Harvey Tesseyman, Heritage Research Archaeologist
I went to visit a local church knowing that it was Grade I listed (the Church of St Mary, Broughton, North Lincolnshire, 1161801, I), because I thought I could find some historic inscriptions, and it sounded like an interesting building. It’s common for historic buildings to be remodelled over time, and given that churches are quite often the oldest building in town they’ve got a lot of history packed in. What follows should illustrate how complex historic buildings can get, and how difficult it can be to get your story straight when it comes to recording!
The oldest fabric of the church is the Anglo-Saxon herringbone masonry which makes up the bottom of the tower (tower-nave churches are typically Saxon).
The tower used to be four exterior walls, but one of them is now an interior wall, part of which has been ground down to make healing powder (!?).
The tiny blocked up windows are another Saxon feature along with a side door, although don’t confuse them with the blocked up Norman windows which are a different type of tiny, and match the surviving fragments of Norman arcade, which wrap around the original church replacing the Saxon chancel. Another sticky-out-bit which seems to be of 13th century origin, based on the Early English Gothic-style windows, looks like it wraps round the bit that wraps round the original bit (but the cupboard doors in here are 15th century). The round bit sticking out of the edge of the tower is a set of very precarious spiral stairs leading most of the way up the Saxon tower on the way to the 14th century belfry they put on top as an extension, possibly on top of an older belfry.
When they extended the belfry they cut down the height of the stairs and recapped the roof. The central pillar of the spiral stairs is made from reused Roman stone, and the roof seems to be capped with some reused medieval beams and supported by a modern one. When you get up into the belfry there’s a pile of Victorian glass, some unidentified machinery, and a door taken from somewhere else in the church (we’re not sure where) which has been plastered in newspaper bearing a date of 1868. The floor of the church is also Victorian, they laid it down when they installed heating pipes, and while they were doing it found the original Saxon floor surface.
As with below-the-ground archaeology, layers often get mixed together and it becomes difficult to work out what should have gone where, but that’s part of the intrigue. Trying to analyse historic buildings can leave you feeling as out of breath as climbing the spiral stairs might, but I did find some historic inscription…Please don’t ask me to come up with a date for it…