Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Melbourne, Derbyshire

Regular readers of this blog will remember the post a couple of weeks back about the parish church at Elkstone, Gloucestershire, an attractive small church in the Norman style of the 12th century. Here’s another Norman church, but on an altogether larger scale. This is a church planned like a cathedral. There’s a grand west front with twin towers and a large entrance portal. Inside, the nave is lined by round piers and semi-circular arches, high above which are yet more arches – and all on a scale you’d normally expect in a church in a much more important town or city. The imposing effect of the architecture is enhanced with plenty of carving too – zigzags around the arches, together with a plainer moulding that gives the design a more restrained look than Elkstone. The tops of the piers have capitals with crosses, scrolls, and other designs. Elsewhere there are some interesting animal carvings, all from the 12th century.

Why did this place have such an imposing church? Apparently the place was an outpost of the bishops of Carlisle, who used to come down to south Derbyshire when the going got tough in their northern bishopric on the border with Scotland. And so visitors to Melbourne get a pleasant surprise. The church is tucked away down a side street and most people don’t find it unless they’ve come to see Melbourne Hall, the local big house, which is nearby. Those who do stumble on it discover one of the gems of English building.

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