Compton, Surrey - St Nicholas Church
11th century

Click on photos to enlarge.
Notes in italics from Surrey by Ian Nairn and Nikolaus Pevsner, Revised by Bridget Cherry (1971),
Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

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The church of St Nicholas in Compton, Surrey, is an Anglo-Saxon and Norman church with unusual features. The above pictures give an overview whilst the sequence of the pictures below follows the chronology of the development of the church in line with the extracts from Pevsner.

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The oldest parts are of the C11. The tower is impressively plain, unbuttressed, with simple rectangular openings for the bell chamber. Very good rubble masonry (see quoins), and entirely of Bargate stone; hence perhaps pre-Conquest, from the negative point of view that if the Normans had put up such a carefully-built tower they would have provided representational detail in the bell-chamber also. Shingled broach-spire above ( ... of uncertain date). C11 also the part of the W wall just S of the tower, in the same careful stonework, and the chancel walls - a very long chancel - with two blocked windows with a simple hollow moulding outside, one on the N side and one on the S. 

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The fame of Compton is in the extraordinary Romanesque additions made to the chancel in the later C12, which have given it a two-storeyed sanctuary, a vaulted chamber below and a separate chapel above, open to the chancel and separated from it by a Romanesque guard rail, one of the earliest pieces of church woodwork in the country. (Late C12, and thus a very precious survival. Simple round arches on elegant thin stems, just like a C17 rail, but the capitals, although worn, clearly have crockets.)

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The ribbing in the lower chamber is quadripartite, the ribs heavy and single-chamfered ... The arch leading to the lower chapel has two orders, a deeply cut inner roll-moulding and an outer moulding of saw-tooth ornament like formalized beak-heads, supported on small nook-shafts. Outside this is a label made up of dog-tooth ornament (a remarkably early use of the motif). ... This two-storeyed arrangement is something extremely rare ... No-one has yet been able to explain it. ... The C12 chamber was built inside the existing chancel - the walls are thicker in the sanctuary than in the chancel itself - to take the upper chapel. ... The work is of c.1160. Of the same period as this remodelling of the chancel the small chamber to its S, which has a wooden staircase to the upper chamber. It has a Norman S window and is supposed to have been a cell or oratory.

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A little later, perhaps c.1180, came a big enlargement of the nave, which was given new aisles with three-bay arcades, new chancel and tower arches, and a new S doorway. All the work has the same general spirit, coarser than that of the sanctuary. Very small windows, unchamfered arcade arches very slightly pointed, the chancel arch with nook-shafts and an order of zigzag ornament above, in high relief and badly restored, the other arches with a plain label. (The plaster itself is crimped to produce an extra band of ornament, the best example of this local habit.)

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Capitals from west to east, south arcade in top row, north arcade in bottom row. Some of the capitals are scalloped and some have stylized foliage. In the two E capitals on the S side the foliage has become much more crowded and curly and is midway between pure Romanesque and the style of the Reigate capitals.

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 The S doorway has one order of zigzag, the N doorway is simpler and blocked. Dormer clerestory, low aisle walls and sweeping lean-to roofs ... the N side remains, the S side was raised in the C15. ... 

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In the late C13 the W bay of the chancel received  lancet windows ... Also a C19 window in the E wall of the sanctuary, now blocked up again, a Dec window at the E end of the S aisle, and several C13 lancets. The church was well restored by Woodyer.

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Interior views of windows in south aisle. In the N aisle, pair of subtly shaped C14 heads to vanished tombs.

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Font. Early Norman, like the capital of a big arcade. Square bowl  above big circular stem and ring.


Watts Memorial Chapel, Compton



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