Monday, February 20, 2017
I continue my group of posts looking back over buildings I visited earlier with a couple of Lincolnshire favourites. I’ve been to Louth many times, and whenever I’m there I look at the spire of the town’s parish church. If truth be told, it’s difficult to avoid looking at it – it’s by far the tallest building in the town, and dominates many views. As de Maupassant said of the Eiffel Tower, the only way not to see it is to be inside it. But while some people might not like the Eiffel Tower, what’s not to like about this glorious steeple? It’s not only the tallest parish church steeple in England but, to my mind, the most beautiful. Everything leads the eye upwards: the windows and openings, narrower in proportion at each level until we reach the graceful ogee canopies of the upper pair; the buttresses, stepping inwards as they rise* and leading effortlessly to the four pinnacles that surround the spire;† the upward-sloping flying buttresses that connect the pinnacles to the spire; and the spire itself, 135 feet from battlements to finial, its crockets beautifully carved and spaced (closer towards the top) with art and care.
The interior of the structure contains wonders too – a cavernous space at ground level and inside, at the top of the tower, the original medieval treadmill, known as the ‘wild mare’, for lifting stone and bells, one of only three medieval examples left in this country.
Louth’s tower and spire are discussed and illustrated in detail in Julian Flannery’s fine book Fifty English Steeples, which I reviewed before Christmas. I was pleased that the author likes this steeple as much as I do – it’s the culminating number 50 in his book both because of its superiority and because of its date – the spire was completed in 1515, at the very twilight of the medieval period. Flannery criticises very little of the design of the steeple itself – the tracery in the lowest window is a little pedestrian.§ I agree with his assessment. The completion of the spire was greeted with much celebration, including, of course, bell ringing and the distribution of bread and ale to all present, and who can blame them for carousing?
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*As is usual; although slightly less usual is the way the set-offs don’t coincide with the string courses that mark off each stage of the tower. The effect feels a bit awkward to begin with, but the overall impression is one of upward-sweeping power.
†Not strictly necessary structurally, but aesthetically highly successful.
§He also says, fairly, that the aisles are disappointingly low compared with the steeple, and he is not enamoured of the setting near a road…but that was not the fault of the original mason and Flannery's overall assessment is very positive.