Cambridgeshire Churches

Weston Colville, St Mary

lovely in the sunset

Now, here is a strange thing. This church was heavily restored in 1825. This was rather before the Camden Society (Cambridge's equivalent of the more famous Oxford Movement) became influential in church architecture. Later 19th century rebuildings are more historically minded and much more mass-produced. The earlier ones are more idiosyncratic - which is to say that they can sometimes be downright peculiar.

To be fair, it must have been a peculiar building before the 19th century. The windows in the nave are older than the restoration, but they are of a strange design, with shallow rounded heads and no tracery save a simple vertical mullion dividing the glass in two. The porch is the most normal bit of the church - the familiar small Perpendicular design. Within is an old doorway, and there was a nice little niche above it.

the odd victorian rebuild of the tower

The restorers completely rebuilt the chancel and did much the same to the tower, reusing only 6 feet or so of masonry at the bottom. The walls of the chancel are surfaced with flint divided into panels by vertical lines of yellow Cambridgeshire bricks. In the middle of the wall is the priest's door, flanked on either side by rather brutal y-traced windows - softwood tracery, and those same dirty yellow bricks forming the surround. It's not really very nice.

The tower, though, is the most bizarre bit of all. Again, we have long vertical panels of flintwork divided by yellow bricks. In the south face, the central panel has two big openings, one above the other. They look a little like the windows one might find on a very early Victorian townhouse in South London, or perhaps fireplaces. The top one is in line with similar openings on the west and north faces, so I suppose it serves as a bell opening. They're horrible, though, and filled with dull wooden slats that need a good lick of paint.

On top of all of this, there is a projecting battlement - a brick crenellation sitting on a shallow machicolation. Suddenly, the truth of the matter became evident - the architects had evidently muddled up the plans, and built a suburban water tower instead. Seen in that light, I suppose it has a certain 19th century industrial chic.

the snail outside Weston Colville

I feel a bit mean laughing at St Mary. It does have a lot of character, unlike the technically flawless but utterly unlovely St Andrew at Toft. For all I know, it may be very beautiful inside, but we found it locked, and there wasn't time to hunt down a churchwarden. We did stop to wander around the churchyard a bit. It looks like there are the remains of a preaching cross next to the chancel, and north of the church is a wonderfully wild patch shadowed by big holm oaks. The golden late afternoon light fell across the grass and softened the harshness of the church - for a moment it was almost pretty. Just remember: water towers can be lovely too.

St Mary was locked, but keyholders are indicated.

| | about us | | | | ©2009 Ben Colburn & Mark Ynys-Mon