The Evolution of English Churches

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The evolution of English churches

The English churches which are emerged during the era of different reigns and its architectural characteristics are a unique area of study. It varies in many aspects from other styles of architecture as well as the materials used. The period from 600 AD to 1900 AD was the period in which the different architectural styles were emerged. It starts with the Anglo Saxon period to Victorian period. It is a vast area of study in which the choices of structure were selected based on many reasons like influence of families or rulers, availability of materials etc.

Each and every period was landmarks of the architecture which influenced in the construction of English churches within the cultural boundaries. During the reign of different emperors, the circumstances for making different varieties in the construction of churches became a trend and it created different architectural styles. Every styles has difference in many aspects and the workers followed the patterns in similar manner on all the constructions in that period.

Anglo Saxon period

The Anglo Saxon period started from 600 AD to 1066 AD. The works which carried out during this period depicts the influence of roman occupation in the Britain. Later it became the far reaching style of architecture spread to some other parts of Europe. The comparatively geographical isolation, the distribution and availability of building materials and workmen contributed to this style of British architecture which we call now as Anglo Saxon period.

The influences can be seen peculiarly in the Basilica plan, the Celtic plan, etc. All the earliest churches which were built here whilst Britain belonged to the Roman Empire and in the southern regions where the influence of the Christianity predominated for long afterwards were in the basilican styles. Outside the southern England these were rarely found during the end of seventh century. The excavation work which was carried out at the Roman town of Silchester, Hampshire, revealed a fourth century Christian church of this type.

Augustine’s first cathedral at Canterbury has similar features of St Peters basilica at Rome. Each Anglo Saxon church had its own distinctive features which is the reason the current state of each church is different other than its ground plan. The churches were humble, unpretentious and purely functional. That is the difference of Anglo Saxon buildings with the successors.

The best holy crosses are done with stone in this period which are shown as an example of early Christian art in the northern part. The favourite themes of the Anglo Saxons were animals, birds, leaves, vines and biblical characters. The workers mainly worked with hammers and chisels.

The church walls look strong and solid though they were not really thick. Quoining was another feature of the Anglo Saxon walls in which the stones will be placed on top of the other at the point where two walls met. Towers at this period were square, rectangular or circular in shape. It reaches a maximum of 70 feet. They were not professional in construction techniques that they could build crossing towers on pies and arches.

The windows were small and the church was affected by weather problems. Glass was available but it was very expensive because of its foreign origin. Most of the windows were straight sided and round headed.

There were cells built under the body of the church which is called as the crypts. These were found in the buildings which were built by the well travelled missionaries. This was a convenient place to store, exhibit and were also used to hide treasures or sacred relics which were collected during the pilgrimage. The crypts walls were thick and were divided into differentiated areas.

These were the peculiar features which were later became discussions and trademarks of the Anglo Saxon architectural style. During its wide heritage of more than 5 centuries the style made its mark in the history of British church construction as well as the overall architecture of the British buildings, though it varied in various areas of England.

The Norman and Transitional period

These were another noticeable period which played a major role in making the elegant style of the British architecture. The Norman period extended from 1066 AD to 1160 AD and the Transitional period was 1150 AD to 1200 AD. Like the Anglo Saxons, the architecture in Normandy where they developed a style of Romanesque which has its own regional and local characteristics. Edward the Confessor made the Norman architecture implemented in the ecclesiastical matters.

The Council of London, 1075, moved bishoprics to large centres and at that place cathedrals were started in Norman style. This trend was ended by the king William II who made great demands on the church architecture. Until twelfth century the Anglo Saxon church art and sculpture was far advance than the Norman architecture. The first church which is built in Norman style after the conquest of were solid looking and solemn, and was virtually devoid of any colour or decoration.

Norman architecture was developed in the late 30 years of the eleventh century as it did in Normandy, but the church building rushed ahead. The overall idea was to furnish every village with a place of worship and as a result every medieval church will remain Norman in origin.

The ornamentations were strange including the beak head which was a favourite form of decoration, which take us into which is used in decorating corbel tables. The heads of dragon, birds, animals etc were given a long beak or pointed chin which extended over a convex moulding to roll below. The Norman walls were having rubble infilling between the skins of dressed stones and were looking thick and solid. The faces had strokes which were made during the carving of the axe.

Buttresses were introduced in this period which was meant mainly for projecting from ground level against the exterior wall, in contrast to the Saxon pilasters which appeared at many points on wall surfaces. They were quite plain built in one stage with upper surfaces sloping towards the corners. The towers were no longer provided as the main entrance to the church, whereas it is used as the domination part of the church which is noticeable than anything in the environment. The Normans developed a technique for supporting the central tower with piers which is placed only at the angles, which became the best advantage of the tower design.

Towers were basically built in rectangular or square base but may be built circular where there is a lack of materials. The windows were highly setup co related with the exterior wall surface, but were used as a natural light source. The doors were decorated with chancel arches which were the most striking feature of the eleventh and twelfth century architecture. The vertical planks of oak were used as the door elements which was battened horizontally and iron bands were given outside.

The main designs used by the Normans for their fonts were circular unmounted, circular mounted on a central stem with several other supports which his either used for functional capacity whereas the square unmounted is usually thick cornered and is having central stem. They carved the objects which they were most afraid of as well as the objects they like the most with permanent materials. In this period numerous decorative ideas were developed which was begun with crude carving and a number of regional styles were evolved.

In the transitional period the builders and the masons were searching for new ways of expressing their developing skills. The use of axe was replaced by chisels and hammers which made a new trend and gave good results. The first transitional pointed arches were constructional which was not seen before. Sometimes the round headed arches and the pointed arches were placed side by side in such a way that one can see how short a space of time that latter took effect. The heights of towers in this period increased and the openings which were round in shape also contained some pointed arches. The transitional period may be otherwise called as the transformation period from Norman to the Early English period.

The Early English period

It was the period in which the Victorians liked the least but for which they accorded the descriptive term ‘first pointed’ was peculiar to England in the years between Romanesque and geometrical Gothic. This period extended from 1200 AD to 1300 AD and was a glorious age where the British ecclesiastical works started to make its English style. In this period the barbaric enthusiasm in the architectural views and beliefs were dominated by the genuine religious thoughts. It was influenced by the reigns of Richard (1189-99) and John (1199-1216) and their thoughts made much change in the constructions at that time.

By the starting of thirteenth century the church has become rectangular or cruciform in its ground plan. The builders have got an idea how to handle loading and structural strains by the time of this period in thirteenth century. They did experiments on the loading aspects and a new variety in the construction techniques was created. The most enduring design in this period was crocket. The design was influenced by the classical capitals of abroad which was altered and made in the concave hook shape with shafts and had a lobbed appearance.

On the edges of arches and hoods the dog head was sculptured and was the forerunner of the designs in the fourteenth century. In some areas the churches were small and tower less. The wall doesn’t have much greater thickness to keep them up and support the weight from above. The walls still had a rubble masonry structure but the knowledge gained by the masons helped to improve a lot in the structural parameters. The realisation of the faults in the previous construction works made noticeable change in the walls and even in the placement of window. The shape of window was changed to point headed and it extended to the tracery. The buttresses projected more from the wall than before and were extended above the ground level to an extent. They were mostly straight sided and the edges were chamfered.

The string courses were slight and elegant which can be seen throughout the building and had almost equivalent features which they were resembled.

The Decorated

The first Edwardian era was another golden period which the Victorian loved the most for its purity. They called this period as middle or second pointed when the church architecture resembled the French structures in the fourteenth century. This period started by the end of thirteenth century, to be specific 1300 AD and ended at 1377 AD. Though it has similar features of French style of architecture, it doesn’t particularly resemble that in the final stage. The imagination and wild thinking of the emperors as well as the artists made the churches more decorated than before.

They included more seats to the church and made it more secular than before. Inside the church social events took place and became more open to the public. The internal walls were coloured properly and they covered more with decorative elements, whereas the services were made of ritual. Overall decorative outcome of this time was never been realised. During this time the construction of many churches remained unfinished because of death of masons and builders due to plague.

Even though these tragedies happened, the term decorated truly depicted in largest churches. There was not much advancement in the plan or execution of the church building, but the basic plans of aisled nave, chancel, western tower, north and south porch had great changes in fourteenth century. Mostly the new decorations were seen in the exterior. Large windows were inserted in to the chancel walls. Usually a large church was constructed with three storeys named arcade, triforia and clerestory, whereas in smaller ones the middle layer was omitted. There were numerous mouldings in the fourteenth century, but were much less undercut than before. Crockets became more attractive as they implemented a natural incurved style.

Interior walls became more decorated in colour, whereas the surfaces were not prepared well. Another feature was the ogee arch which was applied as widely as possible. Buttresses achieved the maximum perfection in terms of its proportions as well as decorative beauty. They were wider than before and were having more projected appearance at the base. Roofs were mostly built in timber and were covered with stone tiles, lead or shingles. Builders tried better ways of structural arrangements which was another advantage of this period. It was not until this period and even then none too soon in most areas, that full advantage began to take place of the clerestory, and it became a standard feature. Builders started adding parapets which were better treated and has became a major element of decoration.

Although some octagonal towers were put up, two, three or four stage square plan was mostly preferred. Cornice was decorated with ball flower, wandering four leaf decoration or small heads. Windows became another distinguishing feature of the church in both number and size, in a proportion to the available sizes. Windows of small churches had four lights and may extend up to 9 in larger buildings.

The outside porches were made fairly plain with its roofing at reasonable heights and exterior openings similar to interior doorways. They may or may not contain parapet walls. But will be decorated with heraldry. Some of them were open work timber porches which were built on stone or wooden base. Doorways became more pointed whereas it varied in size. Plinths were made in different stages like round, square or octagonal with smaller base area. Another ornate example was the sides of the bowl which was divided by either the buttress or shaft, which were topped by pinnacles. The base of these was often on heads or knots.

Perpendicular age

This age was between 1377 AD and 1547 AD when a peculiar English style of church architecture was born. This period was the longest in the history than any other periods and had lot of individual distinctive features. In parish churches this trend was executed by masons who were not the best but who could cope with its simple lines. They had elegant styles which had beautiful proportioning. The basic vertical lining continued to extend throughout the building. When compared to the decorative age, the works were looking plainer and the interior of the churches became colder.

The shape of the shade, shadow and light was not affected for the sculpture detailing and masons concentrated in making large windows in high walls. The shell of the church had become a place for setting dominant features which can be given as an example for creative excellence. There was an amazing rise for the wood worker whose works were considered equally as masons. Voluntary organisations came for providing community services in the fourteenth century. Some of them were rich trading organisations who have the capacity to build their own chapels or take over a part of church.

The plan of the church was made changes according to the requirements of gilds and individuals for chapels and chantries. The nave walls which had protruded from the roof were taken down and rebuilt to include a clerestory. This became an unavoidable standard feature of perpendicular churches. Surface was decorated widely where some string courses were omitted in village churches smaller in size. Dripstones or label stops were returned at the springing of the arch, which were occasionally curved towards the wall and embattled.

Walls were built high and was constructed of skilfully wrought ashlars, but weakened in themselves by the extent to which the surface area was reduced to a minimum in order to accommodate large windows. Spouts were provided for passage of water from the parapet holding. Masons experimented with different parapets and a great variety of parapets were introduced in this time. The parapet was constructed in detailed ornamentation dividing into three parts named coping band and cornice. One of the disadvantages of the thinner walls was to take slender buttresses still from the walls surface. Diagonal buttresses climbed the tower and corresponded with the stages, tending to die into the wall just below the parapet. Flying buttress was not widely accepted in the country and was occasionally put up the whole length of the nave.

The most beautiful roofs were built open and appeared high and spacious, had an absence of tie beam. The hammer beam roof was considered exclusive for the eastern countries. It support arch bases extending from the horizontal posts to the church head. Sometimes the larger churches tried to have a double hammer beam roof and they remained the richest among the highly decorated ones. The complicated vaulting was experimented during this period even though it was comparatively rare.