St John the Baptist, Halesowen, Worcestershire

Feature Sets (4)

Description

This large church has an aisled nave with a slender tower over its central bay, a chancel with N and S chapels, and a S porch. The two W bays of the nave are 12thc., but the E part was rebuilt and extended in the 15thc., presumably after the collapse of a crossing tower; the present 15thc. tower is set much further W (Pevsner 1968, 179-80). An outer aisle was added on the S side of the church in 1883. The church is built of red sandstone ashlar, except for the top of the tower and the spire, which are of grey-green sandstone. Romanesque sculpture is found in the reset doorway on the S side of the nave, in the W doorway, in the blind arcade on the exterior E chancel wall, on corbels reset into the 14thc. S porch, in the chancel arch and on the font. In the N wall of the chancel is a plain round-headed window.

History

After the Conquest, the manor of Hales was granted to Roger, Earl of Shrewsbury. Shortly after Domesday he annexed it to his county of Shropshire. The manor passed to his sons, first Hugh (died 1098) then Robert de Belesme, who forfeited it to the Crown in 1102. Henry II gave the manor to his sister Emma, who in 1174 had married David, son of Owen, Prince of Wales. At this point, the advowson was passed to Pershore Abbey but Emma restored it to Richard I c.1193. There was a church here in 1086, served by two priests.

Features

Exterior Features

Doorways

S doorway, nave

Round-headed, three orders. Reset into the 14thc. S aisle wall when the porch was added.

In the arch, three stepped angle rolls separated by wedge mouldings. No label. The bases and plinths may be replacements, possibly of the 14thc.

Dimensions
Second order, R capital:
h. incl. necking 0.27 m
h. without necking 0.24 m
w. of S face 0.23 m
w. of W face 0.21 m
h. of opening 3.05 m
w. of opening 1.41 m
Second order, L capital:
h. incl. necking 0.26 m
h. without necking 0.22 m
w. of E face 0.20 m
w. of S face 0.22 m
First order

Plain jambs and arch; chamfered imposts with two grooves on the face.

Second order

Nookshafts on attic bases with a cable moulding on the upper torus. Plain neckings, carved capitals (see below) and imposts continuous with the first order.

L capital: triple scallop with deep shields, sheathed cones and an angle tuck; the lower edges of the shields are emphasized by a groove.

R capital: badly eroded block capital, but with a U-shaped stem, the tips scrolling inwards, discernible on each face. In the arch, two rows of stepped lateral chevrons on the face, centripetally carved and outlined by reeding.

Third order

As second order. The R capital is eroded, but traces of a scrolling stem are visible on its S face.

W doorway

Round headed, two orders.

Dimensions
h. of opening 3.57 m
w. of opening 1.87 m
Second order, R capital:
similar to second order, R capital
Second order, L capital:
h. incl. necking 0.26 m
h. without necking 0.22 m
w. of E face 0.20 m
w. of S face 0.22 m
First order

Plain jambs; hollow-chamfered imposts with two grooves on the face, with losses at the angle on the L. In the arch, three rows of lateral hyphenated chevrons on the face and four rows on the soffit, the latter arranged in two double rows meeting point-to point. The chevrons meet at the arris to form hyphenated lozenges, each with a pellet in the centre. The chevrons are outlined by reeding.

Second order

Detached nook shafts on eroded moulded bases; plain neckings, carved capitals (see below) and imposts continuous with the first order, the R with major losses, the L replaced.

L capital: triple scallop with an angle tuck and deep shields.

R capital: block capital carved with plain interlace, a four-looped pattern on each face, interlinked at the lower angle. In the arch, three rows of stepped lateral chevrons, emphasized by reeding and centripetally carved. Plain chamfered label, replaced.

Exterior Decoration

Arcading

E chancel wall

Across the gable of the E chancel wall is a blind arcade of eight bays, supported on nine columns standing on a chamfered string course with a groove on the face. The columns have detached monolithic shafts on double scallop bases, plain neckings, cushion capitals with angle tucks, and hollow-chamfered impost blocks with a groove on the face. Some are eroded, and many appear to have been replaced.

L respond: eroded.

Column 1: probably all replaced.

Column 2: shaft and base probably replaced; eroded capital and impost.

Column 3: probably all replaced.

Column 4: eroded.

Columns 5, 6 and 7: probably all replaced.

R respond: eroded. Plain intersecting round-headed arcade of one order, badly weathered. Above is a small plain oculus.

Corbel tables, corbels

Corbel heads, S porch

The 14thc. S porch has 12 Romanesque corbel heads beneath the eaves on its E and W sides.

E side

The six corbel heads are too badly eroded to enable the carvings to be identified, but S3 appears to bear a quadruped.

W side

W1: ?grotesque horned animal mask

W2: decayed

W3: ?standing bird in profile

W4: ?two affronted beasts above a wheel

W5: ?circular blossom or interlace

W6: grotesque animal mask with bared teeth.

Interior Features

Arches

Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

Round-headed, two orders on the W face, one on the E. The arch was probably rebuilt in the 15thc., then heightened and widened in the 19thc., using some of the original stones.

First order, shared

Detached three-quarter shafts with plain neckings, carved capitals (see below) and hollow-chamfered impost blocks with a roll between two grooves on the face.

L capital: plain, multi scallop, with deep shields.

R capital: as L capital, but with a second, concave multi-scallop capital below. The R respond is carried on a corbel consisting of a stylized Corinthian-type capital with one row of plain leaves outlined by deep grooves, with a half-cone below. The arch has a thick soffit roll.

Second order, W side

Nook shafts with plain neckings and multi-scallop capitals with deep shields. Imposts continuous with first order. Plain arch. The tripartite label is composed of a cable moulding inside two rows of shallow lateral chevrons, enclosed by a hollow-chamfered moulding decorated with pellets.

Arcades

Nave

N arcade

As S arcade, but the E respond is square and all the bases are plain.

S arcade

The two W bays are round-headed, of two orders on each face.

E respond (abutting the 15thc. tower), first order: half-round engaged shaft on attic base. Plain necking and multi-scallop capital with deep shields. Hollow-chamfered impost with a groove on the face.

Second order, S side: engaged nook-shaft, the rest as first order.

Second order, N side: as S side.

Bay 1: plain round-headed arch, of two orders on each face. No label.

Pier 1: compound pier, cruciform in plan with engaged half-round responds to E and W and engaged nook shafts in the angles, all on attic bases.

The bases on the W side are plain, but the scotia of the E respond base is decorated with beading, and those of the E nook shafts bear dogtooth ornament. The shafts all have plain neckings and square scallop capitals with angle tucks and deep shields - triple scallops on the nook shafts, quadruple on the main faces of the E and W responds. The triple scallop capitals have sheathed cones, indicated by incised 'V's, and inscribed circles corresponding to compass marks on the shields. Hollow chamfered imposts with two grooves on the face.

Bay 2: as bay 1.

W respond: as E respond.

Furnishings

Fonts

Situated under the tower. The font is made of sandstone, but the bowl is paler in colour than the supports. Standing on a square plinth with chamfered angles, the font has a cylindrical stem surrounded by four columns, and a cylindrical bowl with four figures set above the columns, so that from a distance the bowl appears to be square. The central stem has an attic base below a roll and rests on a shallow cylindrical plinth. The columns, also on cylindrical plinths, have bases with a scotia above a torus, plain neckings and flared, multi-scallop capitals; they are eroded, and the column at the NE corner has been replaced. The bowl is decorated with irregular two-stranded interlace in low relief, each side bearing the same design, with one of the strands terminating in a scroll. Down the centre of each strand are two grooves linked by transverse lines, creating a ladder-like effect. The four corner figures are all damaged, the tops of the heads being lost. Those at the NE and SE corners stand and wear vestments, the others are seated and hold books.

Dimensions
diam. of bowl at rim 0.71 m
d. of bowl 0.215 m
h. of E face 0.32 m
h. of N face 0.31 m
h. of S face 0.32 m
h. of W face 0.31 m
w. of E face 0.75 m
w. of N face 0.77 m
w. of S face 0.825 m
w. of W face 0.775 m

Comments/Opinions

The fact that the S doorway lacks a label may indicate that it was always sheltered by a porch; the reused corbel heads could have come from such a porch. The VCH dates the chancel toc.1120, and the W door to the late 12thc., but Stratford in Pevsner 1968 (180, fn.) places all the Romanesque parts of the church to the years 1150-60. Some features found at both Halesowen and Holt suggest that there may be some workshop connection between them: the chevron types; scallop capitals with deep shields, embellished with carved decoration at Holt; and the volute corbel capital at Halesowen resembles chancel arch capitals at Holt. The inscribed circles on the shields of some nave arcade capitals indicate the method used to position the heads of the scallops. Stratford in Pevsner 1968 (180, fn.) points out that the font is not a Worcestershire type, but is similar to fonts in Devon and Cornwall; he also notes that the draperies seem to have been ribbed, like those at Romsley (tympanum), and dates the font toc.1150-60. The scallop capitals resemble those of the 12thc. arcade piers, and may be by the same mason, but the bowl is different in stone, style and execution.

Bibliography

  • The Victoria History of the Counties of England. Worcestershire, vol.III. London 1913, 141-150.
  • C. J. Bond, 'Church and Parish in Norman Worcestershire' in J. Blair (ed.) Minsters and Parish Churches: The Local Church in Transition 950-1200, ed J. Blair, Oxford University Committee for Archaeology Monograph 17. Oxford 1988, 119-58, 145,151.
  • M. Thurlby, 'A Note on the former Barrel Vault of the Choir of St John the Baptist at Halesowen and its place in English Romanesque Architecture', Transactions of the Worcestershire Archaeological Society, 3rd Series, vol. 9, 1984, 37-43.
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Worcestershire. Harmondsworth 1968, 46, 47, 179-180.

Location

Site Location
Halesowen
National Grid Reference
SO 967 836 
Boundaries
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Worcestershire
now: Worcestershire
Diocese
medieval: Worcester
now: Worcester
Dedication
now: St John the Baptist
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
G. L. Pearson