Monday, 5 August 2013

All Hallows, Woolbeding

The church of All Hallows at Woolbeding makes a powerful first impression. There is the dramatic position, next to the lovely 18th century manor house with elegant columned arcade along the front. Then there is the plain west tower of 1728, topped by eight curious little pinnacles like stalagmites.
But it is when you approach the south porch and the wall of the nave comes into view that you get the biggest surprise - a perfectly preserved Saxon wall dating from before the Norman Conquest.
The walls of most Saxon churches have been destroyed over the centuries by the addition of aisles to north and south, but here they survive. They are pebbledashed with vertical stones called pilaster strips for decoration. 
In the middle is a blocked doorway uncovered in 1980. The crude arch is circular and the door jambs are 'long and short work' - tall corner stones anchored into the wall by flat stones between. This is very characteristic of Saxon work.
Inside, unfortunately, almost all ancient detail was swept away by the Victorians who rebuilt the chancel and replaced the windows. The best features are the great 13th century timber roof beams supported on corbels carved into leaf shapes, and unusually made of wood instead of stone.
Woolbeding House and its gardens have just been restored by the owners, the National Trust, and opened to the public after decades of renting it out as a private residence.