Preston is located at the extreme north-western corner of Gloucestershire, a mile from the Gloucestershire-Herefordshire border. It is roughly equidistant from Hereford and Gloucester. There is no longer a settlement at Preston. The church of St John the Baptist is located off the B4215 next to Preston Court. It comprises a chancel and nave with N aisles and is constructed from coursed stone. The majority of the fabric appears to date from the early 12thc, although earlier masonry and substructures cannot be ruled out. The N aisle was probably added in the 13thc and there is small 14th-c timber porch over the N nave doorway. There was a timber W tower in the early 18thc but this has since been demolished. There are three small round-headed windows that appear to be part of the original church fabric: one at the W end, the second immediately E of the N porch, and another, now blocked, at the E end. They are devoid of sculptural decoration. Apparently the church was restored in the 19thc (Jurica (2010), 314-15).
The only surviving Romanesque sculpture at the church is a tympanum above the N nave doorway and a single corbel.
Domesday Book records that the manor of Preston was held by St Peter’s Abbey, Gloucester, both before and after the Norman Conquest (Moore (1982), 165 c). There is no mention of a church. A spurious charter from the late 12thc records Preston chapel as a possession of Gloucester Abbey in 1100 (Hart (1863), 250-52; Barrow (1993), no. 4, p. 4); however the first genuine account of Preston chapel occurs in a charter issued by Gilbert Foliot while he was bishop of Hereford (1148-1163). This records that the chapel and cemetery at Preston had been dedicated by his episcopal predecessor, Robert de Bethune (1131-1148). The wording of the charter implies that the dedication had taken place not long before Bishop Robert’s death in 1148 (Hart (1863), no. 386, p. 375-76; Barrow (1993), no. 48, p. 47). The late 1140s was a turbulent time for the Gloucestershire-Herefordshire border area where Preston is situated, owing to a tenurial conflict between Roger, earl of Hereford and Gilbert de Lacy. In 1149 Earl Roger charged William de Braose with his castle at Dymock and ordered that William fitz Alan hold and defend Upleadon (Coplestone-Crow in Thurlby (2013), 29). Preston, which lies roughly 3 miles north-west of Dymock and less than 10 miles north-west of Upleadon, must have been particularly exposed. The notification issued by Gilbert Foliot c. 1148 states that he had made Upleadon cemetery a refuge for the poor and implies that Robert de Bethune had made similar arrangements for the chapel and cemetery at Preston, presumably shortly before his death (Brooke et al. (1967), no. 301, p. 366).
An exceptionally plain doorway of one order that is devoid of carved decoration except for the semi-circular tympanum. This is sculpted in the likeness of the Agnus Dei. The lamb is shown in profile with its front left hoof raised to support the cross. In this case, it is a cross pattée contained within a roundel atop a pole. The lamb is carved in relatively high relief with an element of plasticity. It has an incised almond-shaped eye and a small ear. The surrounding voussoirs are plain and carved from the same stone as the tympanum (‘dummy voussoirs’).
The interior face of the doorway is devoid of carved detail besides the chamfered angles of the jambs.
|Height of opening (ext.)||1.99 m|
|Height of opening to lintel (int.)||2.085 m|
|Height of tympanum inc. dummy voussoirs (ext.)||0.67 m|
|Height to apex of arch (int.)||2.57 m|
|Thickness of tympanum||0.225 m|
|Width of opening (ext.)||0.90 m|
|Width of opening (int.)||1.055 m|
|Width of tympanum (ext.)||1.22 m|
A simple rectangular doorway of one order. There is no sculptural decoration, although the jambs are chamfered like the N nave doorway.
|Height of opening||1.835 m|
|Width of opening||0.81 m|
A single corbel located on the north-west corner of the nave depicts two human heads. The corbel is fairly weathered, however it is possible to discern that the heads are male with almond-shaped eyes, drilled pupils and prominent chins. The northern face has a thin, closed mouth, whereas its western counterpart has an open mouth.
The church originally possessed a pillar piscina carved with volutes. This is now in the Gloucester Museum (Gethyn-Jones (1979), plate 27c).
J. Barrow, English Episcopal Acta 7: Hereford 1079-1234, Oxford 1993.
Z. N. Brooke, A. Morey and C. N. L. Brooke (eds.), The Letters and Charters of Gilbert Foliot, Cambridge 1967.
P. Dalton, ‘Churchmen and the Promotion of Peace in King Stephen’s Reign’, Viator 31 (2000), 71-120.
E. Gethyn-Jones, The Dymock School of Sculpture, Chichester 1979.
W. H. Hart (ed.) Historia et Cartularium Monasterii Sancti Petri, Gloucestriae, vol. 1, London 1863.
A. R. J. Jurica (ed.), A History of the County of Gloucestershire, vol. 12, Woodbridge 2010.
J. S. Moore (ed.), Domesday Book: Gloucestershire, Chichester 1982.
M. Thurlby, with B. Coplestone-Crow, The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture, Logaston 2013.
J. Turnock, ‘Reconsidering the reign of King Stephen: a contextual study of sculpture created in Gloucestershire between 1135 and 1154’ (unpublished Durham University MA thesis, 2014).