St Michael's Church, Stowe Nine Churches, Northamptonshire

Peeling back the layers of a Saxon tower in Stowe Nine Churches, Northamptonshire

Lauren Wilson

Once the situation allows, our Northampton historic building team are looking forward to being able to record and monitor the conservation of a church tower at St Michael’s, a Grade I listed rural parish church with potential Saxon origins in Stowe Nine Churches, Northamptonshire. In this blog, Historic Building Officer Lauren Wilson explains what she hopes to learn…

St Michael’s Church has stood on its perch overlooking the Grand Union Canal for over a thousand years, however the external render of the tower has been causing damage to its structure, so it is being removed so that conservation works can take place before the render is then reapplied using a more sensitive material. This gives us a wonderful opportunity to inspect the underlying fabric of the tower.

There are several questions that we are hoping to answer: How much of the upper stages of the tower retain their Saxon stonework? What is the relationship between the architectural elements like the iron strapwork, the phases of render, and the window apertures?

The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described this tower as ‘unmistakably Saxon’ and there are certainly some architectural elements that give us this impression: several Saxon stones with carved faces have been used as part of the tower’s construction. These are grave markers and parts of standing crosses with no relationship to each other, which must have been placed here at a later date. The origin of the stones remains of great interest.

Only a handful of comparable churches with Saxon origins exist in Northamptonshire – at Brigstock, Brixworth, Geddington and Earls Barton – so sources of potential information about this building type are few and precious. Also, being of such great age, these churches have often been extensively changed over time. We are therefore hoping that our study here might add to our understanding of the county’s Saxon churches and their development.

In addition, we are hoping to be able to work alongside the community to deliver a series of outreach projects in order to leave the parish with a legacy that improves their understanding of this fascinating church.

In order for the project to go ahead, the Stowe Nine Churches Parish Council has secured funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Find out more about the project here.

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