Saturday, 21 June 2008

Duntisbourne Rouse

There is not really a village to speak of at Duntisbourne Rouse but there is a most wonderful church. It is one of the most hidden gems in the gem studded part of the world and quite difficult to locate. The Duntisbournes, Rouse, Leer, Abbots, are stone built villages hidden in the valley of the Dunt Stream, to the north of Cirencester, Gloucestershire, but seemingly at the end of the world.

There is an old weather beaten, unpainted, wooden signpost half hidden in the hedgerow and a rickety wooden lychgate in a gap in the foliage. Alec Clifton-Taylor in his book The English Parish Church as A Work of Art, describes it as one of his favourite churches in the whole of England and is very taken with the slight angle at which one approaches it along the path. In other words it is not aligned with the path. Such little irregularities are part of the fabric of the English scene.

There is some debate as to the exact age of the church but it is now thought that it actually straddles the critical date of 1066 A.D., so some of the stonework is Saxon and some is Norman. The little saddleback tower was completed in the late 1500s. You can see that the windows are all of different dates.

The porch is completely stone built, unlike the one at Kempley which is substantially wooden. Here we are in the Cotswold Hills where good stone is everywhere under your feet but good timber is scarce. On the gable of the porch is a Mass Dial, a sundial used to tell the time for Mass.

Inside it is the simplicity and honesty the impress. It is as if nothing has changed for hundreds of years. There are simple oak box pews, a Jacobean pulpit, a fine strong plain Norman chancel arch, some unusual panelling in the chancel, very little stained glass, and just a little medieval painting surviving here and there, in this case just decorative patterns. The simplicity of it is moving, the very stones of the floor are worn by generations of worshippers.

The churchyard itself is magical, sloping quite steeply down to the tiny stream which gives the villages their names. There are some good tombs and the remains of a churchyard cross. The few neighbouring houses are all of the same stone and the gardens are full of simple flowers and vegetables. Everything is right.

There is a surprise. Made possible by the steeply sloping ground, hidden under the chancel is a tiny one cell chapel, accessible from the outside, which feels infinitely old, a single dark, low vaulted room with a single tiny window in the East wall. It reminds me very strongly of those tiny oratories you find in the Southwest extremities of Ireland but which date from centuries before.

The church is still used for services but as the villages are within easy reach of one another the service moves from one church to another. I have no idea what attendances might be.

( I should point out that unless otherwise stated all the churches I post about are Anglican/ Church of England. They were, almost without exception, built for Catholic worship, but due to historical circumstances, ( " that's one way of putting it", Ed.), there are very very few medieval parish churches still in Catholic hands. )


PeterHWright said...

I know of Clifton-Taylor's book, but I don't know this church at all. It's very interesting indeed.

Yes, I can see the plainer style of chancel arch would suggest a different date from St. Mary's, Kempley. The chancel itself looks delightful. The church is pleasingly harmonious, despite the variety of architectural periods suggested by the windows in the nave !

A really fascinating post. Thank you !

the hound said...

I think the reason these small cotswold churches are so harmonious is that, though they contain architectural elements from various centuries, the building materials are, for each individual church, always local and always the same, not just generic limestone, but the exact same stone, from the same local quarry, probably not a mile from the building itself, still being used generation after generation.

Also there was for centuries an almost innate understanding of the properties of the local stone, how best to use it, what it could and could not do, which developed over the years in a organic way, so that even though building styles changed the actual techniques did not.

PeterHWright said...

Yes indeed !
Always stick to local building materials. That is the great rule.
If new stone is needed for a building, go back to the original quarry (even if it needs to be re-opened) for the same stone.
Even fine ashlar will not match if it is not quarried from the original site.
From the start, it will look different, and it will weather differently.
Hence, the patchwork quilt effect, seen on so many buildings where the golden rule has not been observed.

A great series. Please keep it up !