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Norfolk Round Tower Churches Info

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Sherborne Abbey (Dorset)

Steetly (Derbyshire)

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Barton Seagrave (Northants)

Northants Fonts and Plato’s Cosmos

Ellerburn (Yorkshire)

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Tebay (Cumbria)

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Dearham (Cumbria)

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Wittering

Dedication : All Saints                                Simon Jenkins: Excluded                       Principal Features : Superb Saxon Chancel Arch; Saxon Nave; Norman Arcade

Don’t look for Wittering Church in the popular church books: you will be wasting your time. If ever a church’s merits went unrecognised then that church is Wittering. We only discovered it through “A Guide to Anglo-Saxon Sites” by Nigel and Mary Kerr, just as we discovered Barton-le-Street St Michael’s Church through their similarly-named book about Norman sites. For some years the benefice was not filled but now, thankfully it is and you can borrow the enormous church key from the nice people in the nearby Post Office.

You may have heard of Wittering. Just south of Stamford on the A1, Wittering is famous for its RAF base and until December 2010 was the “Home of the Harrier”. It is a town dominated by the airfield and its ugly housing estates: but sitting there on its edge, unknown even to many people in the area, is its largely Saxon parish church! The rector, David Maylor told me that they found a plague pit near the church when some work was being done. It seems likely that the villagers moved further away and left the church on the periphery of the village.

The church is essentially a two-cell Saxon core with a Norman arcade leading to a north aisle and chapel. Its tower is late c13/early c14..

The real gem is the enormous and imposing Saxon chancel arch. It still looks incredibly fresh. It also looks far too big for the church, even allowing for the lofty structures favoured by Saxon church builders

Saxon chancel arches are rather less common than Saxon tower arches simply because a tower was much more trouble to replace than a chancel , so this example is to be cherished.

The arcade is of only two bays and has the usual Norman decorations of lozenges, chevrons and the like. It also is well-preserved. The windows of the church are all Gothic replacements but this hardly seems to matter when compared with the church’s architectural assets. The quoins linking the chancel to the nave are excellent examples of saxon “Long and Short Work” (see picture below). Although it is not immediately visible to the untrained eye, these stone courses also are examples of the technique of “entasis” whereby the lines bow out towards the base and slope slightly inwards towards the eaves in order to correct the tendency for vertical courses to appear concave. Apparently, there are other explanations for its use and I would refer you to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entasis. Whatever you choose to believe, it is yet further evidence that our Saxon forefathers were not the boneheads that some older history books would have had us believe!

Despite its diminished ecclesiastical status, this church is freshly painted, well maintained and remarkably well-lit by spotlights that periodically change hue! When we visited we were the first people to sign the visitors’ book for 15 months - and this a Saxon church! So please, if you are hurrying north on the A1 take the short detour to this surprising church.

Left: The nave looking east towards the chancel and its magnificent arch. Right: Detail of the arch and its massive impost blocks.

Views of the two-bay Norman arcade to the north aisle and chapel

The arches are decorated with Norman geometrical patterns and the capitals are plain scallop mouldings

Left: Looking towards the c14 north chapel which has RAF colours hanging from its roof, and a stained glass tribute to the RAF (see picture far right). Centre: The massive piers and impost blocks of the chancel arch. Right: The modern but attractive RAF window.

The arch from the chancel to the north chapel has these two fine label stops.

There a 5 sets of colours in all hanging in the north chapel. The nearest set, shown in close up (right) are of 20 Squadron RAF. I reproduce this information from Wikipaedia: “In the First World War 20 Squadron RFC & RAF was arguably the highest scoring and possibly most decorated British fighter squadron on the Western Front with 613  combat victories, a posthumous Victoria Cross won by Thomas Motterhead, four Distinguished Conduct Medals, and over sixty Military Crosses and Military Medals awarded to its members. Its ranks included over two score flying aces.” Wow! For more information see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No._20_Squadron_RAF

Left: The east window is by renowned Victorian stained glass window artist, Thomas Kempe in 1903. On the extreme left, about halfway down, can be seen his “trademark” of a wheatsheaf. Centre: Saxon “long and short work” between chancel and nave. Right: More long and short work at the quoins of the east end. Note also the original roof line.

Above: The church from the north west. The extension to the north is modern. Note that the church is something of an oasis amongst some less-than-visually-appealing housing!

Right: The south door belies the the Saxon origins of the nave wall.

Footnote

It is hardly unusual to find a list of war casualties in an English parish church. Nor, where the First World War is concerned, to see the same surname repeated. The suffering of the Roffe family at Wittering, however, must surely have been beyond endurance? Their name appears nine times on this board. At a time when we are so conscious of our country’s losses in Afghanistan and Iraq to see this is sobering indeed. I doubt there was much in the way of trauma counselling for bereaved families in those days. The Chairman of Wittering Parish Council at the time of writing (February 2010) is Mr Richard Roffe!