Saturday, July 30, 2011

Duntisbourne Rouse, Gloucestershire


On the green hill

It's not far from the A417 (formerly the Roman Ermin Street) that roars its way between Gloucester and Cirencester, but you could be in another world. You drive along a remote lane past dry-stone walls and sloping sheep pastures. Here and there a still narrower lane branches off to a farm or a couple of houses, but there is little hint of a community that might support a church, indeed little hint of a church, if you miss the discreet sign and gateway. But for those who see the sign and stop, there’s something very special. A path of grass, the quietest of approaches, leads down to the church, and as you gasp at the tiny tower, you realise that the land slopes steeply away towards one of the streams that cuts its way into the limestone hereabouts. You make a sharp right turn after the second gate at the end of the grass path, and take in the way this little building clings to the slope.


The walls have fragments of herringbone masonry – the angled arrangement of stones favoured by the Saxons – suggesting that this building was put up before the Norman conquest. The minute round-headed window in the chancel may well be Saxon, whereas the two slightly larger, taller lancets to the right of the porch were cut into the existing wall in the 13th century. The Saxon builders took advantage of the slope to build a tiny barrel-vaulted crypt beneath the chancel, and a later generation, probably in the 12th century, decorated the walls of that chancel with a simple pattern resembling masonry blocks, semicircular arches, and stylized flowers.


The porch and tiny tower are later though. The tower actually bears an inscription telling us that it was built in 1587 by a mason called John Haden. It’s unusual for a church of this date to bear the name of its mason, and this is a far cry from the grander architect-designed “signed” buildings of later centuries. Part of the satisfaction of this place, indeed, comes form its very modesty and simplicity. And continuity. The idea that people have been coming hear for maybe 900 years to worship on the slope of the green hill, or to contemplate the cutting of stone and the passing of time.

15 comments:

Peter Ashley said...

Thankyou for introducing me to this. Just love the slope on that churchyard.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: I still remember your expression of pleasure when you first saw the church at the end of the path. It's a wonderful example of the way something small and apparently unassuming can take the breath away.

Terry said...

Thanks so much.

Gareth Williams said...

I used to visit this place when I was in the sixth form at Cirencester School. Wonderful. The road crosses the river via a ford a bit further on doesn't it? It's all a bit otherworldly!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Gareth: That's right, there is a ford and it is otherworldly. I too first went there as a teenager, arriving around dusk one midge-infested summer evening. There was a pale young man cutting the grass in the churchyard; he wore boots and gaiters and talked in a rather old-fashioned way. I remarked later to my female companion that he seemed like a ghost. She just laughed at me, I seem to recall.

bazza said...

What a wonderful secret place! And the name is tremendous... Duntisbourne Rouse. You couldn't make it up!
Click here for Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: Great place, great name. A 'bourne' is a stream, and the Dunt is the name of the local stream. Dunt is also a Saxon personal name, so it would have been the stream belonging to the person called Dunt. The 'Rouse' bit is a family name, probably le Rous, who I'd guess were later, Norman, lords of the manor. There you go, etymology, at no extra cost!

lostpastremembered said...

How magical... thanks for the tip to find a wonderful lost church. I love it when I find buildings with layers of history built into it... time is the artist.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Lostpastremembered: Thank you. I'm especially fond of such 'layered' buildings - English churches often have many layers of history, and this is one of the things that makes them fascinating.

The Vintage Knitter said...

I haven't visited this chuch for years and your post has reminded me that another visit is long overdue. Thank you!

Philip Wilkinson said...

VK: It's a gem, isn't it? And with Daglingworth, and indeed Elkstone, not far away, there's the potential for more church crawling nearby.

Alan Buckingham said...

Hello Phil. I wonder if you peeped over the hedge on the right as you walked down that long grass path to the church (as shown in your first picture)? If so, you'd have seen the vegetable plot of a beautiful garden. It belongs to the garden writer Mary Keen. She tells the story of how she renovated and reconstructed it in "Creating a Garden" (Conran Octopus, 1996), one of my favourite gardening books. Pip, pip.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Alan: I hope you're flourishing. Yes, I certainly did peep over, and through, the hedge at that beautiful garden. I didn't know the identity of its owner, or about her book: many thanks for the information.

JudyBG said...

The piece on the dovecote took me to Elkstone and thence to here. I am sure the poster on Elkstone called "Anonymous", to whom you responded with the suggestion about Duntisbourne, was my husband Gary (which is how he signed himself.) We have loved Duntisbourne for many years, and I wanted to see your take on it. I defy anyone to see Duntisbourne for the first time and not to gasp.

But it's not just the marvelous little church, or the wonderful crypt below--it's the whole setting, from the grassy path to where it stands, to the way it is nestled on its hillside looking over a little valley to the hills just beyond. It is like a jewel in a perfect setting. We have seen pretty much every church in the Cotswolds numerous times, but this might just be the MOST perfect. You seem step back in time 1000 years. Enchantment.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Judy: Thank you so much for your comment – it's so good to hear from people like you and Gary, who appreciate these Cotswold churches so much. I've introduced several people to the church at Duntisbourne Rouse over the years, and I think all of them have gasped with pleasure and amazement when first setting eyes on it. And it never palls