!

Oakham Church Mooner, south porch. As you might expect from its position, this is the larger of the Oakham mooners.

Lowesby Church mooner. This one is intriguingly different because the face is looking at us from an upright position. This chap is a considerable contortionist!

Tilton-on-the-Hill Church Mooner with a larger-than-normal face. There seems to have been some weathering of the upper part.

Langham Church Mooner. This one does not have his “tackle” on view like the others...

The Cottesmore Church Mooner. Another with his orchids not on display.

The Whissendine Mooner. This fellow is a bit anorexic compared with the rest but has huge feet! I daren’t speculate what that is between his legs...

The Brant Broughton Mooner. This is a curious one. The (ahem) anal passage is positioned more like a navel, yet the figure is clearly a rear view. Note also that the legs are not being grasped and there is no head.

The Edenham Mooner. This is another curiosity. It is “hidden” at a corner of the parapet. I only spotted it by chance when I “blew up” another photograph

So we have EIGHT churches now with this same “mooning” image. So what, you may ask? Mediaeval carvers loved to be rude. Well, yes, except that really this is the only really near-the-knuckle imagery at most of these churches. It is the one image that appears again and again. Even the Green Man is not so ubiquitous.

Do these carvings prove the influence of the Demon Carvers at each of the sites? That is the $64,000 question here. Each has a different design. We know for a fact that Tilton-on-the-Hill’s could not have been carved in 1490 by the same man that may have carved Oakham’s in 1400. Let’s also rule out Brant Broughton’s as being of quite different design from the rest (as well as being geographically distant from them). I also recently found two Mooning Men images as tower gargoyles at Easton-on-theHill and Colsterworth where there are no friezes - but still in the Rutland/Lincs area. There are websites where you can see collections of “mooning” images; but they are collected from all over Western Europe are often gargoyles rather than frieze carvings and are not as far as I can tell used consistently within a given area as they are in this part of the East Midlands. If it wasn’t one man, perhaps it was a symbol of a guild of carvers? The gargoyles might point to that A master and his apprentice? Or a private joke amongst fellow professionals? Who know - but please don’t cite coincidence as the explanation! And certainly not at....

The Strange Case of Cottesmore and Whissendine

Here’s another interesting connection. At Cottesmore and Whissendine, both in Rutland, the Mooning Man appears to the left of a rather curious and distinctive carving of a four legged creature.  So what we have here is another seemingly indelible link. What is this creature? It seems literally fantastic yet here it is on two different churches, each with a Mooning Man for company. There are many fantastic and bizarre figures on the frieze carvings in the three counties, but this is the only one that recurs. What could it be? Langham has one too (see below). Can we link the carvers at these three churches by this sculpture?

Creatures sometimes have meanings traceable to the ancient “Bestiaries” of early medieval times but I have found none for turtle or tortoise. So this looks like another local trademark motif.

Upper Picture: Whissendine

Lower Picture: Cottesmore

Let’s recap. We have Ryhall and Oakham linked by the black-eyed demons. Oakham in turn is linked to Lowesby and Tilton-on-the-Hill by the Piggy Back gargoyle but at a date some 90 years after Ryhall and Oakham. Cottesmore and Whissendine are linked by the Mooner juxtaposed with the four-legged lizard creature but not, as yet, with the first four. Langham, Brant Broughton, Edenham are now on our radar as possible Demon Carver sites but only through their having Mooning Man carvings. Brant Broughton’s and Edenham’s mooners are stylistically different from the rest so are in more doubt. Let’s look at some more evidence of connections.

The Scotty Dog

The Demon Carvers’ work, unsurprisingly, includes as fair few domestic animals as well as demons, grinning faces, tongue pokers, fleurons and so on. Dogs appear in a number of guises but there are three at Oakham, Langham and Whissendine that have clear stylistic similarities. We call them the “Scotty Dogs”. I’m probably impugning a noble breed of canines here, but they look a bit like Scotties to us!.

Top Left: Oakham Dog

Top Right: Langham Dog

Left: Whissendine Dog

These dogs show very obvious differences. Yet look also at the heavy representation of the fur. Not convinced? Well perhaps you might be more persuaded when I tell you that Langham is only 2 miles from Oakham and that Whissendine is less than 6 miles from Oakham and 4 from Langham. We have three churches within walking distance of each other, all with carved friezes, all with Mooning Men figures are all with similar-looking dog carvings. Coincidence? You decide! I, however, believe that they are by the same man, and very likely by the man who carved the maned monsters at Ryhall, Oakham and Edenham (below).

More Blackstone Eyes

The Blackstone eyes found at both Ryhall and Oakham are where this quest began. When we started to visit other churches with friezes this was what we thought we would be looking for. Out very first visit, to Langham, however, produced no demons with blackstone eyes at all yet the style of the frieze convinced us of a connection. We realised then that there was much more to look for than blackstone eyes. Only as we visited more churches did other connections start to emerge. We did, however, find three other churches with blackstone eyes (and as we will see, possibly four): Whissendine, Lowesby and Tilton-on-the-Hill.

Above: Blackstone eyes at Whissendine in the corner between the north aisle and the tower. The man’s face is the only carving with the eyes remaining. The fierce creture above has no blackstones (though we suspect he did originally) but note the characteristic long sinuous legs, pronounced tail and conspicuous claws and teeth.

Right Upper and Lower: Blackstone eyes at Lowesby. Lowesby has a number of blackstone eye carvings scattered around the aisle parapets. This is rather different from Ryhall and Oakham where they are focused in one area of the church.

Left: Blackstone eyes at Tilton-on-theHill. This is the only such at Tilton, and we have already eliminated Tilton as a Demon Carver site due its date.

So the connections are now emerging thick and fast. We have five churches linked by the blackstone eyes. Three of these (Oakham, Lowesby and Tilton) also have Piggy Back gargoyles. And, of course, all except Ryhall have Mooning Men.

The Demon Carvers at Langham

Langham, remarkably, was the birthplace of Simon de Langham who was Archbishop of Canterbury. Significantly, Langham is only two miles from Oakham. In passing, it is worth mentioning that Langham’s Simon de Langham became Archbishop of Canterbury, Chancellor of England under Edward III, and  Cardinal before dying in Avignon - then home to the Pope - in 1376. It is even believed that he had plausible ambitions for the Papacy. The link with Oakham is indelible. It was “owned” by Oakham at the time of the Domesday Book its lands were co-owned with Oakham until the time of Elizabeth I. It is known that rebuilding work at Oakham Church itself was financed by Westminster Abbey from an endowment from Simaon de Langham. You may think, as I do, that the Demon Carver was almost bound to have been involved in both churches. So what other evidence is there?

 Well, Langham was the church where we first realised that blackstone eyes were not the key to the Demon Carvers because there are none here and yet we are convinced that the DCs indeed were here. We do have a Mooning Man and a Scotty Dog. The DCs did not do a lot of work here, however. Much of the church is from the Decorated Period and so although there is sub-parapet frieze carving in abundance much of it is “ballflower” decoration rather than the riot of images we see where the Demon Carvers have been at work. Indeed, it is rather interesting to reflect that the rather tedious ballflower decoration went out of fashion just when the Perpendicular style was simplifying other forms of church architecture after the Great Plague. In this part of the East Midlands ballflower was replaced by far more complex imagery. This is not just evident where the DC was at work but also at the great East Midlands churches of Newark, Grantham and Sleaford as well places such as Little Dalby and Heckington. Of the latter three, more anon...

Demon Carver work here is concentrated on the south transept. There is not a great deal of it and it is not particularly ornate but it does have the stylistic stamp of the Demon Carver. Apart from the Scotty Dog and the Mooning Man one other clue emerges: the presence of a four legged square “lizard” such is seen at both Cottesmore and Whissendine. At Langham the lizard is not juxtaposed with the Mooning Man as at these other two places but it is sufficiently bizarre to prove a link with those two other churches; and as we have seen Whissendine also has blackstone eyes and a Scotty dog.

The “four legged lizard” at Langham. Those at Whissendine and Cottesmore are shown with their “Mooning Men” above.

The Demon Carvers at Thurlby

Like Langham, Thurlby was one of the first churches we connected with the Demon Carver. It is perhaps ironical that Thurlby seemed to us to be so stylistically similar to Ryhall that we were certain of the Demon Carver’s presence but now we have uncovered more incontrovertible clues at other churches the evidence for Thurlby is undeniably a bit thin by comparison! Yet Ryhall itself where this all began lacks all of the main clues other than the blackstone eyes!

So this is the time to introduce some more less obvious characteristics of the Demon Carvers’ work. One is the appearance of animals in full profile. This is not as common as you might think. Generally animal carvings tend to be face-only. Look at the stylistic similarity between the cow or bull at Ryhall and the sheep at Thurlby.

There is also a lion very much in the DC style, carved in profile with luxuriant mane, well-defined tail, conspicuous claws and more than a suspicion of the remains of black eyes.

The Thurlby Lion

This looks like a hare at Thurlby, judging by the long ears and legs.

Hare at Langham.

Unidentified at Tilton-on-the-Hill

Thurlby. A greyhound possibly? Note the long limbs and well-defined claws.

Possibly a bull at Thurlby. More well-developed legs and tail.

Hound at Langham.

Bull at Ryhall

Finally, we need to be looking at the plant carvings - “fleurons” - that appear in varying quantities at all the Demon Carver churches (and at other churches with friezes in this area). At both Ryhall and Thurlby some of these fleurons are deeply “undercut”: they are 3-dimensional with hollows between the surface and the supporting parapet. No two are the same: we can divide the animal figures between the realistic and the (majority) fantastical; but with plants and flowers the carvers are free to invent what they like!

Undercut fleurons at Thurlby (top two pictures) and Ryhall (lower two). Note the detailed veining, especially on those at Ryhall. This supports my view that the Demon Carver reached his zenith at Ryhall.

The Demon Carver at Edenham

Edenham is in many ways the most difficult of the Demon Carver churches to prove. It is alone in not having a frieze of any description so we don’t see any clear clues or trademarks. However, there is a Mooning Man figure albeit different from the others (see above). In some ways, there is joy in realising that this rude

 figure was hidden away in a corner of the porch balustrade and is sufficiently subtle not to be apparent without the benefit of modern optical aids or very keen eyesight! Is one of the Demon Carvers “chancing his arm” here at a place where he knew that this trademark would not be welcome?

What we have here are two large and elaborate pieces that have to “stand on their own”. The sculpture in the upper picture has survived the ravages of time much better and it is here we see strong evidence of the Demon Carver that gave us those blackstone eye demons at Ryhall and Oakham.. Here we see again the characteristic fangs, individual claws and - on the right hand figure - a mane. It is not difficult to imagine that those eye sockets once held black stones.  Indeed, if you were to look at that figure on its own you could easily imagine it at Ryhall or Oakham. Also compare its features with the Scotty Dogs earlier in this article - especially the one at Whissendine. Those faces look very similar to me...

The lower picture on its own would be less obviously his work, but it is easy to see the same imagination at work in these two carvings. These are not quite the only carvings at Edenham, however. In the corner of the porch balustrade is a rather unusual rabbit or hare. The Demon Carver put hares on the friezes at both Thurlby and Langham. This is a particularly gorgeous example with two ears showing in profile, eyes and nostrils in natural positions and the tell-tale conspicuous legs and haunches. On another porch buttress we see a badly damaged supine creature.

Above: The Edenham Hare

I believe that we are seeing the Ryhall Demon Carver here in the uncharacteristic role of carving standalone figures. However, frustratingly there is not enough information to be certain. What does need to be said, however, is that there is nothing like it in the area and it is only five miles from Thurlby. If this is a different carver then he hid his light under a bushel remarkably well. Bearing that in mind, I am 90% certain that we are seeing here the Demon Carver, his mentor or his apprentice.

The Demon Carvers at Cold Overton

Also somewhat less of a certainty is Cold Overton in Leicestershire, only 3 miles from Langham (in Rutland). This is substantially an Early English church, but the tower appears to be Perpendicular. Underneath its battlemented parapet (and nowhere else on this church) is an array of very wide grotesque figures. Remarkably (even uniquely?) there are also carved figures on the west side of the tower at ground level. Bob Trubshaw in his book “The Good Gargoyle Guide” describes them as “The most figurative carving that I have found so far in the counties (of Leicestershire and Rutland)... “. I am not sure I would agree but they are certainly striking, although also badly damaged in places.

 The figures are badly weathered at both levels, but the close ups of the tower carvings reveal flowing manes, long carved limbs and extended claws, all trademarks of the DCs. At ground level at least one carving shows evidence of black stone eyes. There is no frieze here and no trademark carvings. The size and situation of the carvings is unusual so Cold Overton is not an absolute definite, but I would say the odds are better than 75%.

Above: Blackstone eyes on one of the ground level carvings.

Top and Bottom Left: A couple of languid-looking beasties on the tower. Manes and claws are in evidence, but like Edenham this is definitely a one-off set of carvings.

Where the Demon Carvers probably weren’t....

For a start, he wasn’t at 45 out of 51 of Rutland’s parish churches. We haven’t been to every church in Rutland but we have looked hard for friezes in the county - and we have found only one church that might be said to have a frieze that is probably not the Demon Carvers’ - and that is at Market Overton. Even there, where the main frieze is a mean affair of ballflowers and characterless faces from the Decorated period, we think there is an outside chance that they carved the gargoyles and a few faces on the chancel. The point is that we can’t find any frieze in this county from the Perpendicular period where we think the work was definitely not by the Demon Carvers. Now you can put that down to our own self-delusion if you like but, as I have said previously, friezes on Gothic churches (as oppose to gargoyles) are a rarity. It seems to us that if you wanted a frieze on your church in Rutland there was only one man (or group of men) you could go to. Alternatively, if you asked for work on your church from this man (or from a team of masons of which he was one) then he tried to sell you a frieze!

When we look at the friezes on the Demon Carver churches there is not one example - really, not a single one - that is overtly religious. There are no Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) images; no fishes of St Peter; no winged evangelists; no wheels of St Catherine; no scallop shells of St James; no angels. None. Not one. For sure, we can maybe see angels amongst the pinnacles and gargoyles (and massively outnumbered by demons, musicians and the like) but not on the friezes. No wonder they were not a “must have” item for the average cash-strapped parish church!

The other counties - Leicestershire and Lincolnshire - are of course huge compared with Rutland. We have found the Demon Carvers within these counties only on their borders with Rutland. Our ability to focus his activities only on this comparatively compact area adds to our confidence that we are not seeing connections where none exist.

Four friezes were rejected by us as being unlikely to have been even partly carved by the DCs. They were at Brant Broughton, Sleaford and Heckington in Lincolnshire and Little Dalby in Leicestershire. All were exceptionally fine but none exhibited the trademarks of the Demon Carvers. True, Brant Broughton has a Mooning Man (see above) but he is supporting the frieze with his hands rather than grasping his own knees. There is also a square lizard carving but it is stylistically different and amongst a profusion of other images this is possibly coincidence.

Sleaford and Heckington are superb but, again, do not appear to be obviously by the Demon Carvers. The profusion of carving at these two churches seems to me to be too great for what was probably quite a small scale off-site masonry operation and the dates don’t look right. Little Dalby, again, is a magnificent frieze but of all the ones we have seen this is most clearly not by the DCs. For comparison purposes I will in due course be creating photo albums for all of these churches so that you can make your own judgements.

Dating the Work

There are huge problems with this. Not many parish churches have documentation to show the dates of rebuilding work and in truth many of them were in a state of more or less perpetual reconstruction and enlargement. Church Guide books and leaflets, of course, discuss dates but in most (but not all) cases they are able to date parts of their church only to (for example) “early c14” or late “c15”. For larger churches and priory churches there seems to be more information, which is hardly surprising, not least because of the bigger supply of literate clergymen.

Pevsner rarely hazards dates. At the time that he first wrote his work there were perhaps not so many Church Guides around but for whatever reason he seems generally to be derive rough dates from the architectural style rather than having access to definitive information. The British Listed building archives are similarly unable or unwilling to venture actual dates.

What makes our task even more difficult is that the Demon Carvers left their work on parapet friezes around aisles, porches, chancels and towers. This means that their work does not necessarily (and in my view, probably never does) have to coincide with the construction dates of these structures. In many cases. for example, an aisle parapet would have been decorated when the aisle roof was raised rather than when the aisle was built. Towers often had friezes added when stages were added during the Gothic period, so the knowledge that the lower stages are Norman is of no relevance at all. Even where we know dates for aisle enlargement, it is feasible that decorative enrichment came later. Many churches have battlemented aisles or a decorative parapet that might have been added even after the structure itself was regarded as complete. Mediaeval people behaved rather like we do. If our neighbour has his house extended are we amazed if he has a few windows replaced at the same time and maybe a bit of decoration done to the existing rooms?

So we can’t put too much store on “dates” but it is not possible to ignore the issues, so let’s see what we know and decide if we can draw any conclusions. The only possible starting places are Ryhall and Oakham because it is at these two that I made the original connection connection through the demons with the blackstone eyes.

Ryhall

Where: Sub-parapet frieze around entirety of north and south aisles and chancel. Carvings along the sides (but not below the parapet) of the south porch.

Dates: According to Pevsner: “The exterior of the chancel and the aisles is probably c1400, the south porch probably later”. I would agree about the porch. One of the carvings on the south aisle has clearly been broken to allow the roof line of the porch to intrude at a later date. This is all supported by William Page’s “History of the County of Rutland Vol 2” in 1935: “Early in the 15th century the chancel was again rebuilt, the aisles widened, and the clearstory raised, and later in the century the porch was added”. This may exclude the south porch carvings from being the DC’s work. Note that at Ryhall the clerestory has no frieze and this is unique amongst the DC churches. Perhaps the clerestory was raised at a different date, or funds were short.

Oakham

Where: Both aisles, clerestory, south porch, south transept.

The Church Guide has the aisle walls being raised in about...1400! So the link with Ryhall is surely established for all but the most determined sceptic. The south porch, according to Pevsner, is Early English. The south transept is believed by him to be Decorated and he points to a filled-in Decorated window as evidence. This is not encouraging at first sight, because both have DC-like carvings. At Oakham, however, we see the first example of all being not as it would seem. The embattled parapet was clearly added later. We can see this particularly on the south porch where it is inconceivable that the embattlement as there when it was built. In fact the battlement even looks “wrong” geometrically. On the south transept too we can see that battlements were also added later because they interrupt the line of the filled-in top window.

We have no date for the clerestory but it is obviously perpendicular and it is safe to assume that it too dates from around 1400.

Langham

Where: South transept. South clerestory.

There is surprisingly little detail about Langham. The History of Rutland says “In the C15 the roofs of the chancel and aisles were taken down and new ones erected, a clearstory being added to the nave; new windows were inserted in the chancel and aisles and at the end of the transept, and battlemented parapets with enriched cornices and curved finials in the gables, similar in style to those at Oakham Church, were erected throughout”. This is not terribly helpful but we are at least looking at the right century! Also, the link with Oakham is reinforced and given that Oakham had its own aisle walls raised in 1400 it seem unlikely that Langham would have been far behind given that the alterations were apparently “similar”.

Whissendine

Where: Clerestory and aisles.

The Church Guide offers nothing more than that the clerestory was erected in C15. The History of Rutland states: “Early in the C15 the chancel was again rebuilt. the aisles widened, and the clearstory raised, and later in the century the porch was added”. Pevsner adds nothing to help so we must rely on the “early C15” to establish that the DCs could well have worked here.

Tilton-on-the-Hill

Where: Clerestory and aisles.

The Church Guide delivers the bombshell that the clerestory was not erected until 1490. This eliminates the clerestory carvings from being the work of the Demon Carver. What is more, the Piggyback Gargoyle is located there. Although the gargoyle differs slightly from those at Oakham and Whissendine it eliminates this as a defining characteristic of the Demon Carvers  unless they and their successors were in business for 100 years or more - which is surely unlikely. Perhaps those at these two other locations are earlier but, frankly, I don’t think so. This leaves two possibilities: that the aisle frieze pre-dates the clerestory; or that that the aisle frieze also dates from 1490. If the latter is true, then the Mooning Man carving is also more modern and undermines the thesis that this is a trademark carving of one or more carvers. There is also a blackstone eye carving adjacent to it. On the other hand, other carvings particularly on the north side are rather crude compared with the DC’s normal quality.

 It is not easy to discern differences between clerestory and aisle carvings. Yet, the aisle is battlemented and the clerestory is not, which seems rather strange if both were decorated at the same time. I am afraid this must remain a mystery for now, but it is a significant question mark over whether the DCs’ activities extended into eastern Leicestershire,

Lowesby

Where: Chancel and North aisle parapets.

Lowesby is only 2.5 miles from Tilton, so doubts against one must lead to doubts about the other.  Frustratingly, there is no readily available information on building dates. The chancel which has the frieze is certainly Perpendicular. It is also battlemented whereas the aisles and clerestory are not. So this is another case where we cannot even be sure if that frieze dates from the same time as the chancel itself, even if we knew that date. Interestingly, the Piggyback Gargoyle here is on the south aisle where there are no other adornments. The gargoyles here do rather look like an afterthought, interrupting the frieze in places. This would be consistent with the discovery at Tilton that the Piggyback Gargoyle is dated no earlier than 1490. It would also support the notion that at Lowesby the date of the frieze might well still be consistent with the Demon Carvers’ involvement. The plethora of blackstone eyes would certainly support that.

Cottesmore

Where: South aisle. South Clerestory

Even Pevsner found Cottesmore a riddle and, once again, we have no dates. The Listed Buildings register has the clerestory as “probably early c14 (ballflower frieze) though 3 perp windows”. Ballflower frieze? I would say that the frieze on both clerestory and south aisle have a maximum of 20% of ballflowers on their friezes.

The key here is that the majority of the windows are manifestly Perpendicular. If aisle and clerestory were completed in the Decorated period (and this is the confident assertion of the Church Guide) many of the windows are Perpendicular. As at Ryhall, it is likely that the parapet carvings were added at the time of the re-fenestration or enlargement. I’m sorry, but the assertion that these are “Ballflower Friezes” is rather absurd. Even Ryhall which we know to be a frieze of 1400 has a ballflower or two. Do we think that the c20 invented “retro”?

Thurlby

Where: Clerestory. Tower.

Thurlby’s clerestory is the key here. The Church Guide puts its date at 1440. This is forty years after Ryhall and Oakham, which appears pretty late for the DC operation. It’s not impossible, but if he had that sort of longevity we would surely be finding their work on a much bigger scale around the area. Just to put the cat amongst the pigeons, Pevsner says vaguely “The clerestory could be Dec or Perp....”. Thanks for the precision, Nikolaus! The British Listed Buldings catalogue says: “The nave clerestory has 4 paired C14 cusped lights”! So neither of these two sources support the Church Guide’s date.  I am awaiting information from Thurlby Church on the provenance of their dating. The geography and the style of carving look right for the DC but we must reserve judgement.

Cold Overton

Where: Tower parapet. Tower base.

The Church Guide confidently asserts “Decorated western tower with spire (1300). Pevsner, on the other hand, says “perp indeed is the external appearance of the tower...” British Listed Buldings says : “Tower, C15, 2 stages, has clasping buttresses...”. So who is right? Probably all three, in my view. The east face and the top stage of the tower are of ashlar stone, whereas the other aspects are of ironstone in common with the rest of the church. There has clearly been some rebuilding here. If the top stage of the tower was added at this time, which visually looks a certainty, then this is probably when the sub-parapet frieze was added as well.