Monday, May 1, 2017

Bosbury, Herefordshire

Tower power

The first thing you notice on approaching Holy Trinity, Bosbury, is the tower. There’s nothing unusual in that except that this tower is detached from the main body of the church. There are quite a few detached towers in Herefordshire,* and it’s sometimes said that the reason for their detachment is that they were built as defensive structures, in case of incursions from over the Welsh border. 

It’s difficult to say if that’s true. In the case of Bosbury, the tower’s walls are very thick and its windows very small – noticeably smaller than many windows of the 13th century, when the tower was built. These are useful attributes for a defensive structure. Against that, there’s an argument that towers are not very effective for defence, as their internal floors make them vulnerable to attack by one of the most widespread medieval weapons – fire; although in this case the small windows make the building hard to attack in this way.

Clearly, not every detached church tower in Herefordshire was for defence. The tower at Pembridge is made mainly of wood, and that at Yarpole has a wooden upper section: they are bell towers, pure and simple. This one at Bosbury and other similar stone towers in the area seem different, though whether built for defensive purposes, to express a preference for particularly chunky architecture, or for some other reason, is difficult to say.

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*Pevsner lists seven detached Herefordshire towers and another four that were originally free-standing but later joined to the building they serve. I have previously blogged about the one at Richard’s Castle.

1 comment:

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Defensive church towers? No, no, no! If the Herefordshire towers were against the Welsh, presumably the similar towers in Wales were to keep out the English? Even when the local English-descended landowners built them? The myth of border warfare ignores the fact that at least part of Herefordshire was Welsh-speaking to a late date, and the fact that the Normans in the neighbouring area snuffed out Welsh independence circa 1090, before these towers were built. In any case, the differences in agricultural enterprise meant a long economic symbiosis between Wales and England (as now, with the supply of lambs for the Eid): where are the records of border warfare in that period? Far more likely is that the same builders had a go at churches as well as the decorative castles (such as Chepstow) never used in warfare, using the same techniques and materials. Sometimes we can trace a particular builder or firm: corbels in limestone at St Davids Bishops Palace, Swansea Castle, Llanmihangel church in Glamorgan, possibly also Candleston Castle, etc. Most of the churchyard crosses in South Wales are so similar I suspect a kind of "Crosses-R-Us" operating in the mid 15th century. Transfer this to Herefordshire: take in a chunk of Gwent, too, if you like. Just how many people would have been building church towers just after the Archbishop of Canterbury instructed all churches to have bells in the early 15th century? A whole crop of castle-like church towers of that vintage, looking like a piece of Camelot. Can't we make a guess at some local "Towers-R-Us" building a lot of them in rotation, all around the same time?