Sunday, 26 November 2017

West Berks Churches: the finale.

This is a Norman treasure trove

This trip was to see the final few churches in Jenkins’ survey of churches in Berkshire, England's Thousand Best Churches by Simon Jenkins pub. 1999. Forward we went, west along the M4 and turning off at J13, Chris, Ricardo and I.

On the banks of the River Kennet sits St Mark and Luke in the hamlet of Avington. By all accounts and records this is a Norman treasure. This is isolated place and in private hands, although opens occasionally. We believed it to be locked, however Christophe turned the ancient door handle and we were inside.

This lonely gem is Norman; from its porch to its great sagging arch that separates Nave from Chancel. And on this arch are remarkable carvings, beakheads and monsters. Beakhead ornaments, are found decorating the arches of Norman and Romanesque churches in many parts of Britain. They are one of the most bizarre and intriguing forms of sculpture - terrifying heads of birds, beasts or monsters stare down from the arch, as if to frighten the congregation!

CHURCH 2 . . .
St Thomas Fettiplace and his Portuguese wife Beatrice
The second church in another meadow by a river, the Lambourn, is St Thomas the village East Shefford. To get to the church you pass the reconstituted manor house and the suspicious scrutiny of its gardener.

The Churches Conservation Trust has nimbly restored the church. A light touch made all the more enjoyable on this sunny day. And the sun poured into the south chapel and the alabaster resting place of St Thomas Fettiplace and his Portuguese wife Beatrice; Whilst angels weep around the sides of this gentle knight’s tomb. There is lots to love here, included a mural of the Nativity with the Kings. There is also post-reformation text used to blot out pre-reformation murals.

After an excellent lunch at The Swan at Great Shefford we went to our final church, St Mary Aldworth.


The ‘English Decorated’ period ran from 1250 to the outbreak of the Black Death, 1340. This was a period where English stonemasons and carvers were walking on water.

They created tall, willowy, windows and columns and other pieces. All where Kate Moss-like; slender confections in stone and now found throughout England and Scotland. This was a period was architects and stonemasons simply showing off!

St Mary the Virgin, Aldsworth is nowhere near anywhere. However it does boast wonderful Decorated carvings around a set of effigies of the De La Beche* family. There are eight tombs in total, and as we entered in awe, several were rinsed in an early afternoon November sun.  St Mary with Decorated dormitory of knights and their ladyes.  Sleep gentlefolk you have earned your sweet rest.

Oh and here is the address: St Mary the Virgin, Aldsworth Bell Lane, Aldworth, Berkshire RG8 9SB

An effigies of a De La Beche

*After Duke William of Normandy crossed the English Channel and took London, his supporters followed in search of lands and wealth. The de la Beche family was among them. They received numerous properties and built two castles, one of which was in Aldworth.

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Thank you very much for your comments - Tim