The Ecclesiological Society

The discovery of Anglo-Saxon churches

Click on any of the pictures below for an enlarged image. Use your 'back' key to return.
The south side of St Peter'sClick the image for a larger picture, use 'back' to return
St Peter's Church, Barton on Humber, from the south. 
From Warwick Rodwell's book on church archaeology (details below).
tower from the SWtower from the south
Left: The tower from the south west. Right: The tower from the south
(H. Taylor and J. Taylor, Anglo-Saxon Architecture, 1965, pl. 379 and p. 34)
Thomas Rickman was an architect and architectural historian, active in the first half of the nineteenth century. 

He was the first to recognise the Anglo-Saxon style of architecture. 

How did he do it without documentary evidence? 

Have a look at the three pictures of the church to the left, particularly its tower. This is St Peter's church, Barton-on-Humber, Lincolnshire, UK. 

What do you notice? 

Don't read on until you've had a look at the three pictures.

* * * * * * * * * * *

What Rickman noticed was that there was a distinctive style of building underneath the Norman work at the top of the tower:  . . .this [top] structure being clearly Norman, it is evident, the substructure must be of an earlier date . . . this [lower] arrangement is so different from Norman work, that there seems a probability that it may be real Saxon. And elsewhere he wrote: '. . . this . . . attracted my attention, and led me to look for similar ones in other parts of the kingdom'.
(From Rickman's fourth and fifth edition of An attempt to Discriminate the Styles of Architecture in England.)

Thus was the Anglo-Saxon style first discovered.
Small criticism of Rickman
Rickman also used as evidence the fact that our church, St Peter's, was referred to locally as the old church, and the nearby so-called  new church was clearly of Norman date. Therefore, he argued, St Peter's, the old church, was earlier than the new church, and must be was pre-Norman. But this is pretty weak: the foundation date of our church might be pre-Norman, but not necessarily the surviving structure For a picture of the 'new' church, link to their website by clicking here, or on either of the two pictures to the right.

jewitt's engraving of the s of the towerA wood engraving of the south of the tower, published in the mid-nineteenth century, to accompany Rickman's text.
(Rickman, op cit, 5th edn).
Rickman's discovery is rightly famous. 

This was the picture seen in Rickman's book in 1848. (It was engraved by the well-known Victorian topographical engraver Orlando Jewitt.) 

Can you spot any mistakes in this picture? 

Don't read on until you've compared the engraving with the previous pictures.

* * * * * * * * * * *

early drawing of the s side of the tower
A drawing of the south side of the tower from the turn of the nineteenth century. Note the blocked triangular windows, probably another inaccuracy in Jewitt's engraving.
From Warwick Rodwell's book details below.

There are too few triangular panels. 

There are too few round-headed panels. 

Worst of all, the picture leaves out the extension at the west of the tower. As we'll see, this extension is rather important. (And the doorway at the west of the tower, leading into the extension, is far too small.) 

Here's a picture from the turn of the nineteenth century (including the vicar's washing!) 

Rather more accurate! 

interior under excavation

close up of interior of tower
From Current Archaeology, 78 (1981)

About 20 years ago the church was made redundant, and was fully excavated. 

The excavations confirmed what had long been suspected. 

The western extension and the tower were built at the same time, probably in the late 10th century. 

And there was an eastern extension, all part of the same build. The eastern extension is now covered by the more recent nave. 

The first photo to the left shows the inside of the church during excavations. You are inside the nave, looking west at the tower. 

The photo below zooms in. You can see the foundations of the original Anglo-Saxon eastern extension sticking out towards you for a few feet, each side of the tower.

reconstruction original church
A reconstruction of the original Anglo-Saxon church. The roof is wrong - it was probably a spire or a stepped pyramid. 
From Baldwin Brown, The Arts in Early England, Vol II, Ecclesiastical Architecture, 1903).

From the article by Warwick Rodwell, referenced below.


So the original church was a tower with both a western extension and an eastern extension. 

The tower was used as the nave. It probably only held about thirty people. Perhaps it was an estate church. 

The western extension was used as a baptistery. It had a font at the south-west corner (shown on the plan). 

The eastern extension was used as the chancel. The position of the altar, and the screen behind it, is interesting. What sort of liturgy took place? Well, that's another story. 

To link to the website for Barton on Humber church, click on the image or click here.
The church is now owned by English Heritage and is open to visitors. It includes an exhibition. 

To check on visiting hours, look at the website to the left by clicking on the image or by clicking here

  To find out more: 
Sompting church and Bradford on Avon church are interesting Anglo-Saxon churches with good websites. 

To find out more about Barton-on-Humber, try Warwick Rodwell's The English Heritage Book of Church Archaeology (1989); or his article in 
L. Butler & R K Morris (eds) The Anglo-Saxon Church (1986). 

Click here for other pictorial essays.

March 2000
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