Stone-by-stone analysis

All Saints' Church, Brixworth, Northamptonshire

All Saints’ Church, Brixworth, Northamptonshire

If I could only have one subscription to a historical association it would be with the Ancient Monuments Society:  Their periodic newsletter is a fount of information about historic buildings and books about historic buildings, listing events and tours, including mine.  The annual Transactions is learned and authoritative:  the 2014 edition, for instance, ranges from Birmingham Town Hall to parkland buildings associated with hunting, Catholic buildings in Norwich, parsonages and the early conservation movement in Edinburgh Old Town.

The book-review section of the Transactions delves deep into the realms of scholarship.  The titles reviewed usually cost tens of pounds;  the reviewers make learned distinctions between ‘axiometric’ (which hasn’t yet reached the dictionary) and ‘axonometric’, and ‘homogenous’ and ‘homogeneous’, and express enthusiasms that would not be understood in my local pub:  “Parochial benching is more than ever a hot topic just now”  “…a fascinating account of the decorative use of the iron punch, which woodwork aficionados will find riveting”.

Richard Halsey’s review of the latest study of Brixworth Church, Northamptonshire, [] reminds me of how much further investigation of historic buildings can go than would ever occur to the casual visitor.

The late-eighth century church of All Saints’, Brixworth, is the largest surviving Anglo-Saxon building in England.  Though it was altered in the tenth, thirteen and nineteenth centuries, it’s our best opportunity to appreciate the scale of long vanished Saxon cathedrals such as Canterbury and Winchester.  It’s a supremely important monument in the catalogue of buildings, not only in England but in northern Europe as a whole.

The 2013 study edited by David Parson and Diana Sutherland is the result of forty years’ research by the Brixworth Archaeological Research Committee [BRAC].  Part of Diana Sutherland’s contribution to the knowledge about the church involved using a scaffold to map each stone in the Saxon masonry to determine its geology and petrology.

That’s aeon away from walking in, taking a few photos and buying a guidebook, as I did.

Richard Halsey points out that forty years of funded research yields sufficient data to pack a 326-page book and still leaves significant questions unanswered:  what was the Saxon roof like?  why was the original west end demolished and replaced by the tenth-century tower?  why was such a huge church built in this place?

There’s so much more to learn that feeds into scholarship about the distant past, and particularly about other surviving pre-Norman churches:,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=44&cntnt01returnid=87.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *