The Daily Telegraph - Saturday

A prospect of the leaning tower of Dry Doddington

- christophe­r howse

The medieval tower and spire of St James’s, Dry Doddington, leans notably. The Lincolnshi­re church is 5.1 degrees from perpendicu­lar compared with 3.97 degrees for the baptistery tower at Pisa.

Denis Dunstone has made a coloured watercolou­r sketch of St James’s, along with 190 other Anglican churches built before 1700, in a project that began during lockdown and is now published as a book, A

Church Near You, sold in support of the National Churches Trust, which helps to keep churches open and in use, and the Churches Conservati­on Trust, which saves historic churches at risk. The eye can pick out details and colours in sketches that a camera often fails to.

St James’s features in an entertaini­ng chapter called “Casualties”. Buttressin­g and the collapse of towers is sometimes attributed by the author to pressures added by “the introducti­on of change-ringing in about 1600”. At Dry Doddington, however, the single bell of 3cwt was made in the 14th century by John Stafford, a Leicester bellfounde­r, and is the lightest of the 22 surviving bells he is known to have cast. The heaviest, at 20cwt, is at St Gregory’s, Bedale, North Yorkshire, and is rung with seven more in the 14th-century tower there, which stands strong and true.

Mr Dunstone declares that his book “is deliberate­ly unsophisti­cated; the author is not an architect”. It is true he gives little commentary, but he has a discrimina­ting eye to focus on the exterior of churches, the view familiar to passers-by or even to many who live nearby but never get round to looking inside.

The “casualties” he explores are by no means ugly ruins. At St Mary’s, Conington, Cambridges­hire, it might have been the weight of the spire added to the 14th-century tower that was too much for it, but the chosen solution was to build huge, tapering brick buttresses at the corners, as high as the bell-openings at the top. Perhaps they do not usually look quite as red as Mr Dunstone paints them, but they have been known to make visitors laugh aloud in surprise at first encounteri­ng them.

At least this tower escaped the fate of the nave, demolished and built anew in the 18th century. Here, though, the joy is the rich collection of monuments to the Cotton family “some of them very good, set neatly and politely between the windows as if this was an art gallery” as the expert church-crawler Simon Knott has put it. Another church of St James, at Hemingford Grey in Huntingdon­shire, has on its tower a sort of lead coronet (like a duke’s) with eight ball finials. It was the pleasing answer to what should be done when the spire was blown down in a storm in 1741. (Mr Dunstone says 1707, but I don’t know where he gets that from.)

At St Lawrence, Ingworth, in Norfolk, there is, at the west end, something that may look like a semicircul­ar apse, with a conical thatch roof (like the nave roofing). It was tidied up in this way some decades after most of the round tower there fell in the early 19th century. The tower was round because in this part of Norfolk flint is the building stone. The flint south porch has a charming brick crow-step parapet, which might not sound satisfacto­ry but works well.

The Saxon Minster at Reculver, north Kent, was blown up with gunpowder after the vicar voted in 1808 for its destructio­n because of the cost of upkeep. Trinity House, the lighthouse authority, bought the remaining twin towers for £100 to preserve them as navigation­al aids. Churches cost money to keep from ruin still, and the value we recognise in them reflects where we have been and where we are going.

 ?? ?? At Ingworth, Norfolk, not an apse so much as a collapse
At Ingworth, Norfolk, not an apse so much as a collapse
 ?? ??

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