Buildwas Abbey Church, Shropshire

Feature Sets (3)

Description

The ruins of the Cistercian Abbey of Buildwas are sited on the S bank of the River Severn, in a wooded landscape between the Wrekin to the N and the Shropshire Hills to the S. In terms of modern settlement it is 10 miles SE of Shrewsbury. The abbey precinct may have covered up to 34 acres (Robinson 2002), and was bounded to the N by the Severn.  What remains today is the abbey church and the claustral buildings to N of it. Of these the buildings of the E range are the best preserved, although the W range is represented by low walls. Outside the main hub to the NE stand the remains of the Infirmary and the Abbot's Lodging.

This report is concerned only with the church. The cloister buildings are the subject of another entry on the website.

The church was founded in 1135 (see History) but it is generally agreed that the construction of the church that stands on the site today was begun in the 1150s or even the 1160s, and certainly after the absorption of the Savignac order into the Cistercians in 1147. It was a cruciform church with an aisleless vaulted, square-ended presbytery terminating in a trio of tall lancets; a crossing tower and unaisled transepts with a pair of E chapels on each arm. The outer bay of the N transept is raised to accommodate an undercroft. The aisled nave is of 7 bays  with no gallery of triforium but a clerestorey. The W facade had no entrance doorway but a pair of tall windows lighting the main vessel and a similar one for the S aisle (the W wall of the N aisle is lost but may anyway have been obscured by the W range of the cloister block). The site is now roofless, and the nave aisle walls are gone.

 

 

History

The Abbey was founded in 1135 by Roger de Clinton, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield for the order of Savigny. From the start the dedication was the same as that of Lichfield Cathedral, to St Mary and St Chad. In 1147 Buildwas became a Cistercian house when the Savignac order was merged with that of the Cistercians. The Abbey was dissolved in 1536, and in the following year the site was granted to Sir Edward Grey, Lord Powis, who settled the estate on his illegitimate son, also named Edward. He converted the buildings to the NE of the cloister into a grand residence, which was to be sold to Sir William Acton, along with the entire Buildwas estate, in 1648. It passed to Walter Moseley later in the century and remained in that family into the 20thc. In 1925 the now dilapidated buildings were placed in the guardianship of the Office of Works. The house remained in private ownership, while the church and cloister areas passed to the care of English Heritage in 1984.

Features

Exterior Features

Doorways

N transept N doorway

On the N transept N wall, a doorway opening onto a staircase leading down to the Book Room; ttowards the S end of the E range of the cloister. The doorway is single ordered with a tympanum. The jambs are plain and chamfered, carrying imposts that are quirked and hollow chamfered on the inner jambs only. These carry a segmental lintel made up of 6 voussoirs, with a round enclosing arch above. The infill between forms a crescent tympanum. The label is double chamfered. 

Windows

Abbey church W front, N nave window

Round headed and of 2 orders.

1st order

Continuous with a deep chamfer. outside this in the arch only is a band of sawtooth

2nd order

Originally with detached nook-shafts in the jamb but these are lost. The capitals remain in a catastrophically worn state. The N is tall with a plain necking and the remains of angle volutes or crockets. The S is a more elaborate crocket capital with 2 rows of crockets and a plain necking. Imposts have undercut hollows with rolls above and below and a narrow face above.

The badly eroded arch has an inner angle roll and on the face the remains of a row of lateral centripetal hyphenated chevron with palmettes in the chevron units. The lavel is quirled and chamfered.

Abbey church W front, S aisle window

Round headed and of 2 orders, like the nave windows to the N, but the S part of the arch and the upper part of the S jamb are lost.

1st order

Plain and continuous with a deep chamfer.

2nd order

Originally with detached nook-rolls, but these are lost. Only part of the N capital remains, with a pair of disc-like shields linked by an enclosing loop at the top, and the remains of a keeled volute or cone on the angle below. There is no impost block. 4 voussoirs of the arch remain; only the 1st 2 with any detail surviving, and these have an angle roll and face hollow. What remains of the label has a row of angle lozenges to the intrados, and bends to the horizontal above the N capital, forming a short stringcourse.

Abbey church W front, S nave window

Round headed and of 2 orders. There are a few differences from the N nave window alongside it, and these are described below

1st order

As the N nave window.

2nd order

As the N nave window but both capitals have 2 rows of crockets. The arch is irregular and may have been incorrectly reconstructed. IMost voussoirs han the inner angle roll, but 2 have a lozenge on the angle containing vegetal ornament. The face roll is a lateral centrpetal chevron roll on most voussoirs, but there is no sign of hypphenation. Most voussoirs are too badly eroded for the design to be described.

Nave N clerestory windows

There are 7 round-headed windows to the clerestory on each elevation, one above the centre of each arcade bay. Unusually the exteriors of the windows are less elaborate than the interiors. On the exterior each window is of 2 plain and continuous chamfered orders with a quirked chamfered label that continues as a stringcourse between the windows.

On the interior the windows are of 2 orders: the 1st plain and contiouous without a chamfer, and the 2nd with a plain arch originally carried on detached nook-shafts with capitals. All of the nook-shafts are missing. The capitals survive, but generally badly eroded. In 4 cases enough detail remains to attempt a description, and these are given below. Again there is a quirked chamfered label that continues as a stringcourse between the windows, and there is a similar, straight stringcourse at sill level.

Interior bay 2, E capital

A crocket capital with volutes at the angles carrying heavy globular crockets.

Interior bay 3, E capital

A crocket capital with angle volutes tapering at they rise and terminating in points.

Interior bay 7, E capital

A crocket capital with angle volutes terminating in windblown stiff-leaf.

Interior bay 7, W capital

A foliate capital, probably of the crocket type with elements of stiff-leaf.

Nave S clerestory windows

As the N clerestory, inside and out. The best preserved of the interior capitals are described below.

Interior bay 2, E capital

A crocket capital with ball crockets on keeled volutes.

Interior bay 5, E capital

As interior bay 2, E capital, but the crockets are replaced by bosses.

Interior bay 5, W capital

A volte capital with pointed and keeled leaves at the angles. That on the main angle broken at the tip.

Interior Features

Arches

Tower/Transept arches

E crossing arch

Slightly pointed and of 2 orders to E and W. The arch is curtailed by the chancel walls, so that the outer orders die into the walls and only the 1st order has supports; capitals on conical corbels rather than shafts. The N capital has a waterleaf design, doubled on the broad main face, and the S is quadruple scalloped on the main face with slightly pointed shields and shathed cones. neckings are plain and the quirked hollow chamfered imposts are continuous with those of the flanking crossing arches. The conical corbels are 4 courses high, and the top course on each side also has a necking. The arches in all orders are plain and square and there is a quirked chamfered label on the 2nd order, W face.

N crossing arch

Round headed, perhaps very slightly pointed, with 2 orders to N and S.

1st order (shared)

Engaged (coursed) half columns carrying capitals of different designs. On the W jamb is a broad flat leaf capital; the leaves on the angles separated by a pair of palmettes, their tips pointing downwards. The E jamb capital is multi-scalloped with 5 scallops on the main face and 2 on each side face. All shields are plain and the cones are sheathed by waterleaf motifs between them, their notched leaves covering the adjacent cones. Neckings are plain and imposts quirked hollow chamfered. The arch is plain and unmoulded.

2nd order N face

As 2nd order S face.

2nd order S face

Engaged (coursed) half columns carrying capitals of different designs, corresponding to the 1st order capitals. On the W jamb is a flat leaf capital, the angle leaves separated by inverted palmettes. On the broader E face of the capital the palmettes are flanked by raised looping stems. The E jamb capital is multi-scalloped as the 1st order, but with 4 scallops on the main face and 2 on each side face. Imposts and neackings are similar to those of the 1st order, and the plain unmoulded arch has a quirked chamfered label.

N transept arch to nave aisle

The arch is pointed and with 3 orders to E and W. All orders are plain and unmoulded in arch and jambs. Imposts are all quirked hollow chamfered and there is a 1uirked chamfered label to the E face.

N transept, E wall, N chapel arch

Each transept has 2 chapels on its E wall. The entrance arches are of 3 orders to E and W with slightly pointed arches. The arch and jamb orders are plain and unmoulded, the arches carried on quirked, hollow chamfered impost blocks. There are quirked chamfered labels to the 3rd order

The N arch of the N transept follows this pattern. The arch orders are generally worn with some vegetal growth, and the outer order of the W face has a loss to the outer N impost.

N transept, E wall, S chapel arch

As N transept E wall N chapel arch, but in generally fair condition with no major losses

S crossing arch

Slightly pointed with 2 orders to each face. The arch is similar to the N crossing arch except for details of the capitals, described below.

1st order (shared)

The E capital is quadruple scalloped on the main face with 2 scallops on each side face. The shields are plain but grooved around their lower edges. There are inverted cones between the cones of the bell. It is in excellent condition and may well be a copy, given the state of the capitals that flank it. The W capital is similar but there are 5 scallops on the main face. The shields are slightly pointed, and lines of blue paint have been applied to the groove outlining them, and to the quirke of the impost. These do not look original.

2nd order N face

The E capital is quadruple scalloped on the W face, double on the N face. The shields are grooved around their lower edge and the cones have waterleaf-type sheathes. The entire capital is seriously eroded. The W capital is of the volute type, with the voluets doubled (as if there were 2 capitals) on the broader E face. It is in good condition.

2nd order S face

The E capital is similar to that on the 2nd order N face, and it is also badly eroded. The W capital is disastrously eroded. There are what could be the remains of cones rising from the necking, but this is not certain, and all detail has been lost from the upper part.

S transept arch to nave aisle

As N transept arch to nave aisle.

S transept, E wall, N chapel arch

As N transept, E wall, N chapel arch in design but generally eroded and the imposts have lost all detail.

S transept, E wall, S chapel arch

The arch has lost its ashlar facing except for the lower part of the N jamb, below the arch springing, and most of the S jamb. There is no reason to suppose it was not originally as its companion to the N.

W crossing arch

As the E crossing arch, i.e. with supports for the first order only, consisting of capitals on conical corbels. Both capitals are of the waterleaf type, with the design doubled on the broader main faces. The S capital is much less eroded than the N, and appears to be a modern replacement.

Arcades

Nave

N arcade

An arcade of 7 bays carried on cylindrical piers except for pier 1, which is octagonal.  All capitals are square and have quirked hollow chamfered imposts. The arches are pointed with 2 plain orders, and the angles of the capitals are indented, mirroring the arch above. All capitals have plain neckings. 

E impost capital

Multiple scallop capital. Cones are undercut, resulting in a downward curving line that links all cones. Shields decorated with funnel-shaped indentation. 

Pier 1 capital

Multiple scallop. Cones are undercut, resulting in a downward curving line that links all cones. Corner shields deorated with a vertically arranged chain of beads.

Pier 2 capital

Multiple scallop capital. Cones are undercut, resulting in a downward curving line that links all cones. Corner shields decorated with a vertically arranged chain of beads.

Pier 3 capital

Multiple scallop capital. Cones are undercut, resulting in a downward curving line that links all cones. Corner shields decorated with a vertically arranged chain of beads.

Pier 4 capital

Multiple scallop capital.  E face: edges of cones decorated with a line of bead ornament. Shields on E face, L half of N face and R half of S face decorated with hollow funnel-shaped indentation. Outlines of these funnel-shaped decorated with row of bead ornament. On R half of N face, W face and L half of S face, there is no bead ornament on the shield or the cones and the funnel-shaped ornament in the centre is smaller and narrower. 

Pier 5 capital

Square, trumpet capital. Corner shields decorated with a vertically arranged chain of beads.

Pier 6 capital

Multiple scallop capital. Cones are undercut, resulting in a downward curving line that links all cones. Corner shields decorated with a vertically arranged chain of beads.

W impost capital

Multiple scallop capital 

S arcade

Generally as the N arcade. Variations of the capital forms are given below.

E impost capital

Multiple scallop capital. Cones are undercut, resulting in a downward curving line that links all cones. Shields decorated with funnel-shaped indentation. 

Pier 1 capital

Multiple scallop capital

Pier 2 capital

Multiple scallop capital. Cones are undercut, resulting in a downward curving line that links all cones. Corner shields deorated with a vertically arranged chain of beads.

Pier 3 capital

Multiple scallop capital. Cones are undercut, resulting in a downward curving line that links all cones. 

Pier 4 capital

Multiple scallop capital. Cones are undercut, resulting in a downward curving line that links all cones. The corner scallops on each side are decorated with a leaf, weathered.

Pier 5 capital

Multiple scallop capital. Cones are undercut, resulting in a downward curving line that links all cones. Scallops are flatter than on the N arcade.  

Pier 6 capital

Multiple scallop capital like (vi).  N face damaged. 

W impost capital

Multiple scallop capital

Vaulting/Roof Supports

Chancel

Chancel vault

Vaulting corbels remain high on the N and S walls of the chancel. They consist of capitals with semi-octagonal imposts on conical corbels that extend for 2 courses below the capital. The imposts have a vertical face with a groove towards the bottom and a lower angle roll. The N capital is a multi-trumpet scallop; its necking is chipped away and the lower stone of the conical corbel is lost. The S capital is decorated with stiff-leaf, it has a well preserved roll necking but the capital itself is eroded at the top.

Transept

N transept, N and S chapel vaults

Both N transept chapels have corbels for a quadripartite rib vault. The ribs survive for a few courses at each angle, and are flat with chamfered angles. The corbels are heavy and roll, cushion or scallop forms. Only the SW corbel of the S chapel was photographed.

Comments/Opinions

The earliest sculptures diagnostic of date are the flat leaf and waterleaf capitals of the crossing archches, possibly of the 1170s. The scalloped capitals in the same areas of the church, and in the nave arcades could, of course, be earlier, but the form was so long-lived as to be practically useless for dating purposes. The entire issue is clouded by the reflection that this was a Cistercian house, likely to be committed to plainer styles of ornament. The trumpet scallops and stiff leaf of the presbytery vault suggest a date in the closing decades of the 12thc. The nave arcade capitals are relatively plain scallops, but the clerestory capitals, where they have survived, are crockets or stiff-leaf. By the time the W front windows were reached the crocket capital was the norm, all of which tends to suggest that while the church was laid out from E to W as may be expected, much of the nave arcade sculpture was at least ready for use in the main arcade by 1160-70. It should be noted that the sedilia in the presbytery are a later addition of c.1230.

Bibliography

  • English Heritage, Buildwas Abbey, HMSO, 1978, reprinted 1996.

  • Historic England Listed Building, English Heritage Legacy ID: 258803

  • J. Newman and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Shropshire New Haven and London 2006, 

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Shropshire, Harmondsworth 1958, 88-90.

  • D. M. Robinson, Buildwas Abbey Shropshire, London (English Heritage Guidebook) 2002, revised and reprinted 2014.

  • Victoria County History: Shropshire, 2, 1973, 50-59.

Location

Site Location
Buildwas Abbey Church
National Grid Reference
SJ 637 048 
Boundaries
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Shropshire
now: Shropshire
Diocese
now: Hereford
medieval: Hereford
Dedication
now:
medieval: St Mary and St Chad (1135)
Type of building/monument
Former abbey church  
Report authors
Barbara Zeitler, Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
27 September 1998 (BZ), 10 May 2017 (RB)