Friday, April 23, 2010

Greensted Church, a wooden survivor

click photo to enlarge
Architectural historians the length and breadth of Britain know of Greensted church in Essex. I've been familiar with it through books for thirty odd years, but only got to visit it a few days ago. What makes this church so famous (if any parish church can be said to be so)? Well, it is the only surviving example in Britain of a type that in Saxon times was widespread - the log church.

The nave walls of Greensted church are made of 51 oak logs cut lengthwise. Grooves in the sides of the logs took long tongues of wood that sealed any gaps. The logs had tenons at the base to slot into a wooden sill (now replaced with a brick wall due to rot). At the corner of the wall, where it turns towards the timber spire, a log with a quarter section removed was used. Only one of these remains today. Dendrochronology shows that these wooden walls were erected between 1063 and 1100. This makes them Saxo-Norman in architectural terms. Inside the church the flat sides of the logs form the wall surface. In fact, like many Essex churches (an area of little good building stone) much of this building is made of timber and like almost all old parish churches it has been altered several times down the centuries. The brick chancel is early sixteenth century, the weatherboarded west tower is probably eighteenth century, and the nave roof and south porch are Victorian.

Greensted church is a remarkable survivor, not only the sole remaining representative of the log churches, but also the oldest standing timber building in the country (and Europe according to the church guide). I broke off my recent journey to London to take in Greensted, and was fortunate to arrive when the late afternoon sun was showing through the cloud. At that time of day a church with a west tower is best photographed from the south west to avoid glare and too much shadow on the building. For the first shot I placed myself as far back as the churchyard boundary and trees would allow. The second shot, showing the north side, was much easier to get.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1 (Photo 2)
Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.) (17mm (34mm/35mm equiv.))
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/500 (1/250)
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 (-0.3) EV
Image Stabilisation: On