History material - Every Building Tells a Story


Just as fashion changes today, so it was in the past and we can approximately date different parts of a church by looking at the style, especially windows, doors, arches, mouldings, and decoration.



This is Blyth church as an example. You can see at a glance that it has features of different styles ranging from the Norman period (12th century) through to the Perpendicular (15th century).


Here are some of the commonest styles of architecture in chronological order (they are in Nottinghamshire unless otherwise stated):


Anglo-Saxon (c600-1100*) - only a small number of churches are Anglo Saxon

Heysham, St Patrick, (Lancs) (800 - 850)
At Heysham St Patrick you can see the jambs (sides) of the doorway are composed of massive stones laid alternately upright and flat in a style called 'long-and-short' work. This is very characteristic of Anglo-Saxon architecture.
Barton-on-Hum1 Barton-on-Hum2

Barton-on-Humber tower windows (950 - 1000)

The stones go all the way through the wall and are crudely shaped. The two different styles - round-headed, and triangular-headed - are both typically Anglo-Saxon. Look at the vertical 'baluster' shafts that separate the windows into two with their barrel-like shape and simple carving.


Long-and-short quoins at Wilsford, Lincolnshire: This is a typical example of Anglo-Saxon 'quoins' or cornerstones

Rothwell tower The tower at Rothwell, Lincolnshire 1050-1100 Tower at Wharram-le-Street, Yorkshire Wolds Escomb, County Durham Wharram windows Detail of the Wharram-le-Street belfry windows

Rothwell is a simple tower with a round-headed west doorway, and tall, round-headed double belfry lights at the top. Wharram-le-Street is of similar design and similar age.

At Escomb, the tall, narrow chancel arch is made of stones that pass right through the wall. This is typical of Anglo-Saxon arches and dates from the early 8th century. Escomb is arguably the most complete Anglo-Saxon church in England.


Norman (c.1070-1180)


Norman architecture is characterised by rounded arches, zig-zag carving, and large proportions...

Worksop Priory - plain towers, central window, and west doorways - late 12th century Winkburn - south doorway with carvings of mythical animals - about 1150 in date Tickencote, Rutland, chancel arch - richly decorated, dating from c.1160-70


Southwell Minster tower windows and decorationMuch Wenlock Priory Shropshire: overlapping arches in the chapter house.


Kilpeck, Herefordshire, doorway of c.1130-35 - exceptionally rich decoration. Edingley - a typical Norman west doorway.


Kilpeck, Herefordshire: hound and hare c.1130-35. Kilpeck, Herefordshire, on the doorway - depicting a human face sprouting leaves. c.1130-35. Eardisley, Herefordshire: the font showing two knights fighting. About 1130.

Early English (c. 1180–1270)

The most important change in the Early English period was the invention of the pointed arch. Compared with the rounded arch, the pointed arch looks more elegant and, more importantly, better supports the weight of the stonework above it. Buildings look 'lighter' than before. From this point onwards architecture is called 'Gothic'.

Upton nave arcade Thoroton - the arches on the right are of about 1200 and round-headed, whilst to the left they are Early English, pointed, dating from c.1250. Brinkburn Priory, Northumberland- pointed arches, 8-sided columns, and three levels of pointed windows, all dating from c.1190-1220.


Thurgarton Priory tower and west front: everything is 13th century- note especially the tall, thin windows with pointed heads called 'lancets'. Southwell Minster: east end, about 1234 - compare this with Brinkburn Priory (above). Sibthorpe, the west tower: a simple 13th century tower with tall buttresses and few openings Holy Island, St Mary, Northumberland: a simple east end with three plain pointed ('lancet') windows and thin buttresses


Thurgarton Priory west doorway dating from c.1230 South Leverton: carvings of 'stiff leaf', a form of decoration frequently found in the 13th century.

Early Decorated (about 1280-1300)

The change from Early English to Decorated is most easily seen in windows. The basic pointed ('lancet') form often remains but with simple geometrical designs above.

Southwell Chapter House: about 1290 showing early 'geometrical' tracery above 'lancets' in the window Howden Howden Minster, East Yorkshire: three different styles of early 'geometrical' window, all dating from the same time, c. 1270.

Decorated (c. 1270–1360)

The Decorated period is characterised by more complex window designs and the love of the 'ogee' or double 'S' shape. Doorways, windows, buttresses, and decoration all appear lighter than before.

Skipsea, East Yorkshire: 'Reticulated' window tracery of the early 14th century. South-Leverton, the north doorway with its typical 14th century 'ogee' top, which forms a double 'S' shape Low Marnham, the south dooway with an elaborate 'ogee' top


Fownhope, Herefordshire: 'ballflower' decoration, typical of the 14th century Cromwell - window showing 'curvilinear' tracery (the stonework inside the window), typical of more advanced Decorated period work, c. 1320. Hawton, the east window, 'Flamboyant' tracery of about 1330.

Perpendicular (c.1360 - 1540)

The Perpendicular period is characterised by a much simpler style of architecture with an emphasis on the vertical elements such as tall arches, high towers, and window tracery with strong vertical 'mullions' (the stone uprights).

Southwell Minster west window: note the stong vertical shapes in the window style Foston Foston-on-the-Wolds, East Yorkshire: a typical Perpendicular east window in a parish church, dating from about 1450.
Snarford, Lincs, the 8-sided font with a bold face and coats-of-arms. East Markham, the tower arch. Perpendicular arches are often very high with shallow, pointed tops.
Lambley: the nave and chancel both have typical large 15th century windows. Cromwell tower: dated to c.1427. The battlemented parapet on top is typical of this period.
Bishops Nympton, Devon: the tall west tower has four stages, each divided by a horizonal band of stone. It is typical of an impressive 15th century building. Egmanton: a much simpler west tower in a small, rural parish church, also dating from the 15th century.

Late 16th century (c.1540 - 1610)

Carlton-le-Moorland, Lincolnshire: large, square-headed, and very plain windows dating from a late 16th century rebuilding. They look like 'domestic' windows as might be found in a country house of this period. Carlton-le-Moorland. West doorway- typical of Tudor architecture of the later 16th century.

17th century (1600s)

17thC 'Classical revival': Berwick-on-Tweed (1650). Very few churches were built in this period and the style here is a complex mixture of late Gothic and Classical (Roman and and Greek style).

18th century (1700s)/Georgian

By the 18th century the Classical revival style was in fashion and churches were mostly built with round-headed windows and doors, copying ancient Roman and Greek styles. Note the use of cheaper brick as well as stone in buildings of the 18th century.

West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire: c. 1765-70 'Georgian' style
Sunderland, Holy Trinity: brick, 'Georgian', dating from 1719
Ossington: 1782-3, built of fine stone.

19th century / Victorian

The 19th century saw a revival of medieval styles. Everything from Norman to the Perpendicular was copied but the favourite was the Decorated Gothic (14th century) which appears in numerous churches of this period and in restorations of earlier churches.

'Greek revival': Milton Mausoleum of 1832 by Sir Robert Smirke who built the British Museum.

'Gothic revival': Moorhouse of 1861 (note the similarity to the Early English east windows)

'Gothic revival': Clumber Park (1889): an elaborate 'estate' church.

'Gothic revival': Hoveringham (1865). Typical of many hundreds of small churches, built with brick and stone, the style echoing the medieval past.

20th century

Early 20th century churches often still copy gothic forms, and sometimes those of Italy and France, but the later 20th century and the 21st century saw a move away from these traditional kinds of building. Experimentation with concrete, brick, glass, and aluminium produced striking new designs.

Ravenshead, St Peter (1972) - concrete- modern architects experiment in bold new designs and materials
Worksop CC
Worksop, Christ Church 1992. Simple windows and doors offset by the bold use of the angular roofs.


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*Anglo-Saxon dates are given as 600-1100 because the Anglo-Saxon building style sometimes carries on after the Norman Conquest when it is more properly known as 'Saxo-Norman'.



Ballflower - a globular, three-petalled flower with a small ball in the middle; popular in the early 14th century
Baluster shaft - a short stone pillar in the centre of a window
Buttress - a masonry or brick support to give a wall additional strength
Classical - the style of architecture found in ancient Greece and Rome
Curvilinear - a type of compound, undulating tracery found in the 14th century (Decorated period)
Flamboyant - a further developed type of Curvilinear tracery, sometimes very complex in shape
Geometrical - window tracery with circles or regular designs typical of the late 13th century
Georgian - architecture commonly built during the reigns of George I - III (1714-1820)
Gothic - architecture using pointed arches; in England this first becomes common around 1200
Jamb - the vertical side of an arch, window, or doorway
Lancet - a thin window with a pointed top, typical of the 13th century Early English style
Mullion - vertical or 'upright' stones (or wooden posts) in a window
Ogee - a double curve made up of an 'S' or an inverted 'S'; very popular in the Decorated period
Quoins - the cornerstones of a wall or opening such as a window or doorway
Reticulated - a 'net' like shape in window tracery formed by repeated ogee shapes
Revival - the copying of earlier styles of architecture, common in the 19th century
Romanesque - Norman architecture, between about 1170-1190
Tracery - the decorative stonework inside a window, dividing it up into shapes
Transom - horizonal bars of stone (or wood) in a window