Churches

What Did I Do This Year?

Quite a bit, really. I managed to get around to quite a few places in North Bucks when we were allowed to, and got all the way to Hillesden before the lockdown. But this post is a Covid free zone; I’ll say no more about that today.

Now here are some of the highlights of the year from the North Bucks Wanderer.

Great Linford station

On a grey February day I explored The Railway That Nearly Was, a line that might have gone all the way from Wolverton to Wellingborough, but only made it as far as Newport Pagnell. If you know what to look for, you can still see where the line was meant to run.

This was the old station at Great Linford.

 

Musket ball hole  Hillesden

Hillesden Church is often called The Cathedral in the Fields, for its huge Perpendicular windows. Because of the windows, Inside All is Bright, but here is the outside of the porch door, in the shade. That’s a musket ball hole.

 

Olney pancakes

In Pancakes for Everyone, some of the Olney Pancake Race competitors wait to run. As well as the town race, there’s an international match against another pancake race in Liberal, Texas.

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How Do Arches Work?

Norman arches  StewkleyThe two nearest arches support the weight of the tower. There's another arch over the window, and above it you can just see the ribs of the roof, which is in the form of two intersecting barrel vaults. A barrel vault is a long arch, like the tunnel at Gayhurst in last week's Monday photo. This is the Norman church at Stewkley.

The Monday Photo

I see a lot of arches travelling round for the North Bucks Wanderer. The last five posts have all had something to do with arches, even if you couldn’t see them in the photos.

So how do they work, and why don’t they fall down, even if they are hundreds of years old? It’s all due to the way stone, or brick, is strong.

Stone and brick are enormously strong in compression; when they are being squeezed. Arches take advantage of this, by directing the load or weight of whatever is above the arch sideways.

This is how it works. The bricks or stones around the arch are wedged shaped. The weight above them makes each wedge shape (they are called Voussoirs) try to drive itself deeper between its neighbours.

They all squeeze each other and the weight is directed around the arch and into the abutments on each side.

How arches work2

As long as the abutments (see the diagram) are strong enough to resist the weight, the arch doesn’t have to be a complete semi-circle, and some arches are very shallow indeed. This is very handy for things like railway bridges; a train won’t get over a hump backed bridge.

The red arrows show the direction of the forces involved. And yes, they do show the abutments pushing back at the arch. They have to, weird as it may sound, or they would be crushed. With arches like the ones in the photo, there are more voussoirs and they just direct the forces (the thrust lines) vertically down.

The Voussoir at the crown of the arch is sometimes bigger than the rest and called the keystone. That’s just for decoration; it’s no more important than any of the others.

Arches are very stable. Even if the foundations shift, it is likely the arch will stay up. With a simple wall, if the thrust lines stray outside the wall, it will hinge or crack around that spot and fall down. The wedge shape of the voussoirs in an arch means they will just settle into a different position.

You need at least four hinge points before an arch will fall down. You can see cracks above the big arches in the photo. Arches are great for spanning large gaps. That’s unlike stone slabs, which will just crack and fall if the gap is too big.

The first known arches were in Egypt and Mesopotamia, 5,600 years ago and were made of brick. Stone ones came later.

If you want to see a wide selection of arches here on the North Bucks Wanderer, look for churches or bridges in the categories in the sidebar.

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The Monday Photo

Church arches  WinslowThe church of St Laurence, Winslow.

Underneath the Arches

This is the church of St. Laurence, in Winslow. Most of what you can see here was built in the 14th Century. Or was it?

That’s what the 1959 listing for this Grade 2* building says. But according to David J. Critchley, the story is far more complex, and much of the original fabric is older, altered work.

In his paper on the building of the church he says that the earliest parts of the church are two hundred years older. He says that the tower was first built no later than the first half of the 13th Century, though the belfry probably dates to the 1470s. The tower arches were reworked in the 14th Century.

The nave seems to be the oldest part of the church, originally built in the 12th Century but much altered since. He says that the side aisles seem to date from around the same times as the tower.

He thinks that the chancel is 13th Century, but extended in the 14th Century. There may well have been an earlier chancel, as old as the Norman nave.

David Critchley’s paper is in draft form; unfinished until he can gain access again to the church, and of course that depends on what happens with the current pandemic.

But you can see what he’s found so far by clicking on the link above, which takes you to his paper on the very useful and interesting Winslow History website.

What can you tell me about your own local church?

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The Maid’s Church

St Edmunds  Maids Moreton

The Monday Photo

Why is this village, just North of Buckingham, known as Maids Moreton? It used to just be called Moreton, and it’s all to do with the church, completely rebuilt around the middle of the 15th Century.

Two sisters, the Maids, paid for the rebuilding work, and so the name of the village changed.

Some say the sisters were daughters of the Pevre family, but others say they could have been Alice and Edith de Moreton, who held part of the manor from 1393 to 1421.

The church was built in the perpendicular style, where advances in design meant that the windows could be made very large without compromising the strength of the walls. This means that St Edmund’s is a bright and airy church.

Another church built in this fine style is at Hillesden.

St Edmund’s was rebuilt around 1450, and I think this would be the completion date; it would have been a long process when everything was done by hand. It’s quite a large church for such a small village.

The chancel was first to be rebuilt, and we think this because there are clues in the way the stonework is jointed between the chancel and the nave.

The West doorway, at the bottom of the picture, is thought to be unique with its elaborate canopy supported by fan vaulting.

The big perpendicular window above has remnants of the original glass. Those long tall recesses with the louvres for the bells at the top are also unique.

This church is close to being unchanged since the 15th century. Perhaps that’s why although village churches are nearly all Grade 2 listed, this one is proudly listed Grade 1.

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Shakespeare Slept Here

The Bard slept here

The Monday Photo

But it should say, Shakespeare had a few lunchtime pints and dozed off in the wooden porch that once sheltered this door, in Grendon Underwood church.

It’s said that he was found asleep there by the two village constables. The constables shook him awake and roughly turfed him out of the porch. One of them was the Rector’s son, a Mr. Josias Howe.

As Shakespeare stood there, both half sober and half awake, they accused him of stealing from the church, but our William took them inside and pointed to the wooden chest there. “Go and see”, he told them. They looked in the chest, but they could find nothing missing. “There!”, said Shakespeare, “Much ado about nothing!”

It all seems a bit of an unlikely tale, but it’s quite possible that Shakespeare was thinking of these village constables when he wrote the unflattering parts of those two fine men of the watch, Dogberry and Verges. Of course in his play Much Ado About Nothing.

Shakespeare stopped overnight at Grendon Underwood several times on his way to and from Stratford-Upon-Avon and London, and stayed in the half timbered inn The Ship, not far from the church. It’s now a private house.

In Shakespeare’s time this area was more heavily wooded, and the village lay on the forest tracks used by gypsies and strolling players. ‘Grendon Underwood’ means ‘Green Hill under the wood’.

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The Miser’s Head

Miser's head

The Monday Photo

John Camden Neild was a recluse and a miser, and this less than complimentery carving is of his head. It’s on North Marston church. It’s a recent carving, made when the 15th Century tower was restored in 2004-2005.

John Camden Neild had lived in Chelsea, but when he died in 1852 he was buried in the chancel of the church; he had owned property in the village.

He left most of his fortune  of £500,000 (worth £29 million today) to Queen Victoria, even though he had never met her.

The Queen used the money first to see that Neild’s servants were taken care of, then had the chancel of North Marston church restored and had the new East window installed with its fine stained glass.

Then she bought the Balmoral estate in Scotland and had it remodelled, at a cost of £31,000.

This head is a label stop; it’s on the bottom edge of a label (or dripstone, or hood mould); a carved stone ridge above a church window that directs rainwater away from the glass.

When this Grade 1 listed church was inspected a few years ago, the tower was found to be in very poor condition. Some of the eight inch thick facing stones were down to two inches or less.

Specialist stonemasons Boden and Ward made a fine job of restoring the tower, (there's more about it at the link) and carved this head, and the one of John Schorne that’s on the other end of the label.

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