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A column (or a pier) can support an arch which may be part of a series of columns (colonnade) with attendant arches. The half pillar attached to the wall to support the arch at the end of an arcade is known as the respond. A column is the shaft and sits on a plinth (its base). On top of the column is a capital, its crowning member (abacus) giving support to arches (or vaulting ribs). The shape of the abacus, capital, shaft and plinth changed over the years, and usually reflected the current style of architecture, eg Norman or Gothic. From the 12th century they were carved with rich and ornate designs, of foliated, human or animal forms. There are fine Norman carvings on the capitals at Leonard Stanley. Of the twelve pillars at Lydney eleven are circular and the other, known as the Judas Pillar, is square.


Saxon arches were round and sprang from massive impost blocks, the equivalent later of the abacus, as in the doorway at Somerford Keynes. The capitals were sculptured, often with interlaced carving and the shafts were round. Fine examples are at Bradford-on-Avon (Wiltshire) and at Deerhurst in Gloucestershire. A notable chancel arch is at Wittering, Northants. Saxon doorways were high and narrow, with a rounded arch. The doorway at Somerford Keynes, shown here, demonstrated this. It shows both the impost blocks, on which the arch rests, and the long and short stones typical of Saxon work.


The Norman arch was also round but often had several recessed orders, that is a series of arches which receded away from the observer. They were carved with a variety of shapes, geometrical, animal, bird and human heads (beakheads). Fine examples are at Kilpeck and Windrush.

The abacus was usually square but capitals were of three types:
   a) cushion: square above and round below;
   b) scalloped: as above but cut with vertical flukes;
   c) volute: late Norman with four leaves springing from the neck.

Shafts were massive and either cylindrical as at Gloucester Cathedral and Tewkesbury, or sometimes square. Later ones were octagonal. Bases were usually square, sometimes carved with leaf ornaments. Excellent examples are at Kilpeck and Moccas, Herefordshire.

The South Door, St. Michael, Guiting Power



The pointed arch was the main feature of the Gothic period. It eliminated the weakness at the top of the arch and allowed greater freedom because now all arches could be the same height.

EARLY ENGLISH c.1200-1300

The arch was pointed with deeply cut mouldings and enriched with carved pyramidal ‘nail-head’ or ‘dog-tooth’ ornaments. The abacus was round and deeply undercut and capitals were moulded or had new stiff leafed foliage carved on them. Shafts were generally round or octagonal and occasionally were formed of slender free-standing shafts grouped around a central member and their bases were deeply cut with mouldings. There is fine arcade moulding with foliage at Slimbridge. Doorways were similarly treated with recessed orders.


Early English capital,

Decorated South doorway,
Bishops Cleeve

DECORATED 1300-1350

Arches were broader and less acute, but with a greater use of decorative moulding (usually scroll) which was cut less deep. The abacus became part of the capital, its shape following that of its shaft. There may be carvings of scroll mouldings or foliage. Shafts were simpler, varying from plain octagon (usual), circular or the four semi-circular types and a pair of triple rolls at the base. Ornamentation consisted of four leaf flowers, crockets, diaper (foliage wall pattern) and the new ballflower pattern. Doorways and other arches may have been ogee shaped with carvings. Often fittings and other features (tombs, fonts, sedilia) were decorated with carvings.



The Black Death interrupted a lot of work and helped create a style of vertical lines and tracery. Initially begun at St. Peter’s Abbey, Perpendicular work is best seen in windows and woodwork. Arches were higher, more obtuse and the four centred arch was common with wide and shallow mouldings. Capitals were octagonal and usually moulded and shafts were simple octagons, although there were local variations, eg in the West Country or East Anglia. Bases were polygonal. Complete Perpendicular churches can be seen at Thornbury, Cirencester (with fine arcades), Chipping Campden, Fairford and Northleach. Doorways were built under a square hood-mould, often with carvings (heraldry and angels were popular) in the spandrels.


Perpendicular South Porch,


After the Reformation the Gothic style was gradually superseded by the Renaissance style which was based on the Classical traditions of ancient Greece. The arch is again round but the piers follow one of the classical orders: Doric (least ornate), Ionic (with large scrolls) and Corinthian (most slender). The churches of Sir Christopher Wren are a good example of this period, which ran from the late 17th century into the 18th century. It is not really associated with Gloucestershire.

Piers were square or rectangular with unmoulded arches but the capitals, which were not really decorated, soon developed into round piers with square abaci and a mixture of multi-scalloped capitals and crocketed and stiff leafed capitals. Arches were unmoulded and progressed through the whole range from slightly chamfered to fully double chamfered.

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