St George, Damerham, Hampshire

Feature Sets (4)

Description

Damerham is a village in W Hampshire, on the NW edge of the New Forest, 8 miles S of Salisbury and 3 miles NW of Fordingbridge. It has been a part of Hampshire only since 1895, when 8 parishes on the SE edge of Wiltshire (South Damerham, Martin, Melchet Park, Plaitford, West Wellow, Toyd Farm with Allenford, Whitsbury and East Bramshaw) were transferred. The village straggles along a network of roads following the line of a stream called Ashford Water.  It has centres at its N and S ends, suggesting an assart from the woodland which still surrounds it, but the church, in the centre, is in an otherwise uninhabitated part.

St George’s has an aisled nave (a 3 bay aisle to the N and a 2 bay aisle to the S), with a doorway in the S aisle under a long 15thc  porch, and a blocked N dooway.  The tower is on the S side of the nave at the E end, and has a weatherboarded upper storey and a leaded pyramid roof. The chancel was originally 12thc , and has the remains of blocked arcades visible inside and out on the N and S sides.  These do not match – the N arcade is of 2 pointed bays and the S of 2 round-headed wider bays extending further E. 12thc work is found on the N arch of the tower, on the N nave arcade, which has been clumsily reworked in the later Middle Ages, and on the N, and possibly also the S chancel arcade.  More interesting than any of these is a tympanum depicting a horseman riding down a fallen enemy, reset over the S nave doorway.  There is also a Christ in Majesty relief, possibly c.1200, reset in the gable of the S porch, and a large loose chevron voussoir.

History

South Damerham was royal demesne of the Saxon kings as early as the 9thc, and in 940-46 King Edmund granted land at Damerham, Martin and Pentridge to his queen Aethelflaeda on condition that she should bequeath  it to the church of Glastonbury when she died.  This she did, and the entire manor was thus held by the abbey in 1066 and 1086.

Features

Exterior Features

Exterior Decoration

Miscellaneous

1. Tympanum reset over S doorway

A small, approximately semicircular figural tympanum of Caen stone (Simon Alford’s opinion) is reset in the wall above the S nave doorway, protected by the porch. It is made up of two stones; a large lower block is a slightly depressed semicircle with the top segment missing.  It is framed by a raised border except along the flat top.  The semicircle is completed by an upper block with a frame along the upper curved edge only.  The two pieces do not fit together accurately, nor is the curvature between them continuous, and the lower block is rather more eroded than the upper.

The subject is an armed and mounted knight shown in L profile. He carries a kite-shaped shield on his L arm and his R arm is raised and holds a sword that is broken off by the edge of the lower stone of the tympanum, and was probably lomger when carved. His legs, with feet, in stirrups, extend forwards, and he leans forward too, producing a sense of forward motion.  He holds the reins of his horse, which has a bridle and a breast collar with circular trappings hanging from it. All its feet are on the ground apart from the R fore, which is raised to ride down a fallen knight shown lying on his R side with head to L of the tympanum, i.e facing the viewer. He wears armour and an open helmet, allowing his face to be seen, and he carries an axe in his R hand and with his L holds up a circular shield in a failed attempt to protect himself from the advancing rider.  At the lower R corner of the tympanum, by the end of the horse’s tail but apparently not attached to it is a complex object clearly relevant to the iconography but difficult to identify with certainty.  Various interpretations of the scene are given in the Comments section below. 

The tympanum was discovered under the ivy on the Old Vicarage wall in 1916, and was returned to the church from which it was assumed to have originated.

Dimensions
Diameter of tympanum 0.95m
Height of lower block 0.44m
Height of tympanum (both blocks) 0.57m

2. Christ in Majesty relief

Set in the gable of the S porch is a trapezoidal block, wider at the top, carved in relief with the figure of Christ in Majesty seated on a rainbow and enclosed by a mandorla.  He is badly eroded, but the normal attributes are clearly seen: the R hand raised, a book supported by the L hand on the L knee, and a cross halo.  No measurements could be taken.

Interior Features

Arches

Tower/Transept arches

S tower, N arch

Round headed, 2 orders to N, 1 order to S.  Jambs and arch are of 3 colours of stone, white, reddish brown and green, decoratively arranged.

1st order (shared)

Plain jambs largely of reddish brown blocks supporting quirked hollow chamfered imposts, decorated on their faces only: the E with a row of beading below a row of sawtooth; the W with a row of lozenges with drilled centres immediately above the quirk and flat above that, The arch is plain with voussoirs alternately white and green.

2nd order (N face only)

Plain unmoulded arch and jambs, but these are not continuous – the arch is wider than the jambs, and there is a step below the level of the 1st order impost. This is untidily cut back, and might originally have served both orders. The jambs are largely of reddish brown blocks, while the arch has alternate green and reddish brown voussoirs for the most part.

Arcades

Chancel

N arcade

2 pointed bays to a chancel aisle or chapel, since removed and the arches blocked, presumably in the 15thc when Perpendicular windows were inserted in the blocking. The arcade is visible from the interior and exterior of the chancel. The arcade arches are best seen in the exterior E bay, where they appear to be of two orders with angle rolls on each face of both. Imposts are quirked hollow chamfered.

1. W respond

Compound respond, probably with three shafts. Both visible capitals have flat leaf volutes with crocket-like tips and plain chamfered neckings.

2. Pier

Cylindrical with a multi-trumpet scallop capital with recessed shields.

3. E respond

As W respond.

S arcade

Two round headed bays to a chancel aisle or chapel, since removed, and the arches blocked, presumably in the 15thc when Perpendicular windows were inserted in the blocking. The arcade is visible from the interior and exterior of the chancel. The arcade arch profile is best seen on the interior over the central pier where the puter order with an angle roll is visible. Of the supports only the W respond survives, and although its interior and exterior capitals are visible they are too worn to identify beyond noting that they appear to have plain roll neckings.

Nave

N arcade

Three bays with a compound respond of 3 shafts at the E end, and a semi-cylindrical W respond. The two piers are cylindrical but both they and their capitals are later replacements. The arches are all of two orders, but no two are the same.

Bay 1 arch

Pointed. 1st order with a fat soffit roll, 2nd order plain with a slight chamfer on the S (nave) face only.

Bay 2 arch

Round headed. 1st order with a fat soffit roll, 2nd order with angle rolls on both faces.

Bay 3 arch

Round headed. 1st order plain with chamfers to N and S, 2nd order with angle rolls on both faces.

E respond

A compound respond of 3 shafts, the central one wider. The three capitals are plain tapered blocks, but all have been remade in plaster with no separate imposts but a vertical abacus with a horizontal inscribed groove. The base is low and bulbous with the remains of a plain roll necking.

W respond

Engaged half-column respond on a base with a double roll, like two neckings one above the other, on a square block with its upper corners chamfered to form triangles. The capital is a plain tapered block with a roll necking, a row of beading at the bottom of the abacus and a quirked hollow chamfered impost that is clearly reset.

Loose Sculpture

Chevron voussoir

On the nave floor, W of the S arcade pier is a large oolitic limestone chevron voussoir of a size normally associated with a major arch or arcade rather than a doorway. The chevron is centripetal, with a single roll, double quirked lateral to the face. On the intrados is a hollow quadrant decorated with a row of bosses (two visible on this voussoir).

Dimensions

Length of block 0.36m
Thickness of block 0.21m
Width at extrados 0.17m
Width at intrados 0.16m

Comments/Opinions

The tympanum has been identified as St George appearing in a vision at the battle of Antioch to add his strength to the Crusader amies against the Turkish forces of Kerbogha in 1098.  This interpretation has appeared in successive church guides and was repeated in Alford (1984), 4-5 where the scene is related to that at Fordington (Dorset).  Alford notes, however, that the two examples are neither stylistically nor compositionally related. The VCH description does not mention the tympanum, as it had not been discovered in 1911, the EH list description identifies the figure as St George without mentioning the battle of Antioch. Pevsner and Lloyd play safe and refer to a slayer on horseback and his adversary on the ground.

There are major problems with the identification of the figure as St George at Antioch which, as Alford notes, is based in large part on the dedication of the church.  To be fair, the church was indeed dedicated to St George long before the tympanum was found in 1916, although the earliest record of this dedication I have come across is in mid-19thc gazetteers.  If the rider is St George he should have a halo, and if he is St George at Antioch, then the imagery is nothing like any of the written sources describing the vision that inspired the Crusaders to their victory over the Turks.  Perhaps the best of the sources is the Gesta Francorum, which refers to countless armies coming down from the mountains with white standards, led by St George, St Mercurius and St Demetrius.  There are problems too with identifying the fallen knight as a Saracen.  His features and armour appear western, and although his bossed shield differs from the rider’s it is not an eastern type.  I am grateful to Alan Borg for comments about the armour, and about the date of the tympanum, which he is inclined to place at the beginning of the 13thc on the basis of the fallen warrior’s weapon and the apparent use of rowelled spurs.  While on this subject it should be noted that Alford dated the tympanum c.1120, Poole (1976) the second half of the 12thc, English Heritage 12thc and Pevsner Norman.  A curious feature is the detail in the lower R corner of the tympanum, which Alford described as a face turned upwards with open mouth, which could therefore be a Hell-mouth ready to receive the infidel.  The present author offers the suggestion that it might represent a carrion bird pecking at a decapitated head in a helmet.  This could simply represent the perversity of his imagination. 

Ultimately the iconography derives from antique models, widely dispersed through their appearance on coinage from the 4thc BC onwards.  Such imagery entered the continental Romanesque repertoire, e.g. at Parthenay-le-Vieux (Deux Sèvres) where it is normally described as a Constantine figure, showing that Emperor vanquishing paganism in the form of a fallen enemy. In England the best known examples are those of the Herefordshire School tympana at Brinsop (Herefordshire) and Ruardean (Gloucestershire), probably dateable to the 1150s. Both churches are dedicated to St George, and both show the mounted saint riding down a dragon and stabbing it with a spear.  Stylistically Damerham appears much later, and although this author would not go as late as Alan Borg has suggested, he would favour a date in the last quarter of the 12thc. 

The Christ in Majesty is likely to date from 1200 or later (although Poole makes the surprising assertion that all such images may be dated to the 2nd half of the 12thc).

Bibliography

  • S. Alford, ‘Romanesque architectural sculpture in Dorset: a selective catalogue and commentary,’ Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Proceedings 106 (1984), 1-22, especially 4-5, 19.

  • A. Borg, private communication.

  • English Heritage Listed Building 143909.

  • N. Pevsner and D. Lloyd, The Buildings of England. Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Harmondsworth 1967, 188-89.

  • Victoria County History: Hampshire. IV (1911), 590-91.

Location

Site Location
Damerham
National Grid Reference
SU 107 158 
Boundaries
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Hampshire
now: Hampshire
Diocese
now: Salisbury
medieval: Salisbury
Dedication
now: St George
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
02 July 2014