St Mary Magdalene, Stretton Sugwas, Herefordshire

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Feature Sets (4)


Stretton Sugwas is 4 miles W of the centre of Hereford, just off the A438 Brecon road. Although it is far enough outside the city to be largely unaffected by its expansion, the village lies between a new bypass and the former RAF base at Credenhill, now the headquarters of the 22nd SAS Regiment, so its ancient communications are massively disrupted, including a Roman road that runs westward from Hereford through the village centre . A mile and a half to the NW is the important Iron Age hill fort of Credenhill. The old church was situated at the N end of the village; its site is now in the grounds of Stretton Court Hotel. The present church was built in 1877-80 on a site outside the village to the S, 0.7m SW of the old church. The architect was William Chick of Hereford, who used some pieces taken from the old building. Chick’s church consists of a nave with a S porch and a two-bay N aisle, with a tower at the W end of the aisle, and a chancel with a N organ room. The ground storey of the tower is a vestry, entered through an external W doorway, or through a S doorway inside the church. Stretton Sugwas is justly famous for the great tympanum of Samson and the Lion, brought from the old church and set over the S entrance to the vestry. The S and W doorways are also 12thc. as is the font. The church is of sandstone except for the timber-framed upper part of the tower, based on Holmer.


In 1086 Roger de Lacy held 2½ hides of ploughland and a mill in Stretton Sugwas and Robert (de Baskerville) held from him. A smaller holding of half a hide was in the hands of Hugh l’Asne. In neither case does the Domesday Survey record a church. In 1142 a Bull of Pope Innocent II recorded the gift of the churches of Eardisley, Stretton Sugwas and other churches on the lands of Robert de Baskerville’s heir, Ralph de Baskerville, to the Augustinian house of Llanthony Secunda. Thurlby attributes the patronage of the tympanum to Ralph de Baskerville.


Exterior Features


S doorway, nave

The exterior has plain square jambs of red sandstone carrying a plain red sandstone lintel. All of this may be Chick’s work. The interior is round headed with an angle roll in the arch, but plain jambs and no capitals or imposts. The arch surrounds a plain tympanum supported by the lintel seen on the exterior.

h. of lintel 0.39 m
h. of opening (int) 2.03 m
thickness of lintel 0.17 m
w. of lintel (ext) 1.69 m
w. of opening (int) 1.21 m

W doorway, tower

Round headed, of a single order.

Continuous order with an angle roll.

h. of opening 1.90 m
w. of opening 0.77 m

Interior Features

Interior Decoration


Samson and the Lion tympanum

This is now set over the interior door to the N vestry. It is of Old Red sandstone, pale grey in colour, and monolithic except for an inserted section of the label at top R that is probably a repair. It is round headed but rather taller than a semicircle and not regularly curved, with a section at the upper L that is almost straight-edged. The carving is in very bold relief. The recessed central field carries the figure of the lion, passant and in L profile, its mouth forced open by Samson to reveal two rows of pointed, interlocking teeth and a long fleshy tongue lolling out. Its mouth is emphasised by a groove around the lips and the eye is oval and undrilled, surrounded by an almond-shaped lid. It the back of the head a small ear is shown. The mane extends from the neck to the shoulders and down the chest to the forelegs. It is shown by curved tufts of hair in horizontal rows. The rest of the body and the legs are plain with no surface texture. The legs have long claws, and the tail rises and curves back over the back, terminating in a thicker brush high above the centre of the back, immediately behind Samson’s head. The groundline on which it walks is a row of single cable extending the full width of the block, between the label stops. Samson is a comparatively small figure who rides on the lion, as on a horse, with straight legs that do not reach the ground. He is shown in profile with his unnaturally long, thin arms curving to grip the upper and lower jaws of the lion. He wears a knee-length, belted tunic, and both tunic and belt are reeded in parallel pleats. The tight sleeves have similar reeding running down the biceps, but on the forearms the reeding encircles the arm. The sleeves flare out at the wrists. Samson has long straight hair to his waist, falling in a single tress behind his head. His eye is bulging and undrilled, with a brow ridge, his nose is long, straight and flat, and he has a moustache and a pointed beard. The recessed field carrying the figures is surrounded by a roughly hollow-chamfered integral label that terminates in human head stops at each end. The male L head is broad and long with vertical cheeks and a round jaw. The hairline is horizontal with traces of hair carved as oblique parallel reeding. The feature are small and sit in the centre of the face: a triangular nose, oval undrilled eyes with lids above and below and prominent eyebrows, and a small, straight mouth. The R head is smaller and triangular with well-shaped cheeks and a pointed chin. It may be female. At the crown of the head there may be a cap or fillet, and the hair is seen behind the neck.

h. of block 0.95 m
w. of block 1.54 m




At the W end of the nave towards the S. The font is monolithic, of sandstone, but carved in two sections separated by a heavy projecting roll. The upper part, or bowl, is cup-shaped with a chamfered upper rim. The part below the roll is simply tapered. It stands on a chamfered base and a drum-shaped plinth, with a modern octagonal step. The bowl is lead lined and there are rim repairs at E, NE and S.

ext. diam. of bowl at rim 0.68 m
h. of bowl and base 0.77 m
h. of bowl (block) 0.59 m
int. diam. of bowl at rim 0.52 m


The tympanum is one of the masterworks of the Herefordshire School; photographs alone cannot convey the boldness of the carving or the sheer monumentality of the work. Zarnecki attributed the tympanum to his Chief Master, whose bold style is also seen on the chancel arch at Kilpeck and the fonts at Eardisley and Castle Frome. The treatment of the lion is almost exactly the same as on the Eardisley font and the Virgin and Child tympanum at Fownhope. The treatment of Samson’s dress, in parallel vertical pleats, is a signature feature of this sculptor, and can be most closely compared with the fighting warriors on the Eardisley font, the figures entangled in foliage at Billesley (Warwicks) and Alveley (Salop), and the figure of St George at Brinsop. The comparison with Brinsop is especially illuminating, and Thurlby has remarked that “in composition it is in many respects a mirror-image of Brinsop.” It is worth noting too that both tympana are significantly taller than a semicircle. As Zarnecki pointed out, the motifs of Samson and the Lion at Stretton Sugwas and St George and the Dragon at Brinsop have their parallels in two lunettes on the W front of the church of Saint-Pierre in Parthenay-le-Vieux (Deux-Sevres), and such comparisons were important in establishing Zarnecki’s view that the origins of the Herefordshire School lay partly in a pilgrimage undertaken by Oliver de Merlimond, founder of Shobdon, that must have passed through Aquitaine on its way to Santiago de Compostella. It may be significant that the Parthenay lunettes are not semicircular either, but stilted in form. The Samson and the Lion motif appears elsewhere in the work of the school; at Alveley and in a tiny form on the N impost of the first order interior capital of the W doorway at Leominster. Zarnecki dates the tympanum c.1140. Thurlby agrees that it was carved before the church passed to Lanthony Secunda in 1142, but suggests that it may be even earlier; before the Welsh rebellions following the death of Henry I in 1135. The font is of a common Herefordshire form, and may be compared with the restored example at Sutton St Nicholas, and the more elaborate type with a cable-moulded roll found at Peterchurch, Blakemere and Humber.

(benefice of Stretton Sugwas)


  • Herefordshire Sites & Monuments Record 2207, 2208. Now available online at http://www.smr.herefordshire.gov.uk/db.php/p

  • G. Zarnecki, 'The Priory Church of Shobdon and its Founder', in: D. Buckton and T.A. Heslop (ed), Studies in Medieval Art and Architecture presented to Peter Lasko. Stroud 1994, 211-20.

  • G. Marshall, Fonts in Herefordshire. Hereford, Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club. Published in 3 parts: I (1949); II (1950); III (1951).

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire, Harmondsworth 1963, 295-96.

  • RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire, 2: East, 1932, 176.

  • M. Thurlby, The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture, Logaston 1999, 127-28 & passim.

  • G. Zarnecki, Later English Romanesque Sculpture 1140-1210, London 1953.

Exterior from NE.
Exterior from E.
Interior to E.


Site Location
Stretton Sugwas
National Grid Reference
SO 459 420 
now: Herefordshire
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Herefordshire
medieval: Hereford
now: Hereford
medieval: St Mary Magdalene (pre-Reformation)
now: St Mary Magdalene
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
24 June 2006