Norman Churches

The Norman churches of Hampshire are magnificent examples of a riotous period of church building

Following the arrival of the Normans in 1066, King William I lost little time confiscating the Anglo Saxon held lands, estates and church buildings and passing them into the hands of his Norman favourites. There were many vacancies amongst the clergy and these places were filled by French clergymen who traveled with their own craftsmen. This was an opportunity to impress and the churches they set about building had bigger, wider and more decorated arches, such as can be seen in the church of St Peters in Petersfield. The Norman Romanesque style was born. Browse the table to get a snapshot of Norman churches in Hampshire and click through to the individual posts. There are examples of Norman work in many churches but this table is a pick of the best.

CHURCH NAMELOCATIONDECRIPTION
St MaryAshleyThis tiny two celled church is described as Norman but the chancel arch is very narrow and simple looking more Anglo Saxon than Norman.The broad squints on either side of the arch allowing a good view of the sanctuary.
St JamesAshmansworthVery simple and largely unrestored with a simple Norman chancel arch with squints each side
All SaintsBurghclereThe nave dates from 1100–20 with a simple chancel arch. Particularly interesting is a blocked 12th-century doorway with angle shafts in the jambs having early volute capitals and moulded bases.
St Andrew'sChilcombThis simple church little changed from it's early Norman build. There are enough features here to suggest that it is Saxo Norman. Note the height to width ratio, the narrow blocked in north doorway and the narrow windows. In the eastern gable two openings for bells, typical of other Saxon churches in England.
St Mary'sKingsclereA Norman church almost in name only, it has remnants of it's original architecture but the 1848 restoration, although maintaining it's Norman look robbed the church of it's origins. This was a mighty Norman church, the lands around being royal lands from the time of King Alfred if not earlier. The size of the central tower elevates the church to more than a parish church.
All Saints East MeonThis church was built and added to over a period of 70 years. It was built by the lords of the manor, the Bishops of Winchester and is cruciform in style. The tower is a dominant Norman structure with circular decorated windows. Inside the original Norman west door and the strong and simple chancel arch are impressive but nothing is as impressive as the 1150 Tournai font with it's depiction of the earth and the story of Adam and Eve.
St AndrewMottisfontA refreshingly simple church with a wide decorated chancel arch. It was restored in the 15th century but the nave remains with it's Norman walls and it still has the feel of a largely unaltered church.
St Swithun'sNately ScuresBuilt sometime in the last quarter of the 12th century, this church is unique in Hampshire in that it has an aspe 16 feet in diameter and a nave 30 feet long. In fact it is thought this single cell aspidal church is the only one in the country. It has a beautiful Norman doorway with decorative carving, including a mermaid.
St Peter’s PetersfieldThe church was built between 1120 and 1150. Thought to have been built as a cruciform church with a central tower. The chancel arch is a wide deeply carved arch with 3 splendid round headed windows above. It seems a large Norman church for what would have a relatively small community and there have been suggestions that it was built to look like the Norman Winchester Cathedral.
St Mary'sPortchesterBuilt in the 1120's this church was built for a community of Augustinian monks from France. The Norman font is one of the most beautiful in Hampshire full of symbolism.
Romsey AbbeyRomseyThe Abbey is an oustanding example of Norman craftmanship. Festooned throughout are highly decorated arches. The capitals are imaginatively decorated and the whole structure just shouts Norman. Externally the Abbey has a strong and powerful presence, the tower more reminiscent of a castle keep.
St NicholasBishops SuttonThe church is a simple two cell structure with a 55 foot long nave with a later chancel arch. The striking Norman decoration is around the south doorway. The beak head decoration is thought to be a Scandinavian style. The chalkstone from which it is carved still looks crisp.
St MaryTuftonA simple two cell church with small Norman windows peering down onto a largely unaltered nave, the chancel is later. On the south side there is a Norman doorway and window. The unmoulded chancel arch is Norman, simple and unmoulded.
Saint Wilfrid in WarnfordWarnfordThis church was re-built in 1190 by Adam de Port but vestiges of it's former Saxon self still peep through. It has a very imposing Norman tower with circular windows reminiscent of those further up the valley at East Meon.
St JamesWieldThis simple and beautiful two cell Norman church invites you in via a Norman arch and into a Norman nave. It can have looked little different when it was built in the 12th century.
Winchester CathedralWinchesterIn 1079, Bishop Walkelin began work on a completely new cathedral A substantial amount of the fabric of Walkelin's building, including the crypt, transepts and the basic structure of the nave, survives. The original crossing tower, however, collapsed in 1107. The cathedral captures all periods of architecture but it's Norman roots are still in evidence.

Norman doorway in Easton church Hampshire
How many decorative features can be fitted on a doorway? Easton church.

 

Across the country these monumental churches were built, with massive walls although these were generally walls with an infill of rubble and faced with axe hewn stone and small windows, these churches were to stand the test of time. The church was built with two ‘cells’, the nave and the the smaller aspidal sanctuary.

North side of Chilcomb church showing earlier blocked up doorway
Simple two cell church. St Andrew’s Chilcomb

As the population increased, larger churches were needed. It became important that all the community could be accommodated within the church. Transepts were added to the north and south of the choir and so the first cruciform churches were built, a central tower was then added, an example is the church of All Saints in East Meon.

Within a hundred years there were as many as 7,000 Norman churches in England.

The Normans re-used the Anglo Saxon church, there was the question of ancient sacred places to be considered, the position of the old church, usually on dry ground close to the manor house it served and other factors such as cost to consider, so re-using a building was a sensible solution. It was not without it’s problems though. Anglo Saxon naves were narrow, adding transepts made the interior very gloomy and so a clerestory was added. A clerestory means a ‘clear story’ containing high windows which allowed light to flood the church.

However the Norman builders were not stupid. One of the simplest ways to enlarge a church is to construct a building parallel to the nave and then knock through. If you do that though the roof will collapse and so those great arch building masons supported the point between old and new with an arcade. An arcade is a series of columns which support massive arches which in turn support the heavy stone walls and roof.

Look above the arcade and there is a good chance of glimpsing the oldest part of what appears to be an entirely Norman church. The arcade supports the old intact Anglo Saxon wall such as can be seen in the church of St Peter and St Paul in Hambledon.

Aglo Saxon remnants in Hambledon church Hampshire
See the Anglo Saxon pilaster strip from the original wall above the later cut through arch.

Norman columns are usually round although some are octagonal. Some have been carved with vertical grooves running down their length. They stood on a square base and sometimes the mason has added decoration so that the seam between the two is not obvious. The column was topped by a square capital from which sprung the arch and here the mason added their decoration.

Norman architecture in East Meon church classic column
Example of a Norman column in East Meon church.

The most stunning examples of Norman churches are the cathedrals and abbeys

They could afford the best of the Norman masons who were teeming with ideas about style and decoration. Blind arcades appear inside and outside the church, great turrets and towers spring up and the masons own artistic flair can be seen in ever more elaborate decorations as in Romsey Abbey in Hampshire.

Norman architecture in Romsey Abbey
Arches abound in Romsey Abbey Hampshire

Norman churches, built by master masons, let’s let them have the last word

‘Robert Made Me’

Norman carved capital Romset Abbey
‘Robert Made Me’ a Master Masons work

 

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