Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Reflecting on church towers

click photos to enlarge
When I first saw the church of St Peter and St Paul at Wigtoft in Lincolnshire, I thought, "Ah, a Kentish tower." What is it about the tower that makes me think of the ragstone, flint and clunch churches of Kent? It's that stair turret that climbs the south-west corner of the tower from ground level and finishes as a crenellated projection above the tower top. This kind of turret is not exclusive to Kent, but that county does have a fondness for them that has caught not only my eye, but that of a few architectural historians.

Church towers come in many shapes and sizes. The two most common variants in England are the square tower that is often, though not always, crenellated, and the tower surmounted by a spire. Both of these forms seem to me to be visually satisfying shapes. I particularly like the broach style where a stone spire is placed on a tower leaving no space for parapet or crenellations. The round towers of Norfolk are interesting departures from the norm that I find often work quite well in a naive, rustic way. Some of the domes and cupolas that top eighteenth century towers are also welcome additions. However, a tower with a single, small turret of the sort seen here at Wigtoft, as well as in Kent, and reasonably commonly elsewhere throughout the country, always looks awkward to my eye, especially when it accompanies a spire. It's as though the builders couldn't make up their minds and decided to have the lot - tower, spire and turret - not appreciating that the two topmost projections compete for attention rather than complement each other, with over-elaborate fussiness being the end result.

Not everyone will agree with me on this, and there are those who will see the asymmetry that the turret introduces as romantic by form and association. I will concede that it can give a sort of "fairy tale" quality to a tower, though to my mind it is more Disney than Grimm. The Victorians liked these turrets and sometimes added them when they were undertaking a restoration. Wigtoft's turret may be original, but its stonework suggests that it could be a later addition. Did the turrets have an ecclesiastical or lay purpose? I don't know, though it is hard to imagine any benefits coming from a vantage point that is a mere six feet or so higher on a tower that would have been easily the tallest building in most towns and villages.

 I photographed the south side of Wigtoft church in the spring of 2010, but from a slightly different angle. And, for those who like such things, here is the original colour version of today's image. The remants of the morning's light fall of snow can be more easily seen in it.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 28mm
F No: 6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On