Friday, March 20, 2009

Long Compton, Warwickshire

Resting place

Many churchyards have a little entrance building called a lych gate. The word ‘lych’ means corpse, and the idea of a lych gate was that it was where the deceased and mourners stopped before going to the graveside. Traditionally what happened was that the bearers would bring the corpse, shrouded or coffined according to the custom of the time, to the gate. Here, beneath the sheltering lych gate roof, the priest would meet them and read the first part of the burial service before the body was placed on a bier and taken to the grave.

Lych gates are usually simple wooden structures, rather like a shed roof supported by a post at each corner. Sometimes, though, there’s a more substantial building at the entrance to the churchyard. In the Cotswolds there are quite a few stone ones and sometimes even when they’re made of wood lych gates can be substantial structures. But here is something completely different. This building began life as a small cottage, with stone end walls and timber-framed sides. It was originally part of a row, but the others were demolished, leaving this survivor – it was a shop for a while, apparently – eventually losing some of its lower walls to form an entranceway to the churchyard.

Round the back, on the church side of the building, the timber frame has brick infill. Just another small surprise in this little structure made of stone, brick, timber, and thatch. It’s an interesting example of the way buildings that are no longer needed for their original purpose can be adapted to play a new role. Sometimes this means making a radical change, as here, where entire lower walls were removed, opening up what was once a downstairs room. Ruthless surgery, then, saved the building, gave it a new life, and provided a welcome shelter and landmark in the centre of this attractive village.


Thud said...

Upon looking at pic I was immediately struck by the strange layout and construction...I should read on before thinking it seems.

Peter Ashley said...

Love it, especially in the mist. It reminds me of Penshurst in Kent, where the rest of the row is extant.

Vinogirl said...

Just wish they had somewhere else to keep the dust bins!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Vinogirl: I quite agree! They need a still smaller timber framed structure to hide the bins in. I'm always bending over backwards to exclude dustbins from photographs, even wheeling the things round the corner while I take a shot, but sometimes the camera just has to tell the truth!

Christina said...

There is a rather lovely lychgate at the church of St. Mary's in Whitkirk (Leeds) which, I believe, dates from the 14th century and is close to the entrance of Temple Newsam (an original Templar property). Alongside the wooden lychgate, there seem to be similar stopping places inside the the porchways to the church, which have always intrigued me.
Thank you for such an interesting explanation of the gates :-)

Anonymous said...

Sadly, this attractive Lychgate is in serious need of re-thatching, as the roof is leaking. Funds are hard to obtain. The local History Society holds its village archives in it. Any suggestions for help ??