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North Cerney All Saints Churchyard cross south transept and porch -460 | by bwthornton
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North Cerney All Saints Churchyard cross south transept and porch -460

www.bwthornton.co.uk

 

Four miles north of Cirencester, the ancient village of North Cerney occupies the steep valley of the River Churn, the church and the old rectory form an attractive group on the western slope high above the river, while the village cascades down the opposite side beyond the main Cirencester to Cheltenham road. Sheep are allowed to graze in the churchyard in the summertime and can often be seen dozing in the shade of the many table tombs.

 

All Saints North Cerney is one of the most interesting churches in the Cotswolds, wonderfully furnished at the expense of William Iveson Croome (1891-1967) and full of rare medieval carvings and stained glass. Possibly the third church to have occupied this lofty site, archaeological evidence found when installing a new heating system revealed the foundations of a smaller earlier building. The Saxon origin of these fragmentary remains was given credence when a pre-conquest crucifix, part of an early reredos, was found during further works in the graveyard, now set in the splay of a window in the chancel. A Norman church was built in the 12th century represented by the present nave, the base of the west tower and half the length of the chancel. Liturgical changes in the 13th century increased the role of the chancel in celebration of the Mass and here as elsewhere the chancel was lengthened. The original altar is a rare survival hidden from Reformation iconoclasts under the floor of the Lady chapel and only discovered during alterations in 1912.

 

Much of the present church rose from the ashes of a fire that caused much damage sometime between 1450 and 1460, the Norman roof was beyond repair and the upper stages of the tower bore the brunt of the flames as they took hold of the building. Indeed the effects of the fire returned to haunt present generations of parishioners as substantial funds had to be raised to stabilise the tower which had begun to crack. After the fire, the rector, William Whitchurch undertook the restoration, rebuilding the north wall with large Perpendicular windows, only the one at the west end survives. A window commemorating Whitchurch was moved when the north transept was built and inserted in its new north wall, a Latin inscription reads "Pray for the soul of William Whitchurch".

 

Sometime between 1461 and 1465 the Norman south wall was pierced and a Lady Chapel was constructed giving the church a cruciform plan. The chapel can be dated by its east window which includes the Yorkist symbol of the radiant sun. Prominent among the chapel's furnishings are three 15th century carved figures, St Martin cutting his cloak to give half to a beggar, the Virgin Mary and St Urban holding a bunch of grapes, who also wears the tiara usually associated with Urban the Great. A passage squint leads from the west wall of the transept to the nave. The Lady Chapel screen was designed by F.C. Eden and carved by Laurence Turner in 1913, the St George above is by Giorgio Maurus 1920.

 

Late in the 15th century the north transept was replaced by a chapel dedicated to St Catherine, patron saint of wool merchants. The 16th century altar served the church until the recovery of the medieval mensa in 1912. A vestment press by F.C. Eden occupies the south wall, he also designed the altar frontal and reredos. The east window commemorates the curate who succeeded William Whitchurch and bears the Latin inscription "Pray for the soul of John Bicot", he is seen praying beneath the crucified Christ. However at some stage the stained glass was re leaded with the painted surface outermost and the decoration has suffered as a result. The north transept has a ceiled wagon roof and a curving squint leads to the chancel.

 

The chancel was lengthened in the 13th century. The altar frontal is made from material woven for Chartres Cathedral before the First World War. The mensa with its consecration crosses is supported on the original medieval stones though a modern frame bears the considerable weight. The attractive reredos is the work of architect F.C. Eden responsible for much of the 20th century work in the church. Robert Broad carved the communion rails from Norway oak in 1736. The stepped east window is by Waller 1878 and bears the legend 'God is Love' and has stained glass by Hardman.

 

The Perpendicular nave roof has an interesting collection of carved bosses at its eastern end. The roof rests on large carved corbels, those on the north side are thought to depict the reigning monarch Henry VI, William Whitchurch and the Lord of the manor, the Duke of Buckingham with a ducal coronet and moustaches. The church was lit by candles until 25 years ago and several 17th century Flemish brass candelabra survive. Unfortunately the original Queen Anne arms was stolen but the insurance money was used to make a replacement bearing the present Queen's Royal Coat Of Arms. The pulpit of c1480 is ornamented with lilies and was carved from a single block of stone possibly by carvers from Burford, the pedestal is slightly later. The eagle lectern is of similar date and is made of Flemish brass with a Spanish steel pedestal, it was found in the Marine stores at Gloucester docks. Old pew ends have been used to construct a reading desk, one of the panels has an inscription WC 1631, William Cherrington was churchwarden at this time. In 1870 an organ chamber was created in the north wall of the nave, accessed by stairs from the Catherine chapel, part of F.S. Waller & Son's restoration. The organ is richly decorated by Dykes Bower and William Butchart of Westminster Abbey. Above the east end of the nave is a rood loft designed by F.C. Eden and carved by William Smith in the village, using oak from nearby Rendcomb. John and Mary were carved at this time but the central figure of Christ is Italian c1600 found when the churchwarden William Croome fell over its packing case in an antique shop in northern Italy and bought for £10. F.C. Eden designed several stained glass windows including the figure of St Nicholas in the south nave window and the south window of the south chapel which has the arms of the owners of North Cerney House through the ages. The nave has a deep west gallery that obscures the double chamfered C13-C14 tower arch. The 15th century octagonal font has a 18th century cover.

 

The tower has two lower stages of Norman work with original north and south windows and a clasping north-west buttress of the same date. The west window is 16th century, the bell-stage has west and east windows c1200. The right jamb of the south tower door bears a scratch dial.

 

The church has a Norman south porch with a carved tympanum, the door is 15th century and has its original closing ring. On the outside of the south wall of the south transept you will find the incised figure of a manticora which has a human head and arms, the body of a lion and a scorpion's tail. Another manticora is carved at the base of the tower apparently the work of the same 'artist'. On the steep slope above the church is a churchyard cross of 14th date, recently restored. On the outside of the tower the roof-line of the original Norman roof is clearly visible. A ring of six bells include four by Abraham Rudhall I, 1714, one by John Rudhall 1820 and a treble by Warner, 1863. Lychgate 1910 by FC Eden.

 

www.bwthornton.co.uk

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Taken on April 7, 2013