Welcome to the Urban Archaeology blog. Freelance archaeologist Chiz Harward provides a range of on and offsite services to the archaeological profession, including running and working on excavations, post-excavation services, training and development work, and illustration work. This weblog will carry news of projects as and when they happen as well as wider thoughts on archaeological issues, especially recording, stratigraphy and training.

Baffled by a Cotswold church...

A recent watching brief on a new electric supply trench at a Cotswold church led to the recovery of several fragments of carved medieval masonry, which have given an insight into the past appearance of the medieval church. 
Reconstruction of medieval architectural fragments

The fragments were found reused as rubble in the foundation of a nineteenth century set of steps within the tower. Two of the fragments were relatively simple mouldings, but a group of five similar fragments were more complex and warranted a far closer look. Once they had been cleaned up it was clear that the pieces were from a masonry panel pierced with quatrefoil (four-lobed) and circular openings; the quatrefoils set within sunken spandrel decoration on the front, and with a shallow chamfer on the reverse. Also on the reverse faces were a grid of shallow rebates or channels which had rust marks suggesting iron bars once had sat in those grooves, perhaps holding the panels in place.

The form of the original design could be reconstructed, and two of the pieces fit together to form one half of a quatrefoil; interestingly two quatrefoil designs could be reconstructed, one being set square to its frame, the other set diagonally, whilst two smaller fragments appeared to be from simple circular openings.

The design and form reconstructed, the next question was to establish the original location of the pieces. They were all very weathered on the main faces, but crisp and sharp on the inner faces indicating they were exposed to the weather at their original site. They could have been from a decorated parapet, or from tracery, but if so why the iron bars, and the cross-sections weren't right for tracery. Looking upwards provided a possible solution, the Perpendicular tower of the church has its upper windows decorated with pierced baffles, pierced by quatrefoil and circular openings…

Pierced masonry baffle panels were used on church towers at the level of the bell-chamber, where along with stone or wooden louvres they allowed the sound of the bells to ring out. Other examples can be seen locally at the 15th century tower of St John the Baptist Cirencester and at Holy Trinity Minchinhampton where blind or louvred panels are pierced by quatrefoils. The Cirencester example seems very similar in form -although slightly later in style- with thin masonry blocks used to make up the baffles.

Baffles with quatrefoil piercings: left is the Victorian replacement, right is St John the Baptist, Cirencester

The church had been rebuilt -like many Cotswold churches- in the mid 19th century, and it seems possible that these fragments are from the original medieval baffles which were replaced with new baffles made up with a simplified version of the original design. The reuse of the original pieces as rubble within the steps has fortuitously preserved them, and their rediscovery and reconstruction indicates the richness of decoration of the medieval church -even in the places that most medieval parishioners would not normally notice.

Further work is required to check these initial findings and to complete the reconstruction of the design.