puts me in mind of a priory chapter house. The unusual clerestory was added in around 1300 and the tower was heightened about 50 years later.
In 1878 the south aisle and chapel were demolished and replaced with a new nave and chancel. Archways join the Victorian nave to the original, creating a rather unusual nave space that is broader than its length. Effectively then, this is a Norman three-celled church with a parallel Victorian two-celled one. You remember when it was all the rage in England to knock down a wall in your house and leave two rooms joined by an open archway? Well, that’s rather what it looks like at Barton Seagrave church and you might say that architecturally it was probably equally ill-judged! A lot of the space in the old nave has no clear view of the new chancel. What amused me (I’m easily amused) is that the church gets round this by using cameras and a screen to ensure that everyone can see what’s going on. That’s a bit of a leap forward from the mediaeval squint in the south wall of the tower! Barton Seagrave has one of those too on the south side of the tower. To add to the confusion, the Lady Chapel - the old Norman chancel - sits to the east of everything else, somewhat isolated from the other worship areas of the church. In fact, with its lovely c 13 Gothic arcading it has more the feel of a priory chapter house.
Having roundly derided the Victorians for this peculiar piece of extension-building, we have to be mighty glad that they left the Norman structure more or less intact. It dates from about 1130. The finest remnant is the north door. Its tympanum is a real treasure. It isn’t fine and it isn’t subtle but it is wonderfully vibrant and uncompromising; and surely Scandinavian in its influence. Monsters flank a human head and one of the monsters has another human head in its jaws. This is surely an allegory for evil devouring we sinners, but the monsters are a cheerful-looking lot, happy in their work and just enjoying a good meal. It reminds me of that scene from “The Life of Brian”. “Next. Crucifixion? Good. Out of the door, line on the left, once cross each...” The monsters are just - you know - doing their job! Somebody has to do it.
The north side shows us a couple of nicely carved Norman windows. Another, next to the over-sized Gothic window, has been half-removed, half-filled in. In the north face of the tower another gothic window has been planted right on top of the Norman doorway. Aesthetically, it’s a complete mess. I get the feeling that the church’s Norman features have survived more through incompetence and lack of ambition over the centuries than from any wish to preserve what was ancient.
The base of the tower is now more in the nature of an entrance lobby, leading to the lady chapel to the east and to the north part of the nave to the west. It would be easy to overlook the Norman capitals that still adorn both western faces of the arches.
Northamptonshire is a county rich with interesting churches and Barton Seagrave perhaps suffers by comparison with the likes of Brixworth and Earls Barton but it really repays a visit. You should make arrangements to view, however. It is kept locked and although the Church Office is next door it’s best not to rely on someone being available to help you.