Volume IV | Chapter 1 | Earlier Research Next Back to catalogue index
by D. Tweddle

At the time of his death in 1932, G. Baldwin Brown had compiled raw statistics on the numbers of pre-Conquest sculptures then known in each of the English counties; these statistics were finally published in 1937 in the last, posthumous, volume of his The Arts in Early England (Brown 1937, fig. 13). In them south-east England presented a sorry spectacle, with only 44 sculptures from eleven counties, compared with 450 for Yorkshire alone and 200 for Durham and Northumberland combined. In large part this imbalance reflected genuine differences in the scale of sculptural production between north and south, but equally southern England had produced no scholars of sculpture of comparable standing to those working on the Northumbrian material, such as W. S. Calverley, Romilly Allen, and W. G. Collingwood. Instead innumerable local topographers, antiquaries, architects, and archaeologists, had gathered information piecemeal and, if it was published at all, consigned it to the too-seldom consulted pages of obscure local journals or ephemeral guide books. Lacking even a mediocre synthesis or publicist this data had reached rapid oblivion, for by 1930 not 44 but 145 pre-Conquest sculptures had actually been recognised in south-east England; even excluding the numerous, but mostly fragmentary, excavated stones from Winchester (see Chap. VIII), the total now stands in excess of 200.

In common with many other areas of the country, the study of pre-Conquest sculpture in south-east England began, albeit accidentally, towards the end of the eighteenth century with the rising tide of antiquarianism. As the educated and leisured classes of the period began to value the ancient buildings around them, so they began to record them, either by themselves sketching or painting, by employing professionals to do so, or by buying the prints produced in increasing numbers by amateur and professional artists alike. The work of the gentleman antiquary is exemplified by William Cole. A friend of the architect James Essex and of Horace Walpole, Cole was Rector of Hadstock, Essex. His main interests were genealogy, heraldry, and the history of Cambridge, but in 1775 he sketched the decorated north nave doorway of that church, and his sketches are the only record of a similar doorway in the north chancel wall, now lost (BL Add. MS 5836, fol. 18v; Rodwell 1976, 65). The decoration of the surviving doorway had also been drawn by Essex (BL Add. MSS 6768, p. 90; 6744, fol. 3r). Another important amateur antiquarian topographer was the Rev. James Skinner. Although principally interested in excavations on the Isle of Wight (BL Add. MS 33650, fols. 62r–66r, 87r–89r, 125r–134r), in 1817, on his annual holiday, he recorded the larger of the two Crucifixions at Romsey, Hampshire (no. 1) (ibid., fol. 210r). This piece had also attracted the attention of the professional topographer John Carter; his print of the figure was published between 1780 and 1794, probably the first piece of pre-Conquest sculpture in the region to be published (Carter 1780–94, pl. II). In the same period the Swiss watercolourist S. H. Grimm recorded in watercolour the figure of an ecclesiastic at Sompting, Sussex, for Sir William Burrell (BL Add. MS 5673, fol. 53r), and John Buckler recorded the architectural sculptures at Sompting (BL Add. MSS 36432, item 1252, 27765C, fol. 83r) and at Langford, Oxfordshire (BL Add. MS 36356, item 200).

By far the most important work of the period, however, was that done in 1805 at Reculver, Kent, during the demolition of its seventh-century church. A. R. Gandy drew a measured plan and elevation of the triple arcade separating the nave and chancel, as well as various details including one of the decorated column bases (Society of Antiquaries MS, Red Portfolios, Kent, L–R, fol. 26r; BL Add. MS 32370, fol. 105r). These drawings, together with an important general view of the demolition by I. Baynes (ibid., fol. 106r), were published by Roach Smith in 1850 (Smith 1850, 198). They not only provide an invaluable record of a lost monument of the first importance, but in 1859 enabled Sheppard to recognise the Reculver columns (no. 4) in an orchard near Canterbury and rescue them from oblivion (Talbot 1860, 135–6, pl. facing 136). These drawings were, however, atypical; most never reached publication. Where the drawings were published, the Anglo-Saxon sculptures were not recognised for what they were; they were merely mysterious or picturesque curiosities.

The early and middle years of the nineteenth century were dominated by the struggle to establish reasoned chronologies, not just for sculpture, but for all classes of monument and archaeological materials. One of the most significant figures in this work was Thomas Rickman who, between 1817 and 1848, set out the criteria for periodizing English medieval architecture (Rickman 1817; idem 1848). An important side effect of this work was the recognition of criteria which would identify pre-Conquest fabrics (Rickman 1836); where such buildings employed architectural sculpture, then it too must be of pre-Conquest date. Sculptures at Sompting, Sussex (Rickman 1848, figs. pp. xxvii–viii); and from the Hampshire sites of Headbourne Worthy (Carter 1845; Haigh 1846, 414), Corhampton (ibid., 408, 410), Warnford (loc. cit.), Winchester (loc. cit.), Boarhunt (Irvine 1877b) and Breamore (Hill 1897a; idem 1898), could at last be recognised for what they were. Equally sculptures reused as building materials, either in pre-Conquest or very early post-Conquest buildings, could be dated, although usually with less certainty, as at St Mary in Castro, Dover (Puckle 1864, 54–5, 71–2), and Stedham, Sussex (Butler 1851).

Evidence derived from architectural analysis was supplemented by linguistic evidence. Following the decisive work of J. M. Kemble, runic inscriptions in either Old Norse or Old English could now be read, although with varying degrees of accuracy and acrimony. By this means the stones from Sandwich (Wright 1845, 12; Haigh 1861, 52) and the grave-cover from Dover St Peter (Kemble 1840, 346), were recognised for what they were. Inscriptions in Old English in Latin characters had always been recognisable as of pre-Conquest date, as had the Old English names in the Latin inscriptions at Whitchurch (Smith 1871) and Stratfield Mortimer (Westwood 1885-7), allowing them also to be dated.

Where clues from architectural analysis or from inscriptions were missing, however, oblivion or, worse, destruction, was still a common fate for newly-discovered sculptures. Here the work of Romilly Allen, Calverley, and Collingwood was decisive. As they painstakingly analysed the range of forms and decorative motifs and the variations which might be encountered among pre-Conquest sculpture, so more material could be identified by enterprising local scholars and protected. Allen's work was of particular importance in this respect since he identified and published a number of southern pieces including the grave-cover from Bexhill, Sussex (Allen 1885a, 274–7, fig. facing 274) and the cross-shafts from Wantage, Berkshire, (idem 1893–4b, 58, fig. 12) and Steventon, Hampshire (Page 1908a, 238–9). Allen's manuscript notes preserved in the British Library reveal that his knowledge of the sculpture of south-east England was both extensive and up-to-date, although relatively little of his data found its way into print (BL Add. MSS 37539–628).

With the means to identify and date pre-Conquest sculptures, no matter how crudely, local scholars were able to hunt them with zeal and enthusiasm. Outstanding was the work of the architect P. M. Johnston. He had an extensive practice, largely in Sussex and Surrey, and specialised in the restoration of churches ((——) 1937)). During his work at Stoke D'Abernon church he noticed and published the pre-Conquest sundial there (Johnston 1900b, 77–8, fig. 21). At Ford, Sussex, he discovered the fragment of interlace built into the vestry doorway (Johnston 1900a, 118–20, fig. 5), and during the underpinning of the tower at Cocking church, Sussex, he noticed and published the grave-cover which had been discovered there in 1896 during earlier restorations (Johnston 1921, 182, fig. 1). Stimulated by these discoveries Johnston went on to publish the grave-covers at Chithurst (Johnston 1912, 106, pl. 6), to re-publish the grave-covers from Bexhill (Johnston 1905) and Steyning (idem 1915, 149–50, 161, fig. p. 150) in Sussex, and to publish the first photographs of the cross-shaft from Kingston upon Thames, Surrey (Johnston 1926, 232, pl. 1). He is the only source of information for the lost gable cross from Walberton, Sussex (Johnston 1921, 178, n.), and in 1904 discovered a grave-cover (Arundel 1) built into the wall of a builder's yard at Walberton, and established that it had originally been brought from Arundel castle (Johnston 1904).

Of equal importance was the work of H. L. Jessep. In his work on the pre-Conquest architecture of Hampshire and Surrey, published in 1913, he discussed the sculptures at Breamore (Jessep 1913, 1, 19, fig. 1), Corhampton (ibid., 17, fig. 1), Headbourne Worthy (ibid., 19), Warnford (ibid., 17), and St Michael's, Winchester (loc. cit.), all in Hampshire, and at Godalming in Surrey (ibid., 28-9). His work on the pre-Conquest architecture of Sussex, published in the following year, was rather more wide-ranging, including material which was strictly non-architectural, and for that reason was of greater importance. In it Jessep published the Cocking grave-cover for the first time (Jessep 1914, 61), as well as the little-known sculptures from Chithurst (loc. cit.) and Ford (ibid., 31–2), and also discussed some of the better known sculptures, such as those at Jevington (ibid., 32, 61), Bishopstone (ibid., 26–7), and Sompting (ibid., 37–9).

The work of these local scholars is reflected in the large number of guide books which mention pre-Conquest sculptures. In the early twentieth century, for example, the guides of the Homeland Association spasmodically introduced notices of pre-Conquest sculpture. The guide book for Bexhill-on-Sea with Battle abbey, published in 1914, records the grave-cover at Bexhill, Sussex (Anderson 1914, 30–1), the guide for Seaford and Newhaven, published in 1904, notes the sundial at Bishopstone, Sussex (Day 1904, 26), and the guide for Oxted, Limpsfield, and Edenbridge, published in the same year, mentions the grave-covers at Oxted, Surrey (Home 1904, 17). Methuen's Little Guides, largely written by J. C. Cox, began publication in the same period as those of the Homeland Association, the revised editions of the thirties and forties receiving extensive additions on pre-Conquest sculpture. In 1935 P. M. Johnston revised the guides to Surrey and Kent, mentioning in the Surrey guide the sculptures at Godalming (Cox and Johnston 1935, 109), Stoke D'Abernon (ibid., 165, 193), Tandridge (ibid., 168) and Titsey (ibid., 172), and in the Kent guide the cross-shaft at Preston by Faversham (Cox and Johnston 1935, 247–8), unnoticed since its meagre publication by Scott Robertson in 1895 (Robertson 1895, 126). After Johnston's death in 1936 Jowitt took over the revision of the series. The 1938 edition of the Essex guide records the sculpture at Great Maplestead (Cox et al. 1938, 206).

What was still lacking for south-east England, however, was a scholarly analytical corpus for the region as a whole, the nearest approach being Frank Cottrill's MA thesis of 1931, 'A Study of Anglo-Saxon Sculpture in Central and Southern England', a work which, apart from one portion (Cottrill 1935), remains unpublished. Most individual counties also lacked the sort of survey undertaken in the north of England, as in Collingwood's detailed catalogues of the sculptures from Yorkshire. In south-eastern England only Hampshire received such attention when in 1951 A. R. and P. M. Green published their Architecture and Sculpture in Hampshire. The work of the Greens was aided by the fact that when they wrote a Victoria History for the county was already complete. Romilly Allen had contributed a chapter on the Early Christian monuments for the county to the introductory volume (Doubleday and Page 1903, 233–49); entries for individual sculptures in the five volumes are evidently based on his notes. Apart from Hampshire, the material from Essex and Hertfordshire, both minor counties in sculptural terms, has been covered in the volumes of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments for those counties. The only catalogue yet compiled of a single class of sculptures for the area, sundials, was also the work of A. R. Green (Green 1928). Other classes of architectural sculpture have also received attention, notably by Baldwin Brown (Brown 1937), A. W. Clapham (Clapham 1930), and H. M. and J. Taylor (Taylor and Taylor 1966), but none of these works claims to be complete.

Work in south-east England was not, however, confined to local scholars. A. W. Clapham, in particular, played an important role in recognising and publishing pre-Conquest material from the region, including the cross-shaft from Barking, Essex (no. 1), and the lengths of frieze and foliate-decorated arcade from Sompting, Sussex (nos. 1–11). It was from the period spanned by Johnston and Clapham, from the late nineteenth into the earlier twentieth century, that the first sculptures in the region began to come from controlled archaeological excavation. The first pieces to come to light in this way were a capital and possibly also a grave-cover or decorative panel from the excavations of Peers and St John Hope at St Augustine's abbey, Canterbury (nos. 3 and 9). They were followed by the fragments from Reculver in 1927, and in more recent years, from the excavations at Rochester cathedral, Pagham church, Sussex, Barking abbey, Essex (no. 2), and pre-eminently, those at the Old and New Minsters at Winchester and at other sites in the city (see Chap. VIII).

Despite all of this work, spanning almost two hundred years, material from south-east England is still viewed as a meagre footnote to the sculptural riches of Northumbria; the major monuments of the region, such as the Reculver fragments, are treated as exotic and alien, divorced from their local sculptural context. It must be admitted that the quantity of sculpture from south-east England is small when set against that from Northumbria, but the range of forms and decoration is wide, and the quality often high; the material makes a significant contribution to our understanding of south-east England in the Anglo-Saxon period.

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