Kilpeck church is a three-cell building consisting of nave, chancel and rib-vaulted apse, all dating from the 12thc. At the west end of the nave is a wooden gallery including material dating from the 16thc. to the 19thc. There is no record to show when it was erected. The church is constructed of old red sandstone blocks; irregular in size and shape in the nave and chancel but of regularly coursed squared ashlar in the apse, which was refurbished by Cottingham in 1846 at the same time as its roofline was lowered. The walls are supported by flat, slender pilaster buttresses of ashlar, dividing the nave into three bays, the chancel into two, and the apse into one straight bay and three curved ones. There is no pilaster buttress at the NE angle of the nave, although traces of one remain at the top of the wall. Below, the angle is of long and short quoins and the nave wall to the N of the angle is of masonry different to that of the rest of the nave wall, sloping inwards so that it dies into the wall just below the level of the original nave window sills. This section of wall is on a slightly different line to the rest of the nave wall. Its interpretation, as a vestige of an earlier church on the site or as a later rebuilding, is discussed in section VIII. Over the west gable of the nave is a gabled double bell-cote; also part of the 1846 restoration.
Kilpeck is generally considered the jewel of the Herefordshire school of Romanesque sculpture; for its completeness, its virtuosity and its remarkable state of preservation. The south nave doorway, with a Tree of Life tympanum and richly carved jambs and arch orders, was protected by a wooden porch of unknown date until 1868. It has never been replaced, but a lead mantle was installed around the label in 1962 to prevent water penetration. The great west window is also elaborately carved. Of the other windows, those in bay 2 of the north nave wall, bay 1 of the south nave wall and the three curved bays of the apse are original. The south window of the chancel is 13thc., but two 12thc. corbels have been reused as label stops (described in section III.3.c.vii). A corbel table runs around the entire church, originally consisting of 91 corbels, most of which survive in excellent condition. They depict human and animal heads, birds, beasts and obscene subjects, some in a simple, almost cartoon-like style, others with classicising features, and all very easy to read since the eaves are not high. In addition there are projecting dragons' heads at the tops of the buttresses at the NW, SW and SE angles of the nave and in the centre of the west facade, all at the level of the corbel table.
Inside, the chancel arch has jamb-figures and chevron- and lozenge-decorated arch orders. The apse arch is plain, but the apse vault ribs are chevron-decorated, the vault boss is carved with lion heads, and there is sculpture on the inside of the apse windows. The font has an enormous plain bowl of conglomerate, and the church also contains a holy water stoup, imported from elsewhere, with a carved bowl and base; and a rare font-stopper carved with basketweave.
The monochrome photographs of corbels were taken on a Courtauld Institute of Art photographic trip in 1970; the colour photography was carried out in March 2005.
The earliest notice of a church at Kilpeck is in the Book of Llandaff, which records that the church and its lands were given to that diocese c.650. Kilpeck remained part of the Llandaff diocese until the 1130s, when it was appropriated by Hereford. The manor was held by the Conqueror's kinsman William fitzNorman in 1086, and no church or priest was noted at that time. William's son Hugh de Kilpeck is usually credited with the building of the church. In 1134 a small Benedictine priory founded there was given to St Peter's, Gloucester, and the grant refers to the castle, held by Hugh, its chapel of St Mary and the church of St David. The lordship passed to Hugh's son, Henry and thence to his grandson, John. King John visited the castle in 1211, 1212 and 1214. By 1259 it was held by Robert de Walerand, who was granted two annual fairs and a Friday market by Henry III. These grants were renewed by Edward III in 1309, when the lord was Alan de Plogenet.
Benefice of Ewyas Harold with Dulas, Kenderchurch, Abbeydore, Bacton, Kentchurch, Llangua, Rowlstone, Llancillo, Walterstone, Kilpeck, St Devereux and Wormbridge.
|h of opening||2.16 m|
|thickness of tympanum||0.185 m|
|w of opening||1.12 m|
Plain jambs supporting quirked hollow chamfered impost blocks with a quirked roll at the bottom of the upright face. The imposts support a semicircular tympanum with lugs to left and right resting on the impost blocks. Originally it is likely that the lower section of the tympanum, including the lugs, was a single block of greyish sandstone, but both lugs have cracked off and have been repaired with mortar. The upper part of the tympanum is of two blocks; a large one to the left and a small quadrant-shaped piece to the right. The lower part of the lower block is carved as a pseudo-lintel, with a lower angle roll and above this a row of one and a half unit nested chevrons, alternately roll and hollow in profile. The chevrons do not extend to the lugs on the imposts. Above is a simple Tree of Life consisting of a pair of symmetrical beaded stems curving apart as they rise from the pseudo-lintel, and between them a vertical beaded stem. Each stem terminates in a clasp; the central clasp carved with three horizontal quirks and the side clasps beaded. From the central clasp emerge three stems, the central one ending in a furled acanthus leaf and the side ones in bunches of grapes. From the clasps of the side stems emerge stems branching into four, of which three on the left and two on the right terminate in furled acanthus leaves, one on each side in five-petalled half-daisies with beading around the central boss. The final stem on the left terminates in a bunch of grapes.
The supports are heavily carved monolithic pilasters with integral nook-shafts towards the jambs, and these shafts carry capitals, also carved from the same block. These two great blocks are supported on socles carrying the spurred bases of the nook-shafts and continuing the carving of the pilasters alongside. These in turn stand on chamfered plinths.
The west pilaster is carved with two dragons in high relief, one above the other, their bodies coiling down the pilaster; the upper biting the tail of the lower. Intertwined with the dragons' fat bodies is a slender smooth stem with side-leaves. The head of the lower dragon is carved on the socle. The dragons are quite smooth except for their heads, which have ball-shaped snouts, oval eyes and wrinkles depicted by parallel curving vee-shaped grooves.
The west nook-shaft is carved with two standing frontal warriors, one above the other, entangled in slender foliage stems with side-leaves. They are similar in having long, slender bodies clad in long-sleeved tunics decorated with fine horizontal reeding. Both wear plain trousers supported by girdles secured with a complex knot with the long ends running down their legs, and both have tall, pointed caps and simple shoes. The upper warrior has his head turned in right profile and is bearded. He clutches a stem in his left hand and holds a battleaxe in his right, the shaft resting against his shoulder. The lower warrior is similarly bearded and his head is turned three-quarters to the right. He carries a sword in his right hand, again resting it on his shoulder, while his left hand is raised, palm out.
The capital above is cushion-shaped, carved on its two faces with a pair of affronted beasts; a lion on the east and on the south a wingless dragon with two legs and a lion's head and mane. They confront one another with mouths wide open. The dragon has beading running down its back and continuing to form its coiled tail. The lion has a very long tail, decorated with spiral reeding and terminating in a brush. On the south face, the dragon's body crosses a foliate stem, one of a pair clasped above the necking and terminating in furled leaves. The necking is a heavy single-strand cable, and the impost is similar to that of the inner order but larger, set at a higher level, and with its face decorated with a row of chip-carved saltires in squares.
The east pilaster has a similar design to its counterpart on the west jamb, but with the dragons coiling upwards. The east nook-shaft is decorated in relief with a design of acanthus, consisting of a pair of smooth, slender stems with side shoots and fluted, lobed leaves that run up the shaft from base to the necking of the capital. At the bottom the two stems curve apart to form an oval within which is a pair of affronted birds perching on the stems. The two stems rise and intersect, untidily at first but above the midpoint of the shaft the pattern becomes symmetrical, with a series of large loops held by reeded clasps and enclosing pairs of spiral side shots terminating in leaves. The east capital has a grotesque mask on the angle, with drilled, bulging, oval eyes and beaded brows above, a slender nose and wrinkles above the mouth which is wide open and from which emerge a pair of beaded stems, one to either side. They terminate in a spray of multi-lobed fluted leaves and bunches of grapes emerging from a reeded clasp. The foliage on the south face extends onto the top of the pilaster alongside, above the head of the top dragon which seems to strain to reach it. The necking is a heavy single-strand cable, and the impost is similar to that of the inner order but larger, set at a higher level, and with its face decorated with a row of chip-carved saltires in squares.
The arch consists of 16 voussoirs carved with a row of single-roll frontal chevron at the intrados, and outside this a series of motifs overlapping a roll, thus classed as beakhead. From left to right they are:
1. A dragon in low relief, its head pointing inwards and lying across the chevron inner border. The snout is carved with nested vees, and behind it are wings lying flat and a beaded tail emerging between them.
2. Beast-type beakhead with broad snout lying on the roll, oval, drilled eyes and pointed ears. The head and beak decorated with a symmetrical design of grooving.
3. S-shaped dragon lying over the roll and pointing inwards, the head and tail turned back. Its body is slender and beaded and the wings lie flat. The mouth is open.
4. Lion with human head, facing inwards overlapping the roll.
5. Broad frontal lion-like mask, the mouth open and a pair of affronted beast heads emerging from it like tongues to lie across the roll. These little heads have their mouths open and their tongues projecting.
6. Beakhead similar to 2, but with curls of hair along the brow between the ears, cable moulded brows and nested U-shaped decoration on the beak.
8. Bird with hooked beak, its head turned back, seated on a nest comprising a loop of three-strand interlace resting on the arch roll and enclosing a double row of fluted leaves.
9. Angel flying left, its head frontal and wings spread behind. It carries a sword in its right hand and a scroll in its left.
10.Mask similar to 5, but with a pair of stems terminating in leaves coming from its mouth.
12. Four serpents in a ring, each biting the tail of the one in front.
13. A dragon in a ring, biting its own tail.
14. Grotesque beast head shown in left profile.
15. Beast beakhead with long straight snout.
16. Dragon facing right (outwards), its body and tail formed of three-strand interlace.
Outside this arch is a broad, flat label carved with tangential motifs. The left (west) springer has a symmetrical foliage design with a central stem, clasped at the bottom, with symmetrical leaves emerging from the clasp. At the top of the stem a pair of long leaves grow downwards and outwards. The east springer is a curtailed version of this, with the top part cut off. Above these two on either side is a flattened head, seen from above, with a beak-like snout, drilled bulging eyes and an overall pattern of symmetrical wrinkles, similar to beakheads 2 and 6 of the second-order arch. Teeth are visible below the snouts of both. Between these two heads, the rest of the arch is carved with a chain motif of nine beaded rings clasped by grotesque lion heads with their jaws towards the extrados. There are nine of these, as an extra one appears at the right of the easternmost ring. Two different designs of lion head occur. The first four from the west are large with long snouts, transverse wrinkles to either side and undrilled eyes; the other five are smaller with drilled pupils and short snouts.
The rings of the chain are carved with motifs, described from left to right as follows:
1. Left profile bird with hooked beak, undrilled eyes, wings curved up and long tail. The wings and tail are fluted and the body smooth.
2. As 1.
3. As 1.
4. As 1 but right profile.
5. Serpent with its body curved in a U-shape, lying on its back and facing its own tail.
6. Left profile standing bird, its body vertical and its head turned back so that it is vertical too. Wings and body are decorated with fluting for feathers and the eye is large and drilled.
7. Pisces? A pair of fish, the upper swimming right and the lower left, both with drilled eyes, four fins and their bodies decorated with beading.
8. Damaged and repaired. The bottom part contains the rear of a lion, and an inserted stone above it attaches a bird's head similar to 6. This is apparently not the original design.
9. A pair of affronted serpents forming a ring. Their tails are knotted together and their heads touch. They appear to share a tongue.
The jambs are square pilasters with no capitals but quirked hollow-chamfered imposts with a thin roll at the bottom of the face and above this a line of cusping, the arches empty on the S impost but each containing a trilobed fluted leaf on the N. The arch soffit and its E face are plain, but there is an angle roll to the W, and the W face is carved with a row of lozenges, produced by carving a saltire on each voussoir, enclosing a pellet in each field.
Jambs and arch are plain and square in section. The imposts on either side are similar to those of the 1st order, N side. They continue along the W wall of the chancel as stringcourses to either side.
Each jamb consists of a hollow quadrant containing three nimbed male figures, each standing on the halo of the one below. The lowest figure stands on a simple spurred base on a block plinth. The figures have large heads, very slender bodies and drapery carved in parallel folds, flaring out at the lower hems, which terminate in irregular undercut pleats. Their eyes are large, bulging and undrilled.
N jamb, middle figure: St Peter holding a key in his right hand and a book in his left. This is the only precisely identifiable figure on the chancel arch. He is shown barefoot and has a moustache and a beard, and his hair is shown as a cap of long curls falling on his forehead.
N jamb, bottom figure: A priest in heavy vestments that hide his feet, holding an aspergilium in his right hand and a book in his left. He wears a cap decorated with concentric reeding, his eyes are half-round, and he has a thin moustache but no beard.
S jamb, top figure: an apostle holding a cross in his right hand and a book in his left. He is shown barefoot and has a moustache and a short beard. He is tonsured and his remaining hair is indicated by reeding.
S jamb, middle figure: an apostle holding a cross in his right hand and a book in his left. He is shown barefoot and has a moustache and a short beard on his chin only. He is tonsured and his remaining hair is indicated by reeding.
S jamb, bottom figure: A priest in heavy vestments and pointed slippers, holding an aspergilium in his right hand and a book in his left. He wears a cap decorated with concentric reeding, his eyes are almond shaped, and he has a thin moustache but no beard.
Above these figures, the N capital is block shaped and decorated with beaded foliage stems bearing a bunch of fruit between furled leaves on stems depending from a beaded clasp on the angle. Stems on the faces curve down from this clasp and terminate in trilobed fluted leaves at the lower angles, with sideshoots bearing Byzantine blossoms and clusters of fruit at the upper angles. The necking is a heavy single-strand cable.
The S capital is double scalloped with sheathed cones and grooves outlining the lower edges of the shields. The lower parts of the cones are surrounded by a ring of leaves with spiral tips growing out of the necking. The necking is of double-strand cable, alternately fat rolls and rows of beading.
The arch of the 2nd order has a frontal chevron angle roll, double quirked towards the intrados and single quirked towards the extrados. Outside this is a roll and a hollow quadrant. The label has a single roll of zigzag on the face, and outside it a raised fillet.
|external diameter of bowl at rim||1.07 m|
|h. of bowl||0.45 m|
|internal diameter of bowl at rim||0.88 m|
|overall h. of font (without step)||0.96 m|
|ext. diameter of bowl at rim||0.36 m|
|h. of base (max.)||0.20 m|
|h. of central roll||0.09 m|
|h. of upper bowl (max.)||0.28 m|
|int. diameter of bowl at rim||0.25 - 0.27 m|
|overall h. of stoup (max.)||0.57 m|
|equatorial circumference||0.68 m (hence diameter: 0.22 m)|
|h. of stopper||0.165 m|
J. Andersen, The Witch on the Wall: Mediaeval Erotic Sculpture in the British Isles. London 1977.
Anon., A short tour round the corbels (church guides), updated July 2004.
Anon., 'A Gem of the Norman Era'. The Builder I (1843), 277.
J. Bailey, The Parish Church of St Mary & St David at Kilpeck. Hereford 2000. (Church Guide).
R. Baxter, Bestiaries and their Users in the Middle Ages. Stroud 1998.
M. Camille, Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art. London 1992, 56-75.
C. S. Buckingham, 'Kilpeck and its Church', Journal of the British Archaeological Association ns 14 (1908), 73-82.
E. Chwojko and M. Thurlby, 'Gloucester and the Herefordshire School', Journal of the British Archaeological Association 150 (1997), 7-26.
E. R. Firmstone, 'Kilpeck Church', Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club (1886-89), 137-39.
F. Henry & G. Zarnecki, 'Romanesque Arches decorated with Human and Animal Heads', Journal of the British Archaeological Association, XX-XXI (1957-58), 1-34.
F. W. Fairholt, 'Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire', The Builder 4 (1846), 594.
G. C. Druce, 'The Symbolism of the Crocodile in the Middle Ages', Archaeological Journal, 66 (1909), 311-68.
E. Gethyn-Jones. The Dymock School of Sculpture, London and Chichester 1979.
G. Oliver, 'Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire', Associated Architectural Societies Reports and Papers 18 (1885-86), 176-80.
E. R. Hamer, Patronage and Iconography in Romanesque England: The Herefordshire School in Context. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Chicago, 1992.
I. Gardner, 'The Church of Kilpeck, Herefordshire', Archaeologia Cambrensis 82 (1927), 365-77.
A. Weir & J. Jerman, Images of Lust. London 1986
J. F. King, 'The Parish Church at Kilpeck Reassessed', D. Whitehead (ed), Medieval Art, Architecture and Archaeology at Hereford (British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions XV), Leeds 1995, 82-93.
J. Wathen, 'Description of Kilpec Church in Herefordshire', Gentleman's Magazine 59 (1789), 781.
L. Cust, 'Kilpeck Church', Walpole Society 5 (1915-17), 85-89.
G. R. Lewis, Illustrations and description of Kilpeck Curch, Herefordshire; with an essay on ecclesiastical design. London 1840.
G. R. Lewis, Illustrations of Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire: in a series of drawings made on the spot. With an Essay on Ecclesiastical Design, and a Descriptive Interpretation. London 1842.
N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire. Harmondsworth 1963.
RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire, 1: South-west, 1931, 156-58.
R. Halsey, 'Eight Herefordshire Marble Fonts', Romanesque and Gothic: Essays for George Zarnecki. Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1987, 107-09.
R. Shoesmith, 'Excavations at Kilpeck, Herefordshire', Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club 47/2 (1992), 162-209.
S. Jonsdottir, 'The Portal of Kilpeck Church: its place in English Romanesque Sculpture'. Art Bulletin 32, 1950, 171-80.
T. Blashill, 'On the Churches of Kilpeck and Rowlstone', Journal of the British Archaeological Association 27 (1871), 489-95.
M. Thurlby, The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture. Logaston (Herefordshire) 1999, 37-70.
T. L. Parker, 'Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire', Gentleman's Magazine 103/1 (1833), 393-95.
G. Zarnecki, Later English Romanesque Sculpture 1140-1210. London 1953.
G. Zarnecki, Regional Schools of English Sculpture in the Twelfth Century: the Southern School and the Herefordshire School. Unpublished thesis, University of London, 1951.