Friday, 17 August 2012

Open Sesame

The Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham's enterprising Open Churches weekends in July were the answer to a church crawler's prayer. Our foray on 22nd into the countryside between Newark and Tuxford revealed some attractive churches and unexpected teasures.

Armed with Ashley Emery's magnificent Open Churches guidebook (Ashley is the son of our friend and former colleague Mike Emery) we selected 5 that were close to each other and all open on the same day. Some, it has to be said, were offering tea and cake.

All Saints, Sutton on Trent, one that did, was clearly an important church when it was built in the 13th Century. It still looks the part, with a substantial corner-buttressed tower, battlemented clerestorey and pinnacled Meering Chapel, built onto the chancel in 1525.
All Saints, Sutton on Trent
 The church is unusual in having escaped a Victorian renovation and one of the original features is the surviving rood screen and loft, complete with stairs, built between the south aisle and the Chapel, (rather than across the chancel arch - the pattern  we discovered at Coates by Stow in Lincolnshire on a previous trip). Altogether, a splendid Grade I listed building with an authentic medieval interior.
Medieval rood loft and Meering Chapel
Across the A1, the fascinating Our Lady of Egmanton very definitely did undergo a Victorian renovation. A shrine to the Virgin existed here in the Middle Ages and the lord of the manor, the Anglo-Catholic 7th Duke of Newcastle, revived the tradition in the 1890s. He commissioned the celebrated Gothic Revivalist architect Sir Ninian Comper to restore the interior, with a colourful rood loft and screen and Marian statuary. The screen has panels of saints in red and gold and a canopy of honour. "A glowing casket of colourful woodwork, candles and statuary", says Simon Jenkins, which merits inclusion in his  thousand best churches list .
Sumptuous rood screen by Ninian Comper

At our next church, St Michael and the Archangel in Laxton, we were welcomed, as we were in Egmanton, by an organist and by informative guides. The church is one of the largest in Nottinghamshire and has effigies and gargoyles galore.
The 5 Wounds of Christ
 The carving on the north aisle screen of the five wounds of Christ has a historical reference, as these were the symbol of the Pilgrimage of Grace, a rebellion against the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. Was Laxton a centre for a time of the old order in the Church?

A striking mid 20th Century statue by Stanislas Reychan depicts the Biblical story of the harrowing of hell. A plaque explains that Christ descended into hell on Easter Saturday, stabbing Satan and releasing all the souls there bar three - Herrod, Cain and Judas.

The Harrowing of Hell

Still in Laxton parish, the hamlet of Moorhouse has its own tiny church. The chapel was rebuilt in 1861 by the landowner, J E Denison, of Ossington, who was also the Speaker of the House of Commons. Access is through a farmyard but the interior is worth the trek.

Interior of Moorhouse chapel
The chapel in a farmyard
 The style is French Gothic and it is freshly painted, with decorative mini-columns near the altar.
Mini columns

Nollekins statue of Robert Denison
J.E. Denison's Hall at nearby Ossington has long been demolished but the Holy Rood church alongside the ruins is in fine condition. It is in a simple Georgian style, built in 1785 to plans by John Carr of York. It has fine glass and monuments, including statues of William and Robert Denison by the celebrated 18th Century sculptor, Joseph Nollekins.

Holy Rood, Ossington
Some monuments remain from the ealier medieval church that was replaced on the site, including the Elizabethan tomb of William Cartwright, his wife, Grace and 12 children. Some hold skulls, showing that they pre-deceased their parents.

After a surprising Georgian find, Norwell, our final church in this series, was back in the medieval mould, with effigies, corbel faces and a green man looking down from the roof. The church was large, light and airy, with a splendid clerestory. One of the columns felt decidedly cold and damp to the touch and the churchwarden told us that there had been a well under the church at one time. We were particularly grateful for the offer of hot tea at this point.

We were saddened to hear that lead had been stolen from the roof (a recurrent theme in these postings) but heartened that coated stainless steel had been allowed as a replacement in a Grade I listed building. Finally, Norwell benefits from a very detailed history on the Southwell and Nottingham Church History Project web site, which can be found at:

Face on corbel
Effigy of a lady, south aisle

St Laurence, Norwell

Click on any photo to enlarge it.

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