Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Pigeon post (2)
The 12th-century church at Elkstone, high on the Cotswolds between Cheltenham and Cirencester, is one of my favourite parish churches. I’ve posted about it before, sharing some photographs of its doorway and its interior, with its zigzag-carved chancel arch and vaulted chancel. When I went there again a couple of weeks ago during the recent snow, it occurred to me that there’s one other aspect of this church that might interest my readers, and it’s a very curious one.
My photograph of the exterior of the church shows the east end in the foreground. The small, round-headed window above the buttress is the window in the end of the chancel, above the high altar. If you look at my earlier post about the church you’ll see that the chancel interior is actually quite low. But this exterior is higher, with a second, narrower window above the round-headed one. Unusually, this little church has a room above the chancel.
Tucked in next to the chancel arch is a small door and this opens on to the narrow and very tight spiral staircase that leads to the upper room. When you get to the top you find – nest holes for pigeons. This was the priest’s pigeon loft and presumably the birds flew in and out through the narrow window, while the priest popped up the stairs when he fancied pigeon pie. It’s extraordinary. I’ve never come across a church with its own pigeon loft before.
This room has probably not always been here. In the 12th century, the church had a central tower, positioned roughly between the two large buttresses on the left-hand wall so that it separated the nave from the chancel. At some point in the Middle Ages (probably in the 13th century) this tower collapsed and the upper part of the chancel was remodelled – this would have been when the upper room was added. The lovely west tower was built in the 15th century. As is commonly the case, the story of our medieval buildings is one of evolution over the centuries, and when you look closely, things are often not quite what they seem.