Anglo-Saxon Churches in England.

back to home page

Anglo-Saxon church at Milborne Port, Somerset.

The town of Milborne Port is an ancient Saxon mint town. The cruciform church of St John the Evangelist is of late Anglo-Saxon date and some parts may well span the Norman conquest. It was noted that the chancellor Regimbald(i) rebuilt his Minster at Milborne Port in “a sumptuous hybrid style.” It would seem logical to assign the chancel, transepts and crossing and the now demolished nave to this period. The surviving south doorway of the nave was incorporated into the 1860s rebuild and is of late Saxon design, albeit with Victorian alterations and additions/restoration to the outer order which somewhat confuse the design.
However, despite the Victorian date of the present nave (almost totally rebuilt 1867–69) and the associated north aisle, there remains the pre-conquest central crossing, part transepts, and chancel. The south transept was heavily restored previously in 1843. The north transept was rebuilt along with the nave. The new nave is 28 feet (9 m) longer than the original it replaced. The old west front exhibited vestiges of triangular-headed arcading on either side of the inserted Perpendicular west window, and the lower part of the front was divided into compartments, by broad pilasters of plain square section (perhaps in a similar manner to Worth church, Sussex). This was recorded by photography and the photo was published in 1893 by A. Reynolds (iii), who was involved with the demolition of the greater part of the Saxon nave. Remains of the original nave may be seen in the ashlar at the extreme east end of the south wall where it abuts the crossing.
The crossing (tower) is wider in plan than the nave, and markedly wider than the transepts or chancel. This is a distinctive Saxon trait, which may also be observed at nearby Sherborne Abbey (where significant traces of the Saxon rubble west wall may be seen). Inside, the four crossing arches with their jambs survive, although the east and west arches have been rebuilt in pointed 14th-century form; the south and north arches have been slightly deformed to elliptical shape due to the pressure of the masonry, perhaps by the addition of the top stage of the tower at a later date.

The original arches survive to north and south. Both jambs and arches show the Anglo-Saxon feature of a half-round soffit roll, and the quarter rolls of the outer orders on all the jambs and on the surviving arches are reminiscent of the Anglo-Saxon work at Langford, Oxon. A further remarkable feature of these capitals is that, while those of the western arch towards the nave are carved in stone, most of the others are partly of stone and partly of plaster, while those of the arch of the south transept are wholly of plaster (ii).
It can be seen that some parts of the plaster detail is missing but the stone (cut and shaped ready to receive it) is revealed 'underneath' where the plaster should sit. Regarding the south and north walls of the chancel - here are to be found parts of blocked Saxon windows surviving, and H.Taylor has carefully married up the exterior detail extant with that of the interior by careful measurement. It is most interesting that the capitals (inside) which belong to the blocked windows, are importantly a mixture of Saxon detail and some with Romanesque detail. I stress that Romanesque and traditional Saxon carving is not intermingled on any one capital, the various capitals of the whole scheme are each aligned to either Saxon, or to the continental Romanesque school. Patently the masons were either versed in both schools, or different masons executing the work attended to a particular capital according to their schooling.

I carefully avoid refering to Romanesque detail as "Norman" since Romanesque building methods and carved detail were studied equally by the Saxon master builders, as well as the Normans in the first half of the eleventh century. We should avoid refering to (continental) Romanesque detail as 'Norman' since it patently isn't Norman when it is pre-conquest in date. This will be discussed in greater depth in another chapter.

The chancel exhibits pilaster strip work, much disturbed and cut by Early English period windows, and has a close parallel at Bradford-on-Avon. The wall thickness of the chancel is 2ft 8in (0.81 metres), which is a typical Anglo-Saxon dimension. The church, with its Anglo-Saxon features, is of major importance to our understanding of the larger minsters in pre-conquest England.
The church has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building.

(i) Regimbald fell from favour after the Conquest and retired into obscurity.
(ii) H.M.Taylor & Joan Taylor. Anglo-Saxon Architecture.
(iii) Who said. "I much regret taking it [the old west front] down, but to lengthen the nave westward 28ft we were compelled to do so. I feel sure of its Saxon origin, as is evidently shown in the photograph." Source H.Taylor, Anglo-Saxon Churches, see page 425; vol I.

Part of the text above (in blue type) is extracted from my entry on the Wikipedia page about the church at Milborne Port.
Pictured top right, remains of the Saxon arcading on the south wall of the chancel.

more pictures of Milborne Port church

Click here for main menu (including photo pages of individual selected churches).
Over 400 Saxon churches listed!
- an invaluable listing, a downloadable table (unique to this site) which gives information of the known churches in England exhibiting Saxon features and fabric (and with details of those features), a comprehensive listing noted by place name, county, and grid reference; wholly based on H.Taylor's three sterling volumes, "Anglo-Saxon Architecture".
Searching for a particular church? See if its featured here.

go back to home page