Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Longborough, Gloucestershire

Line and light 

A few weeks ago, as the gravity of the coronavirus outbreak seemed to become more grave, but before it had taken hold in this country, I found the need to go and sit somewhere quietly, and collect my thoughts. The garden room office where I write a lot of my books and blog posts would normally be the place for this but for some reason, a church seemed to call me and I made my way to Longborough on the Cotswolds a few miles from here. I’d visited before a couple of times, and I wanted to look again at one of the most impressive bits of window tracery in a small church and to contemplate some of the contents of the building, which has an interesting collection of monuments.
Longborough church, originally built in the Norman period, was made over and extended in the 14th century, when a south transept was added. The glory of this addition is the enormous south-facing window, which is so big it takes up practically the whole of the transept’s southern wall. This is masonry and design of a pretty high order – right at the top of the range (one might even say over the top) for a village church. The pattern of the tracery with its complex curves is the sort thing that mason excelled at in the 14th century – the first half of the century, especially, before the Black Death struck and building came to a halt (or at least a major slowdown) in the years after 1350. It’s what Victorian antiquarians (and the rest of us, for convenience) called the Decorated Gothic style, and it’s certainly decorative.* There’s another more complex but less curvilinear example of the style here

The window is a huge contrast – in both size and design – to the much smaller, plainer nave windows to the left. These were probably installed in the 15th century. Does the big window overwhelm the church, distracting us from the church’s other features, such as the tower? In a way, yes. But one can’t blame whoever the master mason was who created it, when he was given the chance to produce something truly memorable by a patron who, presumably, had a deep purse. It’s not known who these people were, and there would have been another, the person who filled the window with stained glass. The medieval glass has long gone, but even here there’s a gain in the face of this loss. With this big opening now glazed with clear or pale-coloured glass, the interior of the transept is flooded with light.

More on that in a couple of days...

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* A reader quite rightly points out that it was a Georgian, Thomas Rickman, who invented the terms (Early English, Decorated, Perpendicular), which are now familiar in discussions of Gothic architecture. This is quite true and Rickman's book, An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of English Architecture From the Conquest to the Reformation (1817), was reprinted many times. It was, though, in the Victorian period that the use of these terms became widespread, though not universal.

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