« PreviousContinue »
north and south walls would have suffered equally. Doubtless that would have been the case but that the south side had the support of the porch, which prevented the western end of the walls of the nave from giving way. If we stand with our back to the west wall, just within the nave on the south side, and look at the corbels that support the roof beams, we see that the wall between the east end and opposite the porch bulges outwards in the middle as described above, though not much. We then look at the north wall, and find that the corbels run in a straight line from one end of the church to the other. The explanation of this is that the north arcade was rebuilt. The fact of the clearstory wall having been extended about five feet northwards before turning to the east proves that the wall and arches that carry the clearstory must have been removed northwards at the same time, thus throwing the western arch out of the centre of the west wall and giving it a lobsided appearance. There was no porch on the north side to help the north arcade to resist the thrust of the roof of the nave, so that there need be no doubt that the north walls of the nave must have given way much more than the south side, so much so, indeed, as to necessitate its reconstruction, and this furnishes us at once with the reason why the south arcade did not need to be rebuilt at that time. In the rebuilding of this north side Sir Richard Ashton's men would of course use up the same materials as before for the arcade, but made one remarkable difference in the construction of the roof. The new roof of the north aisle was nearly flat, so that there would be scarcely any thrust on the outer wall. This throws light on one reason for the rebuilding the walls were giving way from the thrust of the roof acting upon the walls built upon loose foundations, possibly further weakened by digging graves near
the walls. And this also accounts for the fact that there are seven massive buttresses on the north side, while there are only four lighter ones and the porch on the south side, as if they wanted to prevent any side pressure taking place.
(5) I next conclude that the Hopwood Chapel only dates, at least in its present form, from the same period, viz., 1524, and as the aisle seems to have been extended southwards for the purpose of forming the chapel, it seems very probable that Sir Richard Ashton may have. had the assistance of the Hopwoods and of others of the local families whose armorial bearings are shown on the rood screen in the expense of rebuilding. The screen belongs to that period, and the display of their shields of arms was the usual mode of indicating the names of founders and benefactors.
(6) The portion of the building that I have left till now, the Norman arch, shows points making it difficult to come to a definite decision. There are as many as sixteen or eighteen patterns on these carved stones in the western arch, some of which are quite different in style to the usual Norman work, and they have been supposed to be Saxon. There is strong reason for supposing that there must have been a church here in Saxon times. At Sompting, for instance, there is undoubted Saxon stone carving, showing, in the words of Mr. Williams, the vicar, "that the Saxons had more idea of ornamentation than people generally give them credit for."
This opinion is supported by Mr. J. H. Parker, who says that "recent observations seem to show that the Saxons were more advanced than the Normans at the time of the Conquest; their work was more highly finished, had more ornament, and they used fine-jointed masonry, while the Normans used wide-jointed, but the
Norman buildings were more substantial, and on a larger scale."
The place-name Middleton is clearly of Saxon origin, and there is strong evidence to show that the ancestors of the Roger de Middleton, who died about 1322, the last male of his race, were of the local Saxon families who had not been dispossessed of their holdings at the Conquest, who held their lands by thanage or drengage, or by ancient tenure (Antiquâ tenurâ) as in the time of King Edward the Confessor.
The place is not mentioned in the Domesday Survey, but Mr. Harland states his opinion that it was one of the twenty-one berewicks that are there mentioned as belonging to the Salford Hundred. Its central position in the midst of so many other Saxon place-names, as Prestwich, Radcliffe, Bury, Ashworth, Rochdale (or Recedham), Royton, Ashton, Oldham, Failsworth, and the Roman Mamecestre, would doubtless be the cause of the Middle "tun" receiving its name, and it also marks it out as being a place that was well known, very probably a place of call for travellers, and of greater relative importance than it is now.
All this seems to point to the probability that there would be a church here in those remote times, but, if so, was it likely to be a stone one or a wooden one? This may be best answered by considering what material would be easiest to procure. Now the late Mr. Grundy showed conclusively that the stone of which the church is built could not possibly have come from any other place than the quarry in Royley Clough, near Royton. Two or three facts are sufficient to settle this beyond dispute. In the first place, he declared the stone of that quarry, which he had often worked with his own hands, was identical in texture, hardness, and general workableness
with the stone used in the church. Secondly, that quarry is the only place within many miles where this particular kind of stone can be quarried. Thirdly, it was the nearest place to Middleton where building stone of any sort could be found. But the road from that quarry (which has long been abandoned), even now the worst in the neighbourhood, and away from any course of traffic, would, in the time of the Saxons, probably be impassable. Still, it is plain that it was quarried and brought here in Norman times, and it may possibly have been done in the earlier days of the Saxon kings.
On the other hand, it may be urged that the Middle "Tun" of Saxon times must have been an enclosed place of dwellings within a clearing in the midst of a district of bog, and moors, and woodland, where timber was plentiful, as indeed it was until very late times, and, therefore, if ever there was a Saxon church here, it was probably a wooden one, like so many others of their times. If that were the case, then the only conclusion possible is that the carved stones in this western arch are all of Norman workmanship, and must be assigned to a period after the use of ornament had become common among the Norman builders, but executed by men who were still using the axe, before the use of the hammer and chisel had been introduced. That being so, we may consider it proved that it was built about the same time as Conrad's choir at Canterbury Cathedral, i.e., between 1096 and 1130. It may possibly belong to the end of the eleventh century, but, from the number and variety of ornaments and the fact that it was an arch of three orders, it is more likely that its date would be later, in the beginning of the twelfth century, before 1130.
Dr. Durnford, in speaking of the arch, used the following words: "I know of no remains in this neighbourhood,
and of very few within the county, of equal antiquity, for they cannot be assigned to any date later than the twelfth century. I say this with perfect confidence, because these stones cannot lie, they tell their own tale to the practised eye with a positiveness and certainty beyond that of historians."
But whoever they were, Saxon or Norman, who in the distant ages laid the original foundations of this church they and their mediæval successors have laid us under the obligation of handing it forward unimpaired.
To quote once more from Dr. Durnford: "The original founders, whoever they were, acted according to the light of their day. We, their distant successors, have entered into their labours, for throughout our native land most of the churches were raised and nearly all the old endowments were supplied by the munificence of remote and unknown benefactors. Let us then rather admire their piety than condemn their superstition, for after all they were our ancestors, men of English hearts, men of honest purpose, and in many cases of signal and disinterested charity."
It is to be earnestly hoped that the preservation of this heritage, left by these men of the olden time, may be taken in hand before it be too late, and that we, who have “entered into their labours," may pass it on to our sons as good as we received it from our fathers, carrying out whatever additions may be necessary in the pious spirit of the original founders.
NOTE TO PAGE 8.-Since this paper was read, on the 24th April, 1896, Mr. G. F. Bodley, the eminent architect, who had been called in by the church officers to examine the church with a view to its restoration, has stated in his report that "The arch is formed by carved stones
of a Norman character of the date of 1120."