Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire

Into the wood

St Edward’s church stands in the middle of the Cotswold market town of Stow-on-the-Wold. It’s medieval and, even though it’s tucked away from the main square – one way in is down a side street, another approach is via an alley – it must be very much visited. I suspect, though, that many visitors don’t notice the doorway in my photograph. That’s because it’s the north door, and the main entrance is through the south door, which is the one you see as you approach the church via the most obvious route. People who don’t walk around a church as well as going inside often miss architectural and scenic treats, and this is both.

The church is very old – parts date back to the 11th or 12th century – but, like most parish churches, it was altered in the medieval period and later. The north porch is said to date form the 17th or 18th century. It’s in the gothic style developed in the Middle Ages, but the way in which the arch is top by a band of little windows is unusual. This kind of window isn’t something I’ve noticed in a church before – maybe it’s a local mason’s invention, maybe there are other examples I have missed. Whichever is the case, it’s pleasant, and must bring useful additional light into the porch.

Many people, however, won’t even notice the architecture. It’s the trees that catch the eye, a pair of yews of considerable age, growing so hard by the arch that they seem part of it. Building and trees seem to be growing together, and one hopes that the slow-growing yew’s roots are not doing too much damage to the building, as it’s an effect I’d be loth to lose.

When I researched this doorway online, I chanced on websites run for Tolkien enthusiasts that compared the doorway to the doors of Durin in The Lord of the Rings. Speculation was rife that the writer had been inspired by the doorway – Stow can be reached from Tolkien’s Oxford home in an hour or so, after all. Well, maybe. I don’t think there’s any hard evidence that the novelist came here, and it would not have been hard for Tolkien to have the idea independently, especially as these doors were made by Dwarves and Elves, and the Elven folk lived in an arboreal world. And the architecture pedant in me wants to point out that Tolkien’s archway is Romanesque and semicircular, while the entrance at Stow is pointed and Gothic. Trees and churches, trees and the sacred and significant: they’re never far apart, although rarely as physically close as here.


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Hate to be picky - Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, and was brought up in Birmingham. Yew trees are rather otherworldly in any case, I feel.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you. So he was. I used the word 'native' carelessly there, and have corrected the post.

bazza said...

It's hard to believe that anyone living in that area could not have visited Stow or all of the other Cotswolds delights! I think it maybe one of my favourite UK locations, although it's on a very long list!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s joyously judicious Blog ‘To Discover Ice’