The Norman nave



Standing at the tower arch, let us visualise the original interior. The Saxon church would consist of a low tower —that which we now see, minus the present top storey — a nave not so wide as the present one, with no aisles, and dimly lit by very narrow, splayed windows, about three to each wall north and south ; a narrow chancel arch little, if any, wider than the tower arch, and pierced in a solid east wall, with a small chancel beyond it. Both nave and chancel would have steeply-pitched roofs.

Next the Normans, some time between 1070 and 1160, and probably, from certain technical indications with which we need not harass the reader, nearer the former date, took down the Saxon nave (leaving the tower), and rebuilt it to its present width. The evidences of this are: the Norman quoins already noticed outside the tower on north and south ; the fact that the nave walls, at 2'8", are rather thicker than one finds in Saxon work ; and what seems to be a Norman round-headed window, whose outline is visible under the plaster, in the north wall west of the chancel arch. At the same time, the small Saxon chancel would be taken down and the present one built, wider and larger.

The font

The font, standing in the west end of the nave close to the last bay of the north aisle, is an interesting example of Norman Transitional or of Early English work and dates from about 1190 or 1220. Its gracefully moulded, swelling bowl is rather unusual in outline, as is the scallop ornament near the base of the bowl. A local legend says that a farmer once took a stone from the churchyard and tried to use it for a pig-trough. The pigs refused, however, to drink from it and a murrain fell upon his cattle. Thereupon the farmer sought to replace the stone but was unable to lift it until, in consequence of a vision, he went fasting at midnight and so replaced it. The story is an interesting example of how a grain of truth may be found even in the wildest legend, for it was only in 1868 that the bowl of this old font was found in the churchyard and returned to the church.

Another legend tells how, after walking seven times round a spot under an oak where a hollow stone is said to be buried, the bells of Carlton Church may be heard by anyone who cares to make the experiment. Digging at this spot may be profitable. Now turn left towards the north aisle.

The north aisle

About 1160, a north aisle was added to the oblong church, the north wall of the nave being pierced by the existing arcade of three bays, the arches of which are semicircular, of two recessed orders, with flat soffits and roll mouldings on the south lace, but the north face plain. The circular piers have good ornamentation of early " rolled " foliage, the forerunner of the wonderful work which was to flower into the Early English sculpture some sixty years later. It is amazing to reflect that this work at Carlton, by no means crude, was done with only a simple double-headed adze, for the chisel, lost since the fall of the classical world, had not come into its own again. The adze marks can be seen on the tooling of the piers.

At the same time that this north aisle was being built, a rich Norman door of three recessed orders, tastefully decorated with chevron and a kind of scallop-leaf decoration, was erected in the nave south wall, probably opposite the last bay westward, the usual place for such a door ; throughout the Middle Ages this church had no south aisle, and the modern one put up in 1831 is a harsh, painful copy of the Norman north aisle arcades. The door is alluded to as the " great south door " in the vestry-book under date 1811, and there are records also of a porch here with a parvise, or room, over it, probably added about 1425 ; but in 1831, when the south aisle was built, the porch was removed and the door taken down and rebuilt in its present position at the west end of the tower. It is a fine example from which to study Norman mouldings and ornaments, and the " stiff-foliage " on the caps of the engaged shafts is worthy of note.

The north aisle would in Norman times have a lean-to roof, as at present, but steeper than the one we see now, which is typical of the early 15th century. It is not unreasonable to assume that William de Chaumbre was at least partly responsible for the incentive to provide a new roof, since he in 1425 gave a bell, and numerous other enlargements were carried out. The reader will see by the table at the end giving at a glance the various periods of the church's history that there was considerable activity in Chaumbre's time, 1417 to 1443.

Moving into the north aisle, look at the roof, with its fine carved bosses, which are worth more than a passing glance. Starting at the west end, and reading from the inner ends of the beams, these are :

On purlin : Four-leaf flower ; the " friendly friar."

End beam : Crown of thorns ; chevrons (Fitzhugh).

On purlin : The Cross floriated ; the five wounds.

Second beam : Lion ; four-leaf flower.

On purlin : Foliage ; quatrefoil.

Third beam : Crosses interwoven ; thunderbolt.

On purlin : Triple chevron (Fitzhugh) ; bull (Nevill).

End beam (east) : Head of woman in head-dress of c. 1430 ; and (?) wolf-hound.

The aisle had a door—mentioned in 1831 and popularly known as the " devil's door "—near the west end of the north wall, inserted at some time during the Middle Ages, but its date is unknown, because in 1832 the whole north wall of the aisle was taken down and rebuilt. This rebuilding, though old stone was in part used, is in the worst style, and the face is already flaking badly.

Chapel of S. Thomas a Becket

We have now arrived at the eastern end of the north aisle, where we find pierced in its east wall a pointed arch which gives access to a chapel which communicates with the chancel by another similar arch. This is the chapel of S. Thomas a Becket, who, consequent on a rash remark made by Henry II, was slain on the altar steps of Canterbury Cathedral on December 29th, 1170, and canonised two years later.

Like many other English villages which hated any royal attempts to interfere with the church, Carlton took the new champion of her rights to its bosom.* The north aisle had hardly been up thirty years before it was pierced by this eastern arch, and the chancel by one on its north wall, for the addition of this chapel of S. Thomas of

* It would be interesting to know more of the flight of the four knights from Canterbury to Knaresborough Castle, Yorkshire, after the murder. They must have passed close to Carlton, or at least Worksop and Blyth— but none of them seems to have had any connection with Carlton, and it is hardly conceivable that the chapel here was given as a penance.

Canterbury. The two arches are characteristic of known work of the Norman Transitional style of about 1190 A.D., and are good examples in which to study some of its detail. Briefly, the outstanding features are the flat soffit, or under-portion of the arch (a character left over from the pure Norman style) ; the keel shape of the mouldings on the outer face of each arch and of the responds, or half-piers, from which the arches spring ; the foot mouldings (though these are rather a complicated subject) ; and the " stiff-stalk foliage," seen to good advantage on the eastern respond of the arch into the chancel. Moreover, there is a narrow window of the lancet type, also characteristic of this period, in the eastern wall of the chapel. The builders economised ; they did not bother to make the chapel side of the arches so elaborate as those facing the aisle and chancel, and thus more on view! Nor, seemingly for the same reason, did they trouble to carve the western capital of the arch to the chancel.

The chapel is now 1' 4" wider than in medieval times, for when in 1832 its north wall, in common with that of the north aisle, was taken down and rebuilt (with the insertion of a modern door), it was widened and thrown out of proportion by this amount ; traces of the original north-east quoin can be seen outside the east wall and will be pointed out later in speaking of the exterior. On the plan at the west end of the church, the original proportions are shown, from which it is seen that the rebuilding has thrown the lancet window off-centre.

The medieval altar

The church possesses a rare treasure in the small stone medieval altar now re-erected at the east end of the north aisle, where there is better light for it than under the Becket chapel to which it originally belonged. That the chapel and altar were dedicated to Becket is evident from the will of one John Shawe, who in 1490 desired to be buried in the church of Carlton before the altar of S. Thomas of Canterbury. The altar, which measures 4' 3½" long by 2' 1" wide, is 6" thick and weighs over a ton, was found lying face downwards in the floor near where it now stands. Its lower edge is chamfered, and it is one of the few pre-Reformation altars known to possess the relic-receptacle intact, complete with the original lead filling. This is to be seen in the upper surface, surrounded by the five consecration crosses, which are grouped around the relic hole instead of being placed, as was usually the case, one in the centre and the others at the four corners of the slab. In all probability it still contains a relic of S. Thomas of Canterbury, for a thorough examination of the lead seal shows no trace of its ever having been disturbed.

The altar was re-erected by Carlton village craftsmen who, though entirely ignorant of ecclesiology, carried out their work completely in the spirit of the medieval masons, and the way in which it is supported from the wall by brackets, instead of being on legs, is historically correct for a side-altar. The men worked by candle-light until 10 p.m. on the Eve of S. Thomas a Becket, 1935, in order to get the job finished in time for the re-installation of the altar next day on his feast.

Shortly after the re-installation a man entered the church and said to another who happened to be working there, "What's yon?" "The Becket altar," he was told. " Put up to him as was killed a 'undred years ago or more." Turning away uninterested, the first man commented, '' That wor afore my time. Ah thowt 't wor owd Beckett as lived on t' Green."

Sculpture and glass

Preserved behind glass, in a somewhat inappropriate frame, at the entrance to the chapel from the aisle, is a good example of the alabaster sculpture for which the Nottingham school of medieval craftsmen was justly famous. The Carlton piece is a crucifixion, which bears traces of having been painted, and doubtless formed part of the reredos either to the high altar or that of S. Thomas a Becket. It has its sharpness blurred through having been concealed lying face-downwards in the ground from 1548 to 1831, where it was discovered when the north wall was rebuilt. The date of the work is about 1400 A.D., and the draperies are executed with delicate feeling.

Standing in the chapel are two hatchments, or funeral armorial achievements, of the Ramsden family and its connections.

The little lancet window in the east wall contains 15th century and Tudor glass, among which will be seen the eagle of S. John the Evangelist, patron of the church ; the crown and Lombardic M, symbol of Mary, Queen of Heaven ; and an antelope. This glass is all that remains from the Perpendicular east window of the chancel, unfortunately broken by an ill-disposed person some forty years ago. If some similarly disposed individual were to treat the present east window in the same fashion, he would undoubtedly be a public benefactor !