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This is a small village church showing an apparently straight-forward structural development; a two-cell Norman building was enlarged later in the medieval period by the addition of a chantry chapel south of the nave and a west tower.

The Norman Church

The Norman building appears to have consisted of a nave and chancel, built of local Magnesium Limestone rubble with roughly-shaped quoins; neither quoin type (a mixture of face-and-side alternate) nor the wall thickness of 0.85 metre shows any real evidence of Pre-conquest building traditions. The main surviving feature is a round-headed chancel arch of a single square order, with imposts chamfered beneath. On the soffit of the arch the rubble wall core is exposed between the cut voussoirs. Other contemporary features are part of a single-light window on the south side of the chancel and probably the round-headed rere arch of the south door. The blocked priest's door on the south side of the chancel also has a round arch but its neat continuous chamfer suggests that it may be rather later (late 12th or 13th century?) in date. In addition there are traces of blocked openings in the south wall of the nave, on either side of the arch into the south chapel, their fragmentary nature and the heavy modern pointing of the wall make their form unclear.

The possibility that the Normal chancel was shorter than at present deserves consideration. Earlier Norman chancels were often virtually square in plan (e.g. at Hooton Pagnell and Hickleton). Whilst no change in fabric is apparent in the Stainton chancel, it is possible that the east part is an extension, built in the same rubble, the eastern quoins re-set.

The Late 13th Century

The church underwent various alterations late in the thirteenth century, which might conceivably have included the extension of the chancel (see above). Two-light windows on the south of the chancel and the north of the nave date to this phase, having steeply pointed trefoiled lights within a pointed arch. Pevsner dates these to c.1290. The chancel window has its internal sill carried down to form a sedile. Remains of an adjacent piscine on the east are probably of the same date, as may be the aumbry opposite with its pointed arch rebated for a door. The lancet on the north of the chancel is probably part of the same re-modelling, and a plain piscine at the south east corner of the nave may also be contemporary.

The 14th Century

The addition of a later medieval chantry chapel is a common feature in South Yorkshire churches. At Stainton, the new chapel shows a few more architectural pretensions than the earlier parts of the church, with its moulded plinth, stepped diagonal buttress and gargoyles. The three-light east window had trefoiled ogee-headed lights and reticulated tracery under a square head; a few scraps of medieval glass survive. Pevsner ascribes the window to c.1380. The double-chamfered arch into the chapel springs from moulded corbels, and in the south-east corner is a good piscine with a trefoil ogee arch.

The 15th Century

Many churches in the area had their west tower built or rebuild in the later 15th or early 16th century. That at Stainton is a quite typical example, opening from the nave by a double-chamfered arch springing from paneled corbels. Externally the tower ids divided into three stages by hollow-chamfered set-backs, and there are diagonal buttresses at the western angles. The three light west window has simple panel tracery without cuppings, which suggests quite a late date (or else post-medieval repair). The newel stair in the south-west angle of the tower is very steep and narrow, leading up to a belfry with two-light openings altered in the 19th century. The tower is capped by an embattled parapet with 8 crocketted pinnacles.

Post Medieval Alterations

During the three centuries subsequent to the Reformation, most village churches suffered little structural alteration other than the insertion of galleries and the substitution of sashes for decaying tracery in the windows. Evidence of such changes was usually erased by Victorian restorations aimed at returning the church to a more correctly "medieval" appearance. At Stainton the south door, inside the porch, is a plain pointed arch of late 18th or 19th century type, and the tripartite east window is of 1861; the other post-medieval features all date from the 1898 restoration. The south porch of this date presumably replaces an earlier one (to judge from the position of the older window in the west wall of the adjacent chapel).

The 1898 north door almost certainly replaces and earlier opening, probably that which has been re-set to form the entrance to the manor garden from the churchyard. This is a simple square-headed doorway with a massive roughly-shaped lintel and jambs of alternating horizontal and upright stones; stylistically this looks as early, if not earlier, than the oldest parts of the church. It is an interesting comment on the attitude of the Victorian restorers - dedicated as they were to the medieval ideal - that they found one of the earliest features of the building to be of too rude and simple a character to be retained in the restored building.

The overall pattern of the structural evolution of the church thus appears to be quite plain from the surviving features and fabric. However, a warning should be sounded against accepting as definitive any such interpretation. Where medieval parish churches have been examined by excavation and detailed structural analysis, as at Hickleton and Wharram Percy, the development of the building has been revealed as far more complex than first appeared. Whilst no feature of fabric type now visible at Stainton points to a date prior to c.1100 (in this area Pre-Conquest building traditions survived the arrival of the Normans by several decades) it is quite possible that an earlier church stood on the site; lines of evidence other than the architectural may shed light on this possibility.

Peter F. Ryder
February, 1989

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