I hinted last week that the Saxon Virgin and Child at Inglesham in Wiltshire, was just a taster and I would return to discuss the delights of Inglesham church in greater depth. It is one of my very favourite church buildings, one with a special atmosphere, full of texture. It is the sort of building where you can see, layered up, centuries of liturgical change and also the changing approach to church decoration. So medieval wallpaintings appear from the crumbling plaster behind painted post-Reformation texts. Structural divisions, such as parclose screens remain amidst a sea of box pews. William Morris, who lived ten miles away from Inglesham, at Kelmscott in Oxfordshire, knew the church well and recognised its importance. In the 1880s he managed to rescue it from a drastic restoration. His campaign to save the building resulted in Morris forming of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), to prevent other buildings being over-restored. The church was conserved under SPAB’s guidance in 1888-89 by J T Micklethwaite and was an early exemplar of conservation.
So what delights are there to see here. The building is a realtively humble structure. It consists of a nave with aisles, and a chancel with south chapel and a south porch. There is no tower, just a double bellcote on the west gable of the nave. Externally the church is rather rustic, the masonry is covered with limewashed roughcast. The Palm Sunday cross remains, although the cross head has gone.
Internally the structure is thirteenth century, the nave arcades have pillars with stiff-leaf capitals.
The chancel has a blank arcade on the north wall which is transitional, with round headed arches and stiff leaf capitals. This is clearly the earliest part of the structure.
Nearly every wall surface has some remains of medieval and later wallpaintings. The north and south walls of the chancel are lined-out to resemble masonry joints and painted consecration crosses remain.
On the east wall of the chancel we see layers and layers of painted decoration. A consecration cross overlayed with late medieval painted decoration, overlayed in turn with post-Reformation blackletter texts.
Everywhere there are hints of late medieval lturgical and devotional practice. Over the high altar the rood is panelled to form a tester of canopy of honour, formerly there was a pulley within this for the raising and lowering of the hanging pyx.
Parclose screen demark the place of former chapels, still free of pews. At the east end of the north chapel are image brackets and behind one is a painted backdrop and painted canopy.
Then add to all this,the post-Reformation fittings. Where there would hadbeen open space in the Middle Ages, are seventeenth and eighteenth century box pews, all of different dimension. They fill the centre of the nave and the chancel. Where the high altar once stood is a railed in seventeenth century communion table, the only hint of the medieval arrangements the remains of a painted stone reredos.
The church is no longer used for worship and that has preserved a lot of its atmosphere. It gives us a wonderful glimpse of how prior to the Victorian tidying up of church buildings, people lived with the very real presence of their medieval past in their church buildings. I love it.