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Often the tower is the oldest structural part of the church building. The Saxons built a tall tower at the west end of the church during the 9th and 10th centuries. Its main use was to carry bells, rather like the Italian campanile. At the same time it was a defensive refuge in times of danger, built without a staircase at the base (a ladder was used) and with minor openings in the lower stages. Some towers had porches for priests to live in, with a window overlooking the nave from which they were able to say their night offices without descending the stairs.

The saddleback tower at SydeThere were always exceptions to the position of the tower: a few parishes had twin towers, some have them on the transepts and yet in some cases the tower is detached, as at Berkeley and Westbury-on-Severn. Towers at the west end preclude any effective design for the west front and many believe they are not as pleasing aesthetically as central towers. The tower of Didbrook, at the west end of the nave, is built inside the church, on a wide arch which spans the width of the church. It appears to come through the west end nave roof rather than butt onto the end of the building. During the late medieval time the tower became one of the supreme achievements of the masons.

The roof of the early towers was one of two types: the saddleback (or gabled) where the gable could be parallel to or at right angles to the nave, and the pyramid. Saddleback towers, and quite a few are in the Cotswolds, usually indicate the tower was not finished. Examples are seen at Bagendon, Duntisbourne Abbotts, Duntisbourne Rous and Eastleach Turville. They were originally built of wood but were the forerunner of the Gothic spire. From the 13th century they were made of stone, heightened and topped by an octagonal broach spire.

During the 15th century, the supreme period for building, towers were mostly square although some were octagonal, especially central towers. The towers at Ozleworth and Swindon Village are hexagonal. Such towers are rare. In Norfolk and Suffolk over 150 circular towers can be found. Possibly this avoided the expense of dressing the quoins for the angles. All are in defensive positions near a river or the sea, and all are Saxon. Many have an upper storey added during the 13th, 14th or 15th century.

Towers can be judged according to many criteria: the arrangement and width of the buttresses, by the size of the west window (if appropriate), by the proportions, style and number of belfry windows on each face, by the style of the parapet (it may have battlements which could be stepped), by the arrangement and number of pinnacles and the number of stages. With some towers the building of an additional stage resulted in the use of a different material. Tudor brick was common. Some towers have a spirelet on a stair turret. The construction of towers did not always enhance the proportions of church design, some are too lofty or too squat (Staverton). The sixty or so Perpendicular towers in Somerset are unrivalled for composition and exquisite detail, that at Winscombe has twelve pinnacles. In Gloucestershire eight pinnacles occur at Longborough and Winchcome and four at several churches, including Tortworth, Upper Slaughter and the tall pinnacles at Upton St. Leonards. The tallest tower is the 2721/2ft (91m) Boston Stump, in Lincolnshire.


Tewkesbury Abbey has the largest Norman tower in the country. The tower at Gloucester Cathedral dates from 1455, and is 225ft (75m) high. Several churches with central towers are dotted throughout the county, at Avening, Bishop's Cleeve, Brockworth, St. Briavels, Stowell and Withington. That at Ozleworth is hexagonal. Often an enlarged central tower collapsed and was usually rebuilt at the western end. This happened at English Bicknor and Elkstone. The central tower at Coln St. Dennis has no transepts.


This is found in the smaller church where there is no tower. It was usual to place it over the western gable but on some churches they are sited over the chancel arch. Much variety is found in these structures, especially in the West Country. There are some good examples in Gloucestershire at Acton Turville, Harescombe, Lower Swell, Quenington, Rangeworthy and both Shiptons. An unusual turret sits on the roof at Boxwell and may have been the chimney of a Saxon farmhouse before it was moved to the church when the bell was added later.

Illustrated:   The saddleback tower at Syde, a feature of this area

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The Parochial Church Council of the Ecclesiastical Parish of St Mary and St Nicolas Prestbury Cheltenham - Registered Charity No 1130933

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