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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Pentlow Church described by J.M. Wood, 1890

The following account of Pentlow Church has come to light. It is refreshing since it has not been slavishly copied from other sources. It includes a brief note  from the architect W. M. Fawcett, who was in charge of the restoration. Mr Wood was certainly correct that the round towers were common in Saxon times, but Pentlow Church  tower is later, probably datable to 1320.

 Notes on the Round Towers of Essex, Lamarsh and Pentlow. By J. M. WOOD, Esq 1890


(details of Lamarsh Church have not been included)
The name of the parish, Pentlow, is supposed to be derived from the word ‘Pent’ and the Saxon word ‘loiue’. The meaning of the former is well known, and the latter signifies an eminence ; so that, if I am correct, the name denotes a hill or eminence, pent, here at the twining of the river Stour.
There is no mention of Pentlow in the Saxon chronicles, so far as I can ascertain; neither is there any mention of a church at Pentlow in the Domesday Book, the only entry being as follows : " Pentelauua was held by a free woman, in the time of King Edward, for a manor and four hides and three virgates", etc.; and at the time of the Survey was held by Ralph Baynard, etc.
The church is delightfully situated in the valley of the river Stour, and within a few hundred feet of the river, and adjoins Pentlow Hall, which is a moated house, and was once the home of a Norman noble. It stands just within the present boundary of the county of Essex, and overlooks the village of Cavendish, in the county of Suffolk. It is about five miles north -north-west of Sudbury, and about ten miles north of Lamarsh Church. The church is said to be dedicated to St. Gregory (see Morant), but in Bacon's Liber Regis vel Thesaurus Rerum Ecclesiasticarum it is stated to be St. George, which is probably correct, and consists of a round, embattled tower, rectangular nave, and chancel, with a semi-circular apse, and a Lady chapel on the north side, adjoining the church.
This chapel belongs to the Kempe family, and contains a beautiful monument in good preservation, and worth a visit. In the semi-circular apse is a fine altar-tomb, probably belonging to the Felton family, the date 1542 being scratched upon it ; but there is no inscription. The old Parish Register is in excellent preservation, and dates from 1539.
The church is a remarkable structure with striking features, having the peculiar appearance of being circular at both ends, viz., a round tower at the west end, and a circular apse at the east.
Having examined the church as a whole, with an unbiased mind, and some degree of care, I was once more led to believe that the tower belonged originally to a structure of greater antiquity than the existing church, for the reason that the walls of the tower are of much greater thickness than the walls of the nave ; besides, the character of the rubble-masonry appears different in the walling ; and for other reasons which will be hereafter stated.
The nave, chancel, and circular apse were built probably in the fourteenth century, the style being Early Pointed. The nave and chancel are separated by a fine pointed arch of the above period, being of rather large proportions, spanning the whole width of the nave. But a question may suggest itself, Why was the circular apse built in the fourteenth century, being a style so peculiarly Norman? To account for this one is led to suppose that the original Norman church was either destroyed or removed, and the existing structure built on the foundations. Now as to the tower, which, as before stated, is at the west end of the nave, and is so placed that the walls of the nave appear to be built into the circular work of the tower.
I have not been able to ascertain with any definite degree of certainty if the walls of the nave are really bonded into the walling of the tower, forming, as it were, one original piece of rubble masonry; or whether the walls abut, forming a division such as exists at Broomfield, the tower there being entirely separated from the walls of the nave. The reason that one is not able to settle this important point is because the tower is plastered over within and without. I am, however, strongly under the impression that the tower-walling is not part and parcel of the nave wall, but merely abuts.
The tower, like the others described, is perfectly round on plan, except where it is joined on to the nave-wall. It is clear internally from base to summit, with the exception of a wooden floor and ladders reaching up to the framing for carrying the five bells, which have the following inscriptions upon them :
"Miles Graye made me, 1665." (Letters are small capitals.)
"Miles Graye made me, 1662." (Letters are small capitals.)
"Miles Graye made me, 1628." (Letters are large capitals.)
"John Thornton made me, 1711." (Letters are large capitals.)
The walls are nearly perpendicular both internally and externally, the tower being about the same diameter at base and summit. Practically speaking, there is no batter to the tower.
The proportion of the tower is 2* diameters in height, being 51 ft. high from the nave-floor to the top of the stone works forming the embattlements, or 48 ft. high to the top of the flat lead roof. It has an external diameter of nearly 22 ft., and an internal diameter of 13 ft. 2 in.; the walls therefore, being of the great thickness of 4 ft. 5 in. to 4 ft. 6 in. ; the walls of the nave being only from 2 ft. 6 in. to 3 ft. thick.
The rubble-masonry of the tower is of a rough character, similar in many respects to that in the towers of Great Leighs, Broomfield, and Lamarsh ; the materials being also entirely local, viz., rounded and angular flints, besides nodules of water-worn sandstones brought probably by the " drift", and picked up in the river-gravels. All are bedded in coarse lime-mortar.
In the inside of the tower, about half way up, the original rubble-masonry may be seen, not having been plastered over. From its appearance one would at once say that it was built at an early period, and like the rubble-work in the other towers before described, very little attempt has been made to lay the material in course. But in the upper part of the tower a different condition of things exists. Here the rubble-masonry has been carefully built in course ; each stone seems to have been separately set and pointed. One can see at once that the upper part of the tower is rather of a later period, or been rebuilt, probably the latter.
Externally, the tower is unlike Great Leighs and Broomfield, in that its summit is finished off by being embattled with Barnack stone, while the before mentioned towers are all surmounted by spires. Beneath the flint embattlements are a few odd pieces of Roman tiles.
The tower at one time had nine openings in it, viz., three in the lower part, three at a higher level, and three a short distance from the top. These openings, or their remains, are to be seen on the south, west, and north faces, immediately above one another. The lowest opening on the south face is a mere rectangular slit, 6 in. wide, and 2 ft.. 8 in. high, having Barnack stone quoins, and a square stone head or lintel slightly splayed ; while that on the west face is a large, pointed, perpendicular window in a wood frame ; the original slit having probably been cut away to make room for the window. On the north face, and at the same level, are the remains of a similar slit to that on the south face ; but it is now filled in, the stone quoins and head remaining. The openings in the next tier are also rectangular slits about 9 in. wide, and of a similar character to those below; and look much like the original openings. The three upper windows, or louvres, are pointed, having Perpendicular tracery and stone mullions. From the position and appearance of the rectangular openings, one is led to think they formed part of the original design of the tower, while the pointed windows are of a much later period, being probably the work of mediaeval architects. The west window in the lowest tier was, no doubt, inserted for the purpose of giving more light to the interior of the lower part of the tower, which is now occupied as a vestry. The three upper, pointed windows were evidently inserted at the same time as the lowest west window, or vice verse, being of the same character and period. These windows or louvres give light to the bells, and were, no doubt, inserted for some purpose in connection therewith, probably when the bells were fixed.
The only entrance to the tower is from the nave, through a stone semi-circular tower-arch of Norman design, 4 ft. 7 in. wide, and 10 ft. 3 in. high to the soffit. The inner ring or intrados of the arch is perfectly plain, also the sides of the opening; and when looked at towards the tower, from the inside of the nave, it has the appearance of an ordinary, plain, semi-circular, Norman arch with square stone quoins. This inner ring of stone, I am led to think, formed the original tower-arch.
Having entered the tower, and looked towards the east, the arch presents itself under entirely a different aspect. Instead of looking, as one would have expected to do, upon a plain, semi-circular tower-arch, one sees a beautiful early Norman semi-circular doorway fixed within the tower-arch. (See sketch, fig. 3.) The semi-circular arch of the doorway is formed of plain rings of stone and a bold, half-round, ogee-moulding. It is supported on each side of the opening by a beautiful, slender stone column, the shaft of which is quite plain, and about 5| in. diameter, having a cap or capital richly carved with floral decoration, the design being different on each capital, and on each face of the capital visible. The shafts are supported on pedestals having plain mouldings, the stone of which the columns are formed being Barnack of a rather coarse texture, while the stone forming the arch is a close-grained limestone.
A great part of this beautiful doorway, with its columns and mouldings, are built partly, as before stated, within the tower-arch, and made to appear as forming part of it, while a part of the carved capitals, etc., are buried within the walling of the tower.
On looking at the doorway as a whole, it certainly strikes one as being entirely out of place, and having the appearance of being stuck into its present position, forming in no way any part of the original tower-opening. To account for part of the arch-columns and / capitals being buried in the fj. wall, it seems probable that the walling had to be cut away to ' accommodate the doorway in its new position, and when fixed the rubblework was made good again, care only being taken to preserve the contour of the circular work of the tower, thereby allowing the flintwork to overlap or bury part of the doorway.
Just above the centre of the semi-circular arch forming the doorway, and built into the walling of the tower, is Norman grotesque head, which certainly appears out of place, and looks as if it had been placed there with the object of preserving it.
Neither can I think that the semi-circular arch forming the doorway is coeval with the beautiful columns which support it. One can hardly imagine such delicate columns designed to support an arch carrying such a mass of super-incumbent material ; nor can one imagine such carved columns forming part of an arch devoid of all ornament. Neither must it be forgotten that the stone of which the columns are made is of an entirely different character to that forming the arch.
The doorway as a whole certainly has the appearance of having been made up of pieces belonging to two different doorways (probably parts of the north or south entrances to the original church), and that they were placed in their present position with the sole object of preserving them. All the openings in the inside of the tower, especially the slits, are heavily splayed on all sides except the top, the splays in this tower being much heavier than in those previously described. The quoins of the splays are formed in Barnack stone and coarse, shelly limestone, and appear to have been inserted at a later period ; but on this point I am not particularly clear.
In the nave, and close to the north door, is a very handsome stone font, probably of the transitional Norman period, although stated by some to be late Saxon, say 1150. It is in one block, 2 ft. 9 in. square, and 1 ft. 6 in. deep, and I am not quite clear if it is Barnack stone or a coarse, shelly limestone. All its four faces are beautifully and richly carved with floral designs, and on each face the design is different. The four corners are represented by four columns having carved capitals and moulded pedestals. This font is probably coeval with the columns forming part of the doorway in the tower, and no doubt belonged to the original church. The font stands upon a rubble masonry pedestal about 2 ft. high, and is surmounted with an exceedingly elegant wood canopy which opens with doors (being a good specimen of the florid style), of about the fifteenth century.
There are many other points of interest in the church worthy of remark ; but they are external to the province of this paper.
It has been asserted by ancient and modern county topographers, besides well known antiquarians, that this tower is strictly Norman ; others say that it is after the Danish manner of building, whatever that may have been; while others declare that the original Norman church had the existing tower-arch, with its patchwork columns and ornamental capitals, for its western doorway or main entrance, and that the tower was built up against this old Norman doorway at the time the existing Early English church was built.
On visiting Pentlow Church I found the nave had lately been restored by that eminent architect and antiquarian, Mr. William Fawcett, F.S.A., of Cambridge ; so I determined to write to him and ask his opinion with reference to the tower and the west entrance. He kindly replied as follows :
"At Pentlow there must, I think, have been a church before the round tower was built. We cannot imagine any one so foolish as to build that beautiful west door in a position in which it would hardly ever be seen, and with parts of it buried in the tower-wall. The tower-builders probably intended to remove it to some other position in due time ; or if not, probably did not admire it, but thought it old-fashioned. It is astonishing how little the work of one generation was appreciated by the immediate succeeding ones. There is nothing either in the tower that would show it to be earlier than the nave, so I feel no doubt about it myself. There is a similar case at Polstead in Suffolk, near Bures. In both these cases they have evidently been elaborate and stately west entrances."
It hardly becomes me to differ with those who take this latter view, especially this eminent antiquarian, but it certainly appears to me, from the style of the tower, its proportions as compared with the other Essex towers, the thickness of the walls as compared with those in the church, the character of the rubble masonry, and ,for other reasons before mentioned, that the tower is of greater antiquity than any other part of the church, excepting, perhaps, the font and columns, and that the tower-arch proper is coeval with the tower.
Had the tower been built at the same period as the church, or even at a later period, it is probable its east face would have been built flat, for the convenience of abutting the nave roof against, whereas it is round, necessitating an awkward joint by cutting the nave-roof into the circular walling of the tower. Mr. Gage, in his paper before the Society of Antiquaries in 1829, makes no observation on this round-towered church, which is remarkable, as its features are striking.
It is evident he was not aware of its existence, although he visited Bartlow Church, just on the borders of Cambridge, within about fourteen miles of Pentlow, with its round tower, and gives a drawing of it in his paper.
Once more quoting from Gage's paper, in which he says, "The Saxon copy of Psychomachia of Prudentius, in the Cottonian Collection at the British Museum, contains an illumination or drawing of a church with a round tower : it was not unreasonable to expect to find at least one tower that might pass as Anglo-Saxon, but all these thoughts vanished when the towers themselves came before me in review."
To satisfy my curiosity I have examined this beautiful illuminated eleventh century MS., and on p. 7 I find an illuminated drawing of a building which I assume to be a sacred edifice. This building has a round tower or turret. On p. 28 is a drawing in perspective of what appears to be a square fortress or castle, the angles of which are round towers. Proceeding further, on p. 33 is an illuminated drawing of a building, probably a church, and the one referred to by Gage, having what I take to be an unmistakable round tower having a rectangular opening in the base, with a semi-circular arch over it : this has the appearance of being the main entrance into the tower. At a higher level are two round holes or openings with a rectangular slit between them ; at a higher level still the tower is smaller in diameter, with similar openings.
Besides this particular Saxon MS. there are others also containing illustrations Of round towers. Surely this is evidence to support Mr. Brock's idea that the origin of the round towers of Suffolk and Norfolk are due to the Saxons. But there is one thing certain, and that is, if the Saxons did not build round towers, they were cognisant of the style; otherwise they would not have illustrated them in their manuscripts.
Fergusson, in his History of Architecture, (states, with reference to round churches and towers, the following :
"The idea of round building seems to date from very early times. They existed in the form of basilicas and tombs at Rome ; and a round tower is to be found at the Port of Ravenna, attached to the Church of St. Apollinare in Classe. The church is said to have been commenced in 538, and dedicated 549 A.D. It is of the Romanesque style."
With reference to the round towers of Suffolk and Norfolk, he states that there are in Norfolk and Suffolk some forty or fifty churches with round western towers ; but as a matter of fact there are one hundred and seventy -four, 1 which seem undoubtedly to be mere modifications of the western round nave of Scandinavian churches. These Norfolk churches with round towers may consequently be looked upon as safe indexes of the existence of Scandinavian influences in the Eastern Counties, and also as interesting examples of the mode in which a compromise is frequently hit upon between the feelings of intrusive races and the habits of the previous inhabitants. It can scarcely be doubted that round naved and round towered churches existed in the Eastern Counties anterior to the Norman conquest ; and if any still remain, they have not been described. The earliest that are known were erected during the Norman period, and extend certainly down to the end of the Edwardian period.
Now with reference to these remarks of Fergusson's, I am somewhat at a loss to know how he arrived at such a conclusion, viz., that the round towers of Norfolk owe their origin or development to the existence of Scandinavian influence in the Eastern Counties. The expression, " Scandinavian influence", is somewhat broad and vague. It ^is difficult to know exactly what Fergusson intended to imply. It may be that he intended to apply it to all those races which invaded Britain from the first coming of the Saxons down to the Norman conquest ; or, on the other hand, he may have intended it to mean the Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes. I assume the latter. We have no record, as far as I am aware, of any Swedish settlement in our islands. As for the Norwegians, they only occupied, as far as I know, the Orkneys and Shetlands and the northern parts of Scotland, whereas there is evidence to prove conclusively that the Danes occupied in considerable numbers all our northern and eastern counties.
According to the Saxon chronicles the Danes first landed in England about 787 A.D.; but I believe they made piratical invasions prior to this date. It was not, however, until 866 that they invaded Britain with the idea of colonising a part of it, and it was not until 870 that they conquered East Anglia. From the first landing of the Scandinavian race until 1013, when the Danish kings commenced to rule, the Scandinavian invasion may be looked upon as a period of continuous, barbaric fighting, robbing, plundering, and burning ; besides it is recorded that in several instances they burnt many early monasteries, etc. Under these conditions, and many others which I could mention, it hardly seems probable that architecture owes much of its development to Scandinavian influence.
If the round towers owe their origin to Scandinavian influence, why are they only to be found in such a small portion of the country they invaded ? I am under the impression that during the period the Scandinavian races were invading our island, architecture in their own country was in a rude and undeveloped condition. So far as my research into Scandinavian history has yet carried me, I have failed to discover any record or trace of circular building, except circular barrows, either in Norway, Sweden, or Denmark ; and further, I am under the impression that prior to the commencement of the eleventh century the Scandinavian races had not embraced Christianity, and were to a certain extent barbarians. Of course I am well aware of the existence of their round churches and semicircular apses of the later part of the eleventh century, a style they may probably have learnt from our own island.
Had Fergusson stated that the round towers of Norfolk owed their origin to the Saxons, I would not so much have doubted it, as it seems more probable that the Saxons could have introduced or developed round towers, coming as they did from that part of the Continent where undoubtedly architecture was in a higher state of development ; besides which, it is recorded that round towers existed on the Rhine at early times.
In offering these latter remarks I must ask you to accept them with caution, as I have not yet sufficiently studied the subject from the point of view mentioned. I have merely thrown out the remarks as a suggestion.

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