Window Theory
Let There be Light

Lavendon’s Saxon church

Saxon church towerThe tower with its small narrow windows is Saxon, apart from the added top stage with its larger reticulated windows; it’s probably 14th Century. Hard to see here, there is some herringbone stonework about halfway up the tower. The South porch (and also the North one) are 15th Century.

Not well known and tucked away at the top of North Bucks, St Michael’s church, Lavendon is one of the oldest in the county.

The bottom three quarters of the unbuttressed tower, parts of the nave walls, and half of the South wall of the chancel are Saxon.

St Michael's  LavendonThis 1920s plan of the church shows the font as being under the tower arch, but it’s since been moved to roughly where the letter H is in “South Aisle”. “Modern” on this plan means from 1859 to the mid 1920s.
Drawing courtesy of the British History Online website, where you can also find a 1920s description of the church and village.

The top quarter of the tower holds the belfry. Inside the church, the tower arch at the rear end of the nave is almost certainly Norman.

High above it in the wall is a doorway opening, which would have given access to a roof space or perhaps a gallery.

St Michael's Church  Lavendon  BucksImagine this church with a shorter tower, no aisle or porches, and a chancel half the length of this one. The nave roof would have been lower, perhaps matching the chancel roof in height and pitch.

There are two porches, both 15th Century. The South one, the main entrance, is tall and has a 13th Century floriated gravestone built into it’s East wall.

The North porch has a tall front but is not so tall behind. Both are built in the Perpendicular style; this is most obviously seen in their windows.

In the late 12th or early 13th Century, the North and South aisles were added; the South one first. This means that only the stonework at the ends of the nave, plus some of the wall above the aisles is Saxon.

Nave of St Michael's. LavendonThe arcades are transitional Norman; built when architectural styles were changing from Norman to Early English. The South arcade’s columns have grotesque heads on the corners of the capitals. You can see a blocked Saxon window arch above the furthest arcade arch.

The nave walls were made higher to provide a clerestory in the 15th Century, perhaps around the same time that the porches were added.

Judging by the positions of the chancel arch, the blocked off Saxon window arch in the North wall and the high up doorway in the nave end wall, the roof was then given a much shallower pitch, but the ridge remained at the same height.

15th Century octagonal fontThe octagonal font is 15th Century. The eight sided design of many fonts refers to the Resurrection on the eighth day. Although the base and shaft are vertical, the bowl tilts slightly to the left.

As is becoming more common, toilets have been installed; here they are at the tower end of the North aisle.

At the other end of the aisle where there’s a small chapel, a Norman stoup sits in a recess. The chancel arch, like the aisles, is 13th Century.

17th Century octagonal pulpitLike the font, the 17th Century pulpit is also octagonal, but as pulpits in other churches have varying numbers of sides I don’t think this symbolises anything.

The original chancel was half the length it is now, and when the chancel was extended in the 13th Century, the South wall of the old one was reused, though pierced with a low side window and a priest’s door.

The windows are 13th Century, except for the 15th Century Perpendicular East window. By it on the inside is a stone bracket with a carved, bearded head.

Low side window and priest's doorNearly half of the chancel’s South wall is Saxon, but it had a low side window and a (now blocked) priest’s door inserted in the 13th Century. The arch of a blocked Saxon window is visible over the also blocked priest’s door’s opening.

In 1858-9 the Gothic Revival architect William Butterfield restored the church, replacing the chancel’s roof and fittings.

He installed new benches in the nave and a new floor with tiles by the Staffordshire pottery firm of Minton’s. The church’s external rendering was removed.

I’m glad to see he did a restrained job; sometimes Victorian restorers destroyed much original building fabric, while trying to make the church look authentically Medieval.

Church grotesques on capitals  LavendonThere are grotesque heads on the Transitional Norman capitals of the South arcade. You can just see the typically Norman zigzag moulding, that extends round the arches on this aisle. But it’s a 19th Century conceit, formed only of plaster.

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