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Prestbury Norman Chapel, Prestbury, Cheshire

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Feature Sets (2)

Description

The chapel stands in the churchyard of St Peter's, Prestbury, to the SE of the church. It is a simple two-cell stone building dating in its present form from 1747, in which year it was restored by Sir William Meredith of Henbury. It incorporates on its west facade 12thc. sculpture in the form of a doorway and a row of figures above, but the rest of the building is 18thc. work. The original chapel is assumed to have been built as the parish church in the 12thc., and when its successor, the present parish church, was begun in the 1220s or 1230s, it was retained as an oratory. By 1592, when it was sketched by Randle Holmes, it was ruinous and roofless. An inscription on the W gable records the restoration of 1747 in exchange for which the Merediths were granted rights of burial inside it.

History

The manor is not mentioned in the Domesday Survey, however the discovery of an Anglo-Saxon cross-shaft reused in the chancel masonry of the 13thc. church suggests the presence of a pre-Conquest church here. By 1153 the manor was in the possession of the Earls of Chester, and in that year Earl Hugh Kyvelioc conferred manor and church to the monks of St Werburgh, Chester.

Features

Exterior Features

Doorways

W doorway

Round headed, three orders with tympanum (see below) The doorway is reset and is obviously not in its original form. First, the tympanum has no obvious means of support: it has no lintel and does not rest on the jambs, or on the impost blocks, which have been cut away on their inner faces. Close examination reveals the presence of small stone wedges projecting from the sides, on which the tympanum rests, and it is held in place by a thick bed of ugly black mortar. In its original form the imposts would have supported the ends of the tympanum, and the jambs may have been closer together. The capitals are block-shaped with no neckings, stone annulets being inserted below them to perform this duty. Needless to say this is not a 12thc. practice.

The tympanum is of worn sandstone, its background painted with a red wash. It shows Christ in Majesty in a mandorla and equipped with a cross halo. He is seated on a rainbow, but other details, such as what he might have been holding in his left hand, whose fingers survive, are all worn away. The mandorla is supported by a flying angel to either side, and below each angel remain traces of other motifs, which are no longer distinguishable. A chip at the bottom centre has been filled with black mortar. The tympanum rests on wedges inserted into plain, non-projecting jambs.

Second order: en-delit nook-shafts on bulbous bases with annulets at the top taking the place of neckings, and tall cushion capitals with drop-shaped projections at the lower angles and volutes indicated by spiral grooving. The impost blocks are plain chamfered and roughly cut away on the inner faces. All of this is of shelly limestone, but the arch above is in the same soft sandstone as the tympanum. On this, each voussoir is carved with a projecting head. Heads are worn but bulbous eyes and a mouth are visible on some. Issuing from each mouth is a pair of grooved stems, which curve around the face of the voussoir forming a frame. This terminates at the top with a pair of enclosed leaves, and reeded clasps link the frame to the sides of the head.

Third order: nook-shafts, bases, annular neckings, capitals and imposts as 1st order, but the N capital has a fillet at the lower angle and the S is unarticulated in this area. Capitals are of sandstone, but the rest of the supporting members are shelly limestone.

In the arch is a centrifugal chevron design, with two stepped rolls, the outer quirked, on the angle and a hollow on the face. The label is chamfered with a row of bosses on the chamfer.

Dimensions
diam. of tympanum 1.22 m
h. of opening 1.99 m
h. of tympanum 0.67 m
thickness of tympanum 0.10 m
w. of opening 1.24 m

Exterior Decoration

String courses

Above W doorway

See 3.c. below.

Corbel tables, corbels

Above W doorway

Above the apex of the label of the W doorway is a crudely-carved, flat string course with a corbel at either end. Both corbels are so worn as to have lost all surface detail, but their shapes suggest different beast heads.

Miscellaneous

Carved figures

Above the corbels described at 3.c. above is a row of seven figures, each carved in high relief with a chamfered projection at the top and bottom of the block, on which the heads and feet rest. All are badly worn and little can be said about their figure style. Moir's church guide offers identifications, and these are repeated below (without much confidence). They are described from left to right.

1. (N figure). Standing, frontal figure in ankle-length robe with a cloak covering his right arm and shoulder. At waist level, to his left is a curved object, possibly his arm but rather long for that. Moir: warrior with battle axe.

2. Standing frontal figure with ankle-length robe. A worn object held in his left hand is identified by Moir as a budded sceptre, and on that basis the figure is identified as King Richard I.

3. Seated frontal figure with an animal shown in profile, walking at its feet. Moir: Christ as Lamb of God.

4. Standing figure of Christ, with cross halo, frontal and wearing a simple ankle-length robe. He holds an open book in front of him. Moir: God the Father.

5. Not obviously a human figure. I can make nothing of this. Moir: Holy Ghost in the form of a dove.

6. Standing bearded man shown frontally with ankle-length robe. Crossed objects held in front of him are presumably keys, hence St Peter. Moir: St Peter.

7. Standing, frontal bearded man holding a staff with a decorated finial. Moir: priest with staff.

Comments/Opinions

Moir's identification of the figures has been described above. It should be added that he goes on to read the suite as if it were hieroglyphic as follows, 'In the name of the Blessed Trinity, this church dedicated to St Peter, was built by the abbot and monks of St Werburg in the reign of Richard I, when Randle Blundeville was Earl of Chester.' On his identification of one of the figures as Richard I rests the dating of 1190-99 for the foundation, which the present author cannot accept. The figure style provides little help here, but the simple capital and base forms and the arch decoration of the doorway fit more happily into the second quarter of the 12thc.

Bibliography

  • N. Pevsner and E. Hubbard, The Buildings of England. Cheshire. Harmondsworth 1971 (repr. 1978), 315-16.

  • C. Keyser, A list of Norman Tympana and Lintels. London 1904 (2nd ed. 1927), 42-43.

  • D. W. Moir, Prestbury and its Ancient Church (Church Guide). Und. (post-1981), 6-10.

  • R. Richards, Old Cheshire Churches. London 1947, 280-85.

Exterior from SW
W facade

Location

Site Location
Prestbury Norman Chapel, Prestbury
National Grid Reference
SJ 901 769 
Boundaries
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Cheshire
now: Cheshire East
Diocese
medieval: Lichfield (to 1075); Chester (to c.1086); Coventry and Lichfield (to 1541)
now: Chester
Dedication
medieval: St Peter
now:
Type of building/monument
Chapel  
Report authors
Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
29 April 2004