HEREFORDSHIRE always seems a long way away, whether you go there by car or by train. When you arrive, you find a largely agricultural county apart from Hereford itself. As large medieval churches go, there are the cathedrals, two in the towns of Ledbury and Leominster, and half of Abbey Dore, but most are rural parish churches.
Architecturally, they have had two periods of distinction: the Romanesque (notably Kilpeck and Shobdon) and the Decorated, from about the 1290s to the 1340s, which forms the subject of this book.
Professor Saul is a distinguished medieval historian and photographer. His book is illustrated with a hundred images, mostly in colour, and includes a gazetteer of the best churches to visit. This will make it an invaluable guide for visitors to a less familiar but highly rewarding county and its buildings.
He shows how the Decorated style reached Herefordshire and why it came to an end. He describes the forms that it took in the tracery of windows and the use of ballflower: a distinctive kind of decoration which gives the elevations of buildings a stippled or “pointilliste” effect. He covers the history of tombs and their evolution from plain slabs into naturalistic effigies during the period.
© Nigel SaulPembridge Parish Church, showing the detached tower and the west front with its reticulated windows, in a photo used in the book
The value of the book is greatly increased by its care not only to describe, but explain why churches were built as they were. The agricultural nature of the county meant that most of the money and taste that generated the buildings came from the great noble house of Mortimer and the three dozen or so knightly families. Only the towns mentioned above had enough urban wealth to contribute to the churches within them.
Altogether, this is a most satisfying study, and, if you do not know Herefordshire already, it should encourage you to explore the delights of Eaton Bishop, Kingsland, Madley, and Pembridge. The publishers must be congratulated on producing a book of such high visual quality at such an attractive price.
Dr Nicholas Orme is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Exeter.
Decorated in Glory: Church building in Herefordshire in the fourteenth century
Logaston Press £10
Church Times Bookshop £9