St Nicholas, Twywell, Northamptonshire

Feature Sets (3)


St Nicholas' was an early 12thc. cruciform church without aisles. The N transept has been removed, but its arch is visible inside and out. The S transept was overbuilt by a S aisle, but the arch remains as bay 1 of the S arcade, including its E respond and capital. The remainder of the S arcade is 13thc. A 14thc. clerestorey was added on both sides of the nave. The N nave doorway remains from the early 12thc. campaign; the more elaborate reset S doorway could be slightly later. Plain 12thc. windows survive in the chancel N wall, the nave N wall, the W tower W wall, and reset in the S aisle W wall. The chancel can thus be dated to the 12thc. too, although its S windows indicate a remodelling c.1300. It has a S chapel now housing the organ and vestry. Finally the 12thc. W tower is of three storeys with much-altered bell-openings and a corbel table. A parapet with quatrefoil frieze and battlements was added in the 15-16thc. there was a spire which collapsed in 1699.


In 1086 the manor of three hides was held by Thorney abbey, with another holding of 1½ hides in the hands of Countess Judith. No church was recorded.

Benefice of Cranford with Grafton Underwood and Twywell.


Exterior Features


N doorway

Round headed, one order with tympanum.

The tympanum is carved with an overall design of diagonal chequers. It is supported at its ends on roll corbels, and between these the lower edge is carved with an angle roll decorated with alternately plain and beaded cable, turning in opposite directions at each end to meet in a vee at the centre. The label is chamfered, carved on the chamfer with chip-carved saltire crosses in squares, with pellets between the arms. The roll corbels have quatrefoil daisies on their outer faces and are carved along their length with a single unit of chevron, alternately plain and beaded. The jambs are plain.

h. of opening 1.73 m
w. of opening 0.74 m

S doorway

Round headed, two orders. The doorway is reset under a later porch.

First order: continuous with an angle roll.

Second order: en-delit nook shafts on roll/hollow bases carrying scallop capitals (described below) and imposts with a quirked hollow chamfer below a tall face with a double-roll at the bottom. The arch is carved with interlocking chevron: a quirked roll lateral to the soffit interlocking with another lateral to the face. At top centre of this order, on the face, is the head of a king, crowned, beardless but with a moustache. His hair forms an untidy fringe across his forehead and falls in short locks on either side of his head. His eyes are almond-shaped and drilled, his nose damaged, his jaw fleshy. The chamfered label is carved with a row of billet on the chamfer and a row of sawtooth on the face.

W capital: double scallop, the lower edges of the shields outlined with beading. The bell is not scalloped, but in the centre of each is a palmette rising from the necking. This is square in section and decorated with a row of sawtooth.

E capital: double scallop, the lower edges of the shields outlined with beading. This time the bell is scalloped, and overlaying the scalloping is a large palmette on the angle and two smaller ones on each face. The necking is also decorated with sawtooth.

h. of opening 2.51 m
w. of opening 1.07 m


W tower, E double bell-opening

The most restored of the four. The nook-shafts have been removed and replaced by plain jambs to the outer order. There original existence is proved by the coursing and by the remains of stiff-leaf capitals, which are still in place. The enclosing arch is less depressed than the S and W arches, and the head it encloses is a replacement with segmental heads to each light. The central shaft has no capital

W tower, N double bell-opening

Similar to (ii), except that the enclosing arch has been remade as a semicircular one and filled with tracery, apparently c1300. The central shaft capital has been replaced with a square block.

W tower, S double bell-opening.

Two orders; the outer originally with nook-shafts, now lost along with their capitals and bases. There are plain blocks for imposts carrying a depressed plain enclosing arch. The central shaft between the windows is octagonal with a simple chamfered block capital. It now bears a replacement window head of roughly-coursed ahlar, with low triangular-headed openings.

W tower, W double bell-opening

Similar to (i) but better preserved and rather puzzling. The outer order descends well below the sill of the inner order, and the en-delit nook-shafts survive to demonstrate that this was the original arrangement. These carry badly worn capitals, apparently stiff-leaf, with no separate impost blocks, but projecting imposts carved from the same block as the capital. The enclosing arch is again depressed, but the heads of each opening are segmental. The central shaft and capital are the same as (i).

Exterior Decoration

String courses

W tower, top of second storey

A chamfered string course carved with a row of nailhead on the chamfer running all around the tower.

Corbel tables, corbels

W tower, top of third storey

The corbels now support the Perpendicular top of the tower.

SW angle: badly worn triple human head corbel, the W head best preserved with wide, open mouth.

S1: worn.

S2: double human head, the heads turned away from one another, both with tragic mouths.

S3: S-shaped console.

S4: worn human head, square with bulging eyes.

S5: worn and damaged at the bottom.

S6: of ironstone and encrusted with lichen. Apparently a composite human head with cat ears.

SE angle: three heads. On the S face a doglike head with long snout; on the angle a worn head; on the E a grotesque composite head with heavy brow and down-turned open mouth.

E1: console with bulbous lower part and scroll at top.

E2: as E1.

E3: Grotesque double head with two long-nosed human heads side by side, apparently sharing a single mouth.

E4: Composite head with human face with bulging eyes and doglike jaw with mouth open.

E5: Human head with bulging eyes, pointed nose and tragic mouth.

NE angle: triple human head corbel. E head worn. Central head with open mouth split in half by tooth, pointed nose. N head human with large round jaw and down-turned mouth.

N1: Human head, the lower part twisted violently to the R. Bulging eyes and tragic mouth. A very dramatic corbel quite well preserved.

N2: Female exhibitionist with large head and tiny body, holding straight legs open with her hands.

N3-N4: hidden behind clock.

N5: Human head with bulging eyes.

N6: Human head holding mouth open wide with both hands.

NW angle: three heads, all worn. The N head long with down-turned mouth; the central with mouth wide open screaming; the W with a tragic mouth.

W1: wide fleshy human head with open mouth split in half by tooth or tongue.

W2: Composite head with human face with bulging eyes and doglike jaw with mouth open.

W3: human head with down-turned mouth.

W4: human head with down-turned mouth, slightly askew.

W5: worn human head with open mouth offset to the R.

W6: as E1.

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

Transept arches

S arch

Round headed, now bay 1 of the S nave arcade. The arch survives, with two plain orders to N and S; and the E respond - a plain pilaster with a flat multi-scallop capital, the shields grooved along their lower edges, and the scallops with short rolls between them. The necking is a thin roll and the impost plain and chamfered.


Zarnecki (1958) compared the king's head on the S doorway with those similarly placed on the Vestry and Monks' doorways at Ely Cathedral. The roll corbels on the N doorway he compared to the later rolls on the Monk's doorway, and they should also be compared to the similarly placed corbels on the Ely N transept doorway and at Wentworth (Cambs). He dated the S doorway c.1130. A similar date is reasonable for the N doorway and what remains of the transept arches. The tower corbels must be later. The best-preserved and most effective of these are on the N face (N1, N2, N6), but the overall quality is good and comparisons should perhaps be sought on the W transept of Ely Cathedral, dateable to the end of the 12thc.


  • Victoria County History: Northamptonshire. III (1930)
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Northamptonshire. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. B. Cherry 1973, 436-37.
  • G. Zarnecki, The Early Sculpture of Ely Cathedral. London 1958, 22, 45, pl.18.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SP 952 782 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Northamptonshire
now: Northamptonshire
medieval: Lincoln (Dorchester to 1085)
now: Peterborough
now: St Nicholas
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter