St Mary Magdalene, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Feature Sets (3)

Description

St Mary Magdalene is a rare example of a substantially complete 12thc. chapel, surviving on a most unlikely site on the busy Newmarket Road, alongside the disused Barnwell Junction railway station, and opposite Cambridge United football ground. It is a small, two-cell church with a square-ended ashlar chancel, originally vaulted, and a pebble nave with brick repairs. The outer angles of both nave and chancel have stone quoin shafts. The roof was renewed in the 15thc. The chapel fell into disrepair and when Cotman illustrated it in 1819 it was in use as a stable. Sir George Gilbert Scott restored it in 1867, and he was responsible for the main W window. 12thc. sculpture includes the lavish N and S doorways and nave and chancel windows, external and internal decorative friezes, the quoin shafts mentioned above, and the chancel arch.

History

The earliest documentary evidence for the chapel is in the Pipe Roll for 1169. According to Pearce, it was built at the beginning of the 12th century as part of the nearby Leper hospital of St Mary Magdalene. The present author prefers a date in the 1130s (see VIII). In 1211 King John granted the lepers the right to hold a three-day fair on the Vigil of Holy Cross. Stourbridge Fair became one of the great fairs of Europe, and survived until 1933. Rent from the stalls and booths added to the lepers income, which was otherwise derived from begging on the roadside, and from crops which they grew. In 1279 the hospital ceased to receive lepers and the Chapel was transformed into a free chapel — there was no associated parish at this time. In 1751 the Chapel ceased to be a place of worship, instead being used to store stalls between fairs. In 1783 it was advertised for sale as a store shed. After changing hands several times, in 1816 it was bought and restored by Thomas Kerrich, who then gave it to the University, who in turn gave it the Cambridge Preservation Society in 1951.

Features

Exterior Features

Doorways

N doorway, nave

Round-headed, two orders with tympanum and lintel, blocked.

Dimensions
h. of opening [to come]
w. of opening [to come]
First order:

Plain jambs with chamfered lintel and pebble rubble-faced tympanum.

Second order:

En-delit nook-shafts on worn bases with worn double-scallop capitals. Imposts and neckings as S doorway. The arch has a quadrant profile with centrifugal lateral chevron, one quirked roll on the soffit and two more on the face. The label projects strongly and has a quadrant section with a chamfered extrados. On the face are three rows of billet.

S doorway, nave

Round-headed, two orders.

Dimensions
h. of opening 2.43 m
w. of opening 1.03 m
First order:

Continuous with angle rolls to inside and outside with a quirk between (in the middle of the soffit).

Second order:

En-delit nook-shafts on worn cushion bases. The W capital is a double scallop with half-daisies in the shields and an extra scallop roll on the bell between the two main scallops on either face. Roll necking and hollow chamfered impost with an angle roll between face and chamfer. The E capital is a badly eroded double scallop with wedges between the scallops and at the angle. Impost and necking as W capital. In the arch, centrifugal face chevron, hollow-roll profile, with a chevron angle roll and hollow triangles on the soffit. The unusual label projects strongly and is supported on projecting imposts similar to those of the second order. The extrados is plain and chamfered, the face and soffit are decorated with chevron, a quirked roll on the angle of the face, point-to-point with a roll lateral to the soffit. This encloses lozenges, some with relief quatrefoils.

Windows

Chancel, N wall

Two orders, round-headed.

First order:

Continuous and chamfered.

Second order:

En-delit nook-shafts on hollow/roll bases supporting double scallop capitals with imposts and neckings as on the S doorway, second order. The arch has an angle roll, and on the face, nine bifurcated leaves with a pellet in each fork.

Chancel, S wall

Two orders, round-headed.

First order:

Continuous and chamfered with a diaper pattern of quatrefoils and pellets in the head.

Second order:

Octagonal nook-shafts on hollow/roll bases. The W shaft is carved with chevron, alternately roll and hollow, with the vees pointing up and down at the top and L and R at the bottom. The centre of the shaft is squared off, and each face has a medallion with a sexfoil daisy. The E shaft is a plain, octagonal replacement. The capitals are both double scallops, the W with half-daisies in the shields and the E with a roll between the scallops. Imposts are as on the S doorway, second order, but with remains of a lozenge decoration on the face. Plain roll neckings. In the arch is centrifugal face chevron, a quirked roll inside a quirked hollow with a cogwheel edge.

Nave, N wall

Two orders, round-headed.

First order:

Continuous and chamfered.

Second order:

En-delit nook-shafts on hollow/roll bases supporting capitals with imposts and neckings as on the S doorway, second order. The W capital a plain cushion; the E is a cushion with angle tucks. In the arch, centrifugal face chevron with cogwheel edge — a chevron angle roll and three face fillets. The interior is as the S window, but the arch is complete and while the W capital has an angle tuck; the E does not.

Nave, S wall

Two orders, round-headed.

First order:

Continuous and chamfered.

Second order:

En-delit nook-shafts on hollow/roll bases supporting capitals with imposts and neckings as on the S doorway, second order. The W capital is a double scallop with rolls between the scallops on the shields; the E is a cushion with angle tucks. In the arch, centrifugal face chevron with cogwheel edge — a chevron angle roll and three face fillets. The interior is also of two orders, the first plain, continuous and splayed, the second on en-delit nook shafts with chamfered bases. The cushion capitals (with angle tucks) have plain square chamfered neckings. The imposts are hollow chamfered with angle rolls between face and chamfer. The top section of the arch is missing. In the remaining parts is a design of lateral face chevron; a chevron angle roll with a cogwheel edge and three chevron fillets on the face.

Nave W wall, lower windows

Two oculi with angle rolls immediately below the upper string course.

Nave W wall, upper window

This is by Scott and copies the nave S window.

Exterior Decoration

String courses

Chancel

Sawtooth string course running around the chancel at the level of the N and S chancel window sills is a double chamfered string course with one row of sawtooth on the face and one on the lower chamfer.

Chancel

At the E end of the S chancel wall at the original eaves level (which is slightly higher than at present) is a short section of triple-billet string course which originally, perhaps, encircled the chancel at this level. At any rate it turns the corner onto the E wall, but then continues across the E wall much lower down. The wall above it shows signs of rebuilding. There is no sign of the string course on the N chancel wall.

Nave

Running around the nave at the level of the N and S window sills (which is the same as the imposts of the nave doorways) is a double chamfered string course with two rows of sawtooth on the face and one on the lower chamfer.

Nave

Running around the nave at the level of the N and S eaves is a triple billet string course. It continues across the W facade at the same level, where it appears to be original. On the N wall much of the string course is missing at the E end on the nave.

Miscellaneous

Quoin shafts

At the four angles of the nave and the two E angles of the chancel are coursed angle shafts without bases but with capitals. There are two shafts at each angle, with their capitals supporting each string course. The capitals are all badly worn, and only the following descriptions can be made with any confidence:

Chancel upper NE angle:

Cushion capital with wedges at the angles.

Chancel, upper SE angle:

Double scallop with angle tucks and rolls between the scallops. Shields may have flower decoration. Alongside this capital, on the same block, is a large daisy.

Nave lower SE capital:

May be a plain cushion.

Nave upper NE capital:

Double scallop with flower in the shield. Nave upper SW capital: may be a tucked cushion capital.

Nave upper SE capital:

May be a tucked cushion capital.

Reset stones

At N end of E chancel wall, above billet string course: a chevron voussoir of the type found on the S nave window.

At E end of N chancel wall, two courses below the eaves: a chevron voussoir as (a).

Immediately above and W of N chancel window: a chevron voussoir as (a).

Immediately to W of (ii): a reset window head.

Interior Features

Arches

Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

Round headed and of two orders to W and one to E.

First order (shared):

Plain jambs with coursed angle shafts to E and W on tall roll-hollow bases. On the N side the shafts have sheathed cushion capitals with half-daisies in the shields. This design continues between the shaft capitals as a multi-scallop capital to the jamb reveal. The necking is a roll and the impost chamfered with a hollow above a roll on the chamfer, and an angle roll between face and chamfer. The arrangement on the S is identical but the capitals have undecorated shields and the imposts are hollow chamfered with an angle roll. In the arch to the E is an angle roll. To the W is point-to-point chevron — single rolls on face and soffit — with raised pyramids in the lozenges on the arris.

Second order (W only):

En-delit nook shafts supporting capitals with roll neckings and imposts as the first order on both N and S. The N capital is a double scallop with rolls between the scallops and half-daisies in the shields. The S has the same design but the shields are plain. In the arch two rows of lateral face chevron, both rolls, point-to-point with a single row on the soffit. In the lozenge-shaped fields between are truncated cones with a single pellet recessed in the top.

Vaulting/Roof Supports

Chancel

NE and SE angles

At the NE and SE angles of the chancel are cylindrical shafts on roll-hollow bases and square plinths set obliquely in the corners. The NE shaft is taller and has a damaged capital with three sheathed scallops on the main (SW) face and two on the NW and SE faces. The three shields on the main face are decorated with sexfoil flowers with fluted petals. The necking is a roll.

Dimensions
NE shaft:
h. of capital and necking 0.21 m
overall h. including plinth and capital 1.34 m
w. of capital (NW to SE) 0.37 m
w. of capital (SW to NE) 0.19 m

Comments/Opinions

It seems probable that a workshop from Ely Cathedral was responsible for the sculpture here. Specific features with parallels at Ely are the sawtooth and billet string courses and the forms of chevron on doors, windows and chancel arch. The sawtooth and billet are found in the earliest work at the cathedral, and continue throughout the building of the nave (c.1100–20), and the lower storeys of the SW transept. It is in the external gallery of the SW transept that the closest parallels for the forms of chevron found in the Leper chapel occur. This workshop was at Ely in the late 1120s, and may have come to Cambridge in the 1130s. The forms of scallop capital with decorated shields found on the chancel arch suggest the later date.

Bibliography

  • F. S. L. Johnson, A Catalogue of Romanesque Sculpture in Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely. M.Phil (London, Courtauld Institute), 1984.

  • C. Jones, The Chapel of St Mary Magdalene at Sturbridge, Cambridge 1926.

  • B. Pearce, Stourbridge Leper Chapel: A brief history. Cambridge Preservation Society 2003.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Cambridgeshire, Harmondsworth 1954 (2nd ed. 1970), 227–28.

Location

Site Location
Cambridge
National Grid Reference
TL 472 595 
Boundaries
now: Cambridgeshire
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Cambridgeshire
Diocese
medieval: Lincoln (Dorchester to 1085)
now: Ely
Dedication
now: St Mary Magdalene
medieval: St Mary Magdalene
Type of building/monument
Chapel, formerly Leper Hospital Chapel  
Report authors
Ron Baxter