The Distance Project 21
Changing Lanes 1

The Monday Photo

Norman arch

Booking the Chapel

This is the oldest building in Buckingham, but it’s not as old as you might guess, looking at the doorway. This is the Chantry Chapel, on Market Hill.

It really is a genuine Norman doorway and not some later imitation, but the building dates from a rebuilding in 1471. The original building was built as St John’s Hospital for the Poor and Infirm in the late twelfth century, and I suspect that the doorway dates from then.

It’s a pretty typical example of Norman masonry; the semicircular arch has several concentric rows of decoration, and the outermost rows are supported by a small column on each side.

The hood mould, the outermost row that directs rainwater around the door, is carved in a sort of double nailhead pattern. Each nail head is pyramid shaped and you might have seen actual nail heads like this in ancient doors. 

The next row is perhaps the most well known and common pattern, the chevron or zigzag. If you recognise nothing else from Norman times, you’ll have seen this pattern before.

The next row is plain, and the arch is all the better for it. The innermost row is carved with shallow pointed-arched arcading. On the inside face of this last row, you might be able to see a groove running all the way round the arch. Any rain that got as far as the last row and tried to slip in would be defeated by this groove.

This doorway may well be in its original position, and the chapel, sometimes known at the Old Latin School, was just rebuilt around it.

So why is this the oldest building in the town? There’s a couple of reasons. Churches are often the oldest local building in a town or village but Buckingham’s old church collapsed, not for the first time, in 1776. This time it was not rebuilt. A ‘new’ church was erected in a different spot.

And in the early 18th Century Buckingham had a disastrous fire which destroyed  much of the town centre, and many older buildings were destroyed.

But the Chantry Chapel has had its problems too. Three times over the centuries it has needed major work, and today is looked after by the National Trust. No longer a chapel, it’s just about my favourite sort of shop; a second hand book shop.

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