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The Hereford School of Romanesque Carving

An Afternoon tour looking at Worcestershire's offerings

North Door and Tympanum

St Leonard's Church - Ribbesford

First stop on the tour of the Eastern offerings of the Hereford School of Romanesque Carving was a stop at the Church of St Leonard's in Ribbersford, about one mile South of Bewdley and close to the banks of the River Severn. My goal was to visit and do some drawings of the doorway and tympanum but when I arrived there were six or more National Grid Land-rovers and they were very nosily cutting down trees and clearing scrub.

I started off with a quick circumnavigation of the building and it was apparent how badly the stonework had suffered from poor care in the past, I did admire the repair of just inserting a brick into the a large stone fissure but how effective this would be is questionable. The stonework is a very soft red sandstone and highly susceptible to damage from impregnated water and appears to have had a lot of cementicious pointing at one time or another

Little of the 12th Century church remains in its current form, the North door and small area to the North West which is apparent in the walls as the stonework appears to be more of a green limestone than the red which the majority of the church can be attributed to. The north wall to the nave is a more modern insertion but the South Wall, formed of 5 bays is constructed from octagonal timber columns approximately 420mm in diameter connected to a top plate with large braces forming archways between the posts.

Church of St Peter and St Paul - Rock

Possibly the most famous Herefordshire School of Carving church after Kilpeck, is Rock, Just South of the A456 Between Bewdley and Tenbury. The church has a fantastically well preserved North door and one can only imagine what the South door would have looked like, as typically at this time they were more elaborate and highly decorated.

Anyone who has studied Shobdon Arches will instantly recognise the handy work, with a common theme of masks and characters and zigzag banding common between the two. The works both at Rock, Shobdon and Ribbesford have all been attributed to Hugh de Mortimer.

Chancel Arch looking towards the Alter

The Chancel Arch is very similar in proportion to the "Old" church at Shobdon, Herefordshire. With a elongated segmented arch which is almost Tudor in Profile. The carvings are very well preserved and incredibly sharp much like the interior at Rowlestone Church, its hard to believe that they are nigh on 900 years old.

One of the most interesting interior features at Rock Church is the random carved stones dotted around the building, they bear strong reference to the carvings on both the Chancel Arch / North Door and one wonders if they were left over stones which were put in place at a later date. If they are contemporary to the building they may have formed a test panel or apprentice pieces or they could just be remnants of the South door as hypothised by Thurlby . One stone to the South side of the Nave abutting the chancel, approx 7m off the floor would be an odd place to put a repaired stone (see gallery below), or test piece. Some further reading may be required to get to the bottom of this? It certainly would be very nice to get the drone flying in the church to have a closer inspection of the high up carved stonework, most of the historic photographs are taken from the ground eye perspective.

Area of carved stonework on the North Aisle of the Nave

The North door of the church is quite ornate, and although not quite as well preserved as Kilpeck you can still make out all of the details and carvings, although they have softened slightly. It is an interesting comparison again between a set of carvings open to the elements with correct pointing vs a set of carvings which have been poorly pointed and covered. The former seem to be faring much better, whereas Rowlstone and Ribbesford appear to be suffering. Bellow is my Photogramatic Survey of the door, I am still refining my technique but it gives you an idea of the grandeur of the opening.

Protection of these Assets

It is quite concerning the levels of decay at Ribbesford given its importance to the School of Romanesque Carving. From looking at historic records and etchings it appears (I may be wrong) that the deterioration over the last 100 years far outweighs what has happened in its previous lifetime, A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 4. describes the Tympanum being " in a good state of preservation" being able to cleary recognise the scene.. It may just be that the stonework is coming to the end of its life, but I am more concerned by the copious amounts of cement mortar pointing and what has been used to gob up the abutment to the roof.

From inspection it is clear that the stonework is very damp, and looking at the porch there appears to be a shadow line either side where it may have lost its flashing, or it may just be the damp and splash back fro the roof. The water butt to the right hand side of the porch is doing the building no favours as it has no overflow and appears to be a source of water ingress to the building. Although the doorway has been covered since 1644 the water is permeating and not being allowed to dry off, so it is remaining damp for huge periods of time.

Upon close inspection of the carvings on the door, it is apparent that it has been lime washed at some point to protected the carvings, whether this was a recent addition, but the majority of it has been rubbed off probably by people admiring the carvings. It raises the question that if a slaked lime wash would help to better preserve the carvings going forward and reduce the stone delamination by drawing the water off. First things first though, that water butt should be removed and some of the cement pointing which is doing so much damage to the whole of the church, not just the doorway!


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