Saturday, 10 April 2021

St. Swithun's Church in Retford

A general view of St. Swithun's church

When planning my day out to Retford in September 2020, churches were closed by the COVID-19 Pandemic restrictions but, having a particular interest in building stones - which I could see on the exterior - I included All Hallows, St. Swithun’s and St. Michael’s churches in my itinerary.
A view of St. Swithun's church from Chapelgate

At All Hallows church in Ordsall, I encountered what I think is Triassic ‘skerry’ sandstone, but St. Swithun’s church in Retford town centre is built almost entirely with Permian dolomitic limestone from the Cadeby Formation – a stone that I am very familiar with from my investigations of mediaeval churches from Barwick-in-Elmet in the north to Bolsover in the south.
The south elevation of St. Swithun's church

The church was founded in 1258 but, following the rebuilding of the tower and chancel in 1658, after they had collapsed, the external fabric seen today is essentially the product of several phases of extensive rebuilding and restoration - in 1852/53 by G.G. Place and in 1873 by G.F. Bodley, with a subsequent renovation of these works in 1905.
Ancaster stone use for a gate pier cap

The gates to the churchyard were locked and I could only see the stonework from a distance, but it looks very uniform and all of the tracery has been renewed. Walking along Chapelgate to the west entrance of the churchyard, I noted that the ornate gate pier caps are made in Jurassic Ancaster stone, which can be distinguished from the dolomitic limestone below by its cream colour and ripples that are highlighted by differential weathering.
A view from Churchgate

Continuing round the perimeter of the churchyard to Churchgate, there was no change in the rather monotonous appearance of the church, with very little of archaeological interest to see, except for the masonry to the north transept.
The west wall of the north transept

Looking at a distance with the naked eye, I could see distinctly yellow and pink stones forming the majority of the coursed rubble masonry at the upper level. Viewed with a zoom lens, these look more like sandstone than the sandy dolomitic limestones that are often found at the base of the Cadeby Formation, when it is underlain by the Yellow Sands Formation.
The upper section of the north transept

A close inspection is needed to determine its physical characteristics and possible provenance, but this could be a 'Waterstones' sandstone from the Tarporley Siltstone Formation, which is found near Retford. This stone is evidently quite soft and not very durable and the lower sections of masonry have been extensively repaired with a patchwork of limestone blocks, whose size, shape and coursing is very irregular.
A detail of the upper level masonry to the north transept

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