Friday, 7 October 2016

Built With Stones From The Fields

I said in the last post that we'd have a look at Barton church this time. And so we shall, we just have to toddle up this little lane, past the neat white fence...

Notice the chimneys on the brick house, they're set at 45 degrees to the chimney stacks. There are several chimneys like it in the surrounding villages; probably just a quirk of a local builder who thought it gave a bit of extra class to his houses. The other house has a chimney built of the yellow "Cambridge" bricks which are a feature of the local area too: they look nice when they're clean but soon weather and fade to a dirty grey, especially in town.

Ah, here's the church. I hope you weren't expecting anything too grand. It's just a nice country church of the kind which has quietly done its job to the satisfaction of its parishioners for centuries. Parts of the exterior have been rendered which has preserved the fabric if not the character of the building. Where the original walls are exposed you can see that they're built of field stones - just any suitably sized stones turned up by the plough. In an area like this where there's no readily available source of building stone it's the obvious answer to the problem.

The tower shows a less obvious solution to a different problem - how to incorporate a staircase without it getting in the way of the bell-ropes. Some churches have a corner turret, others opted for a bulky squat tower, here the builder has brought the corner out to a point and incorporated small windows to let in the light. I bet he was an ancestor of the man who built the odd, angled chimneys we saw earlier!

Once inside I found a tall, airy building with sunlight pouring through the large windows. Everything looked well cared-for and there were still signs of the recent Harvest Festival celebrations. However what's most interesting is that pinkish patch on the wall, just one part of a set of medieval wall paintings. But "alas" and "alas".....

"Alas" 1 - although the painting is full of exuberance, spreading across much of the walls, the artist is clearly a local man and no Michelangelo. Even so there's great charm in his naive efforts like the knight on the left spearing a demon. The artist also seems fond of country themes - there's a picture of St Anthony with a pig, St John with a lamb and a fair representation of a horse being ridden by St Martin  as well as a picture of St Dunstan holding the devil by his nose.

"Alas" 2 - these paintings were whitewashed over following a visit in 1644 from William Dowsing, who was charged by parliament with removing "all Monuments of Superstition and Idolatry" from the churches of Cambridgeshire. The paintings were re-discovered in 1929 and restored by Prof E W Tristram. Unfortunately the works, which were over 300 years old when they were covered up, have not fared particularly well and some are rather difficult to make out. This is a shame because they include the little-known saint, St Thomas of Cantelupe who, it is claimed, was born in the village.

My own feeling is that the paintings have an air of honesty, naivety and quaintness which more than makes up for their lack of quality and preservation.

Rather better preserved are the pulpit, which is dated 1635, and the screen which is thought to date from as long ago as 1370.

The carving on the screen clearly shows signs of its age but must once have been very fine indeed.

A rather inconspicuous little notice tells you that hidden beneath the red carpet in the chancel you'll find a brass to the memory of John and Margaret Martin who departed this life in 1593. It's a small memorial and Mr and Mrs Martin have had the indignity of being fixed to the stone floor by rivets through their heads. But at least it's still in place; so many have been stolen for the value of the metal.

But the sun was streaming in through the stained glass and, further enhancing the local, home-grown feel of the whole building, was falling upon the Harvest Festival arrangement on top of the simple stone font.

Take care.


  1. A great collection of photos from this wonderful church, John.

  2. It's amazing these old churches still look so beautiful after all the centuries. A big thanks to all those people who work behind the scene keeping the church's upkeep in such good standing.

  3. John it is lovely to see the inside of this delightful church which is so very light and airy and which I am sure catches every second of sunlight (helping to warm it up a bit?) I agree absolutely with you about those wall paintings - I don't suppose we will ever know who did them, but wouldn't it be interesting if we did?

  4. What a peaceful, enjoyable, visit - thanks, John. Aren't we lucky to have these little gems to pop into, little capsules of history on our doorsteps.

  5. Such a beautiful church. I especially like the rustic charm of the place. Those paintings are a treasure.

  6. Such a lovely little rural church! Of course in Europe you get buildings of such incredible history.

  7. What a wonderful, quaint church. It oozes personality! How great that some of it has managed to survive for so very long. Thanks for the tour!

  8. Hi John - what a lovely 'tour' of your church .. and those quirks - the chimneys and the 'buttress' to accommodate the stairs to the bell tower. Love the paintings too - I hope they won't be lost over time ...

    Great village too - so very much English in tone ... cheers Hilary

  9. Oh my! You have taken the most beautifully sensitive photos to show us Barton Church John. I totally agree with you re the whitewashed and restored wall paintings, I would have been super excited to see them even as they are. The fact that the screen has been standing there since 1370 is astounding! J'adore the light and composition in your last two shots, tres, tres belle!

  10. What I always like the most of your serious of pictures that you take us somewhere we never been and tell us stories about these places.

    Barton Church is small and that is what I like about it. I also like what you wrote about paintings. I agree that they have an air of honesty and naivety. Very beautiful photos and very enjoyable to look at them!

  11. You are right. It isn't grand, but there are places with a homely charm. I like the carved screen, and your photo of the light streaming through the stained glass window conveys much of that simple charm.

  12. The church looks so lovely. And all these details are also wonderful.
    Thanks for sharing this series..

  13. A very pretty old building. Love seeing all its history.

  14. I'm singing "All things Bright and Beautiful" after reading this post! And feeling homesick for beautiful England.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'll try to answer any questions via a comment or e-mail within the next day or two (no hard questions, please!).