Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Elkstone, Gloucestershire

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.


Anonymous said...

My wife and I have visited this church often (we live in the States) and love it. Have you been to the little church in Syde? Charming location; too bad that someone stole the bit of stained glass showing St James, for whom the church was named.--Gary

Philip Wilkinson said...

Anon: Yes, I've visited Syde, which is charming. So are many of the churches in this bit of Gloucestershire. Another church in this area that I like is the one at Duntisbourne Rouse.

bazza said...

Don't you think it's humbling how a mostly twelfth c. structure still has the power to fascinate and intrigue to this day? One feels very close to history sometimes.
Click here for Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: Yes. When I start looking closely at some of these old buildings, I can see, for example, the very marks of the masons' chisels. Things like that take one very close to history, I think. said...

Looks lovely in the snow. Great to see the old features like the pigeon holes.

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