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The medieval stone-built churches of the Pennines are often characterised by a long, low shape, rather like the medieval farm houses of the northern uplands. But, whereas the latter came about by the living accommodation and barns being side by side and in one building, in the case of churches it was due to technological and, perhaps, stylistic reasons.
If you look at medieval churches across England, and especially in the north country, you will soon begin to notice a triangular shape on the east wall of the tower above the nave roof. You can see such a shape on St Alkelda in Giggleswick, North Yorkshire (above - below the clock). It is a drip mould designed to stop water flowing the down that face of the tower and penetrating the roof. Instead it is made to flow onto the slates, tiles or thatch of the nave roof and thence to gutters and gargoyle spouts. The moulding is revealed for all to see because, of course, the roof that it was designed to serve is no longer there. The availability, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, of cheaper lead in large sheets prompted a widespread migration from steeply pitched church roofs that didn't always work as well as they should, and which needed frequent maintenance, to lower pitched lead-covered roofs. These were frequently so low as to be invisible behind the parapets of the naves and chancels, and sometimes those of the aisles too.
One has to believe that the builders and church authorities who sanctioned the widespread introduction of low, lead-covered roofs decided that the advantages outweighed the less attractive appearance of the building. Certainly that wasn't the case when the Victorian restorers set to work on these churches. Quite a few lamented the lead roofs and in more than a few instances the pitched roofs were reinstated. This didn't happen at Giggleswick. We were there on an overcast evening after a bright day when the view from the side of the churchyard that is allowed to produce hay and grow a little wild offered an interesting image. It reminded me of how many such places looked in the 1960s and 1970s before powered mowers came into widespread use and memorial-strewn lawns replaced long grasses blowing in the wind.
photograph and text © Tony Boughen
Photo Title: St Alkelda, Giggleswick, North Yorkshire
Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 14mm (28mm - 35mm equiv.) crop
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On