Holy Trinity, Meldreth: the Nave

Evidence of the 12th-century church still visible in the nave is the thick north wall, the late 12th-century north door (blocked in 1894 and re-opened recently), and the arch into the tower which, with its free-standing shafts and elaborate arch mouldings, dates from the very end of the 12th century. The west jamb of the north door has an inscription ‘B.Hale 1837’. The date must relate a restoration and it was probably in his capacity as Parish Clerk that Benjamin Hale (b.1813) signed this work. On the east jamb are two further dates, 1835 and 1840, probably indicating a substantial restoration of the door at that time, that may have included the capitals, which might well be close copies of the originals. On the east side, at the base of the arch, is what may be a mason’s mark.

Towards the middle of the 14th century, three large windows were inserted into the north wall. Typical of the Decorated period, the flowing tracery patterns differ in each window, but all the patterns are closely modelled on contemporary work at Ely cathedral (to which Meldreth church belonged) and were probably built by cathedral masons. As the windows differ in the tracery patterns and in the surrounding mouldings, it is possible that they were inserted in separate campaigns, There may also have been competition among the donors, whose heraldry in the stained glass was recorded in the 1630s by John Layer before the destruction of 60 (or 62) window lights by William Dowsing and his men in March 1643.

The most drastic changes to the nave came in the 15th century. Nicholas Caldecote (d.1442) left £5 towards the building of a north aisle. This was not built, thus preserving the fine 14th-century windows, but, probably late in the 15th century, a south aisle was added.  The 12th-century south wall was taken down and replaced by an arcade leading into a spacious aisle lit by broad, three-light windows with rectilinear tracery, typical of the Perpendicular period. The addition of aisles to simple churches began in the 12th century, commonly to house an additional altar, as much as to enlarge the church. From the 14th century onwards, these altars were often in connection with the foundation of a chantry.

The entrance to this aisle was now through a grand south porch. Church porches served a variety of functions, including the first stages of the wedding ceremony, the ‘churching’ of women after childbirth, and even the transaction of legal business, such as agreements relating to property. The doors are original, with minor later repairs.

During this building campaign, the nave walls were heightened, together with the chancel arch, in order to insert clerestory windows to lighten the interior.  The new walling can be clearly seen on the exterior of the north side, where buttresses were added to support the heightened wall. The new king-post roof was built, supported on angel corbels set into the wall. Original painted decoration survives on the east truss, which may have been given special treatment because it was above the Rood over the screen. The shallow pitch of the roof, characteristic of the late medieval period, required much shorter rafters than the much steeper pitch of the 12th-century roof.

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