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St Mary, Checkley, Staffordshire

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Feature Sets (3)

Description

St Mary's has a W tower, a very tall clerestoried nave with tall N and S aisles with four-bay arcades, and a square-ended chancel. The chancel is the only one of these elements that is straightforward. It has a five light E window and tall three-light side windows with intersecting Y-tracery, i.e. ofc.1300, and the continuous chancel arch with sunk quadrant mouldings is of the same date. The N arcade is 13thc., with moulded capitals, some decorated with nailhead, and alternating round and octagonal piers. The pier capitals of the S arcade are stylistically earlier, late 12thc., including flat leaves and volutes, but the respond capitals have very complex mouldings and are much later, as are the double-chamfered pointed arches. Furthermore the S arcade is considerably taller than the N, and must have been heightened. The clerestory windows are square-headed triple lights with ogees; a 14thc.-15thc. type convincingly attributed to the early 17thc. by Pevsner. The N aisle windows are 17thc., and the S doorway is ofc.1300. It is protected by a rib-vaulted porch. The lower storey of the W tower is 12thc. with a flat buttress and small round-headed lancets, all chamfered, plain and renewed. The upper storey is Perpendicular with mullioned and transomed bell-openings but a plain parapet with tiny crocketed pinnacles. The tower arch, confusingly, is 14thc. Decorated. In Pevsner's account, the church was practically rebuilt in the early 17thc. using the old elements and this seems the only way to account for the contradictions in the architecture. 19thc. views of the church, inside and out, and the font are available in the William Salt Library, Stafford (see IX Bibliography). The remodelled 12thc. S arcade is described below, as is the most important Romanesque feature in the church; the font.

History

Checkley was held by Wulfgeat before the Conquest and by Otto, a Thegn of William I, in 1086. It consisted of half a hide of ploughland and woodland one league square. No church was recorded at that date.

The church of Milwich was paying a pension of £1 to Stone Priory by 1291 that continued until the Dissolution.

Uttoxeter area benefice.

Features

Interior Features

Arcades

Nave

S nave arcade

Four bays, pointed. The arches are of two orders to N and S; the inner order arch chamfered on both faces and the outer on the N face only, towards the nave. On this face too are chamfered labels. Piers 1 and 3 are cylindrical and pier 2 is a quatrefoil compound pier. The E and W responds are of two chamfered orders carrying complex moulded capitals, of which the E looks crisp and must be 17thc. or even later while the W is medieval but probably 14thc.-15thc. The piers are too tall and slender to be original and must have been heightened. The quatrefoil section of pier 2 is unusual but not unknown around 1200, and is here accepted.

Pier 1 capital: The capital transposes from a circular square-section necking to an octagonal abacus, with broad, plain flat leaves at the angles. The impost is thin and quirked chamfered.

Pier 2 capitals: Four separate capitals corresponding to the half-shafts of the compound pier, with flat leaves terminating in ball volutes, almost crockets, at the angles. The neckings are square sectioned and the imposts thin and quirked chamfered.

Pier 3 capital: As pier 1.

Furnishings

Fonts

Located at the W end of the nave. A 12thc. cylindrical bowl with chamfered upper and lower rims stands on a cylindrical 12thc. shaft with a central shaft-ring decorated with single cable, and this on a tall, modern gritstone base and a modern step. The bowl has a full-height rectangular panel on its E face on which is depicted an Agnus Dei in low relief. The lamb, in left profile, stands on a rectangular altar flanked by two columns without bases, carved with single cable in opposite directions. Each is capped with a capital with two large volutes. Three further single columns of the same type are carved at the N, W and S of the bowl, and the four panels between them; wide rectangles at the NE, NW and SW, and a square panel at the SE, are filled with an irregular diaperwork of broad fillets enclosing recessed triangles. These sometimes form rows and sometimes hexagons, but there is no consistent system to it and the triangles vary in size and proportion.

The bowl is lead-lined and has rim repairs at the NE and S, and staple marks at the SW.

Dimensions
ext. diam. of bowl 0.73 m
h. of bowl 0.35 m
h. of shaft 0.50 m
int. diam. of bowl 0.47 m

Comments/Opinions

On the font Christ is shown as a sacrificial lamb on an altar. The image is thus a eucharistic one in the view of the present author. This opinion is not universally accepted; Pevsner describes the font as 'Norman with coarse ornament and a donkey'.

Spiral columns are usually seen as a reference to St Peter's in Rome. Such columns, allegedly from the Temple of Solomon, were incorporated in the Early Christian basilica, and are referred to in Bernini's baldacchino in the Renaissance building. This specific reference is unlikely here. English precedents are seen in the Anglo-Saxon crypt of Repton (Derbyshire), in Anselm's crypt at Canterbury Cathedral, and in the nave of Durham Cathedral. In the last two cases, both ofc.1100, the spiral decoration serves to mark an area of special holiness; the shrine of St Cuthbert at Durham and the main altar in the Canterbury crypt. The Canterbury case is relevant here; the spiral columns flanking an altar.

Bibliography

  • Victoria County History: Staffordshire. III (1970), 240-47.
  • Staffordshire County Council, Staffordshire Views Collection, SV III 79, 80a, 81, 82, 83a, 84. Available online at http://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/portal/page?_pageid=47,71124and_dad=portaland_schema=PORTAL
  • E. C. Fernie, 'St Anselm's Crypt', Medieval Art and Architecture at Canterbury before 1220 (British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions for 1979), Leeds 1982, 26-38.
  • E. C. Fernie, 'The Spiral Piers of Durham Cathedral', Medieval Art and Architecture at Durham Cathedral, (British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions for 1977), Leeds 1980. 49-58.
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Staffordshire. Harmondsworth 1974, 99-100.
Exterior from SE.
Exterior from NE.
Exterior, nave and W tower from NE.
Interior to E.

Location

Site Location
Checkley
National Grid Reference
SK 028 379 
Boundaries
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Staffordshire
now: Staffordshire
Diocese
medieval: Lichfield (to 1075); Chester (to c.1086); Coventry and Lichfield (to 1541)
now: Lichfield
Dedication
medieval: not confirmed
now: St Mary and All Saints
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
G. L. Pearson, Ron Baxter