An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Northamptonshire, Volume 6, Architectural Monuments in North Northamptonshire. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1984.
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Polebrook is a parish of 1090 hectares, the village standing on a small outcrop of limestone in an area mainly covered by Oxford Clay, Boulder Clay and river gravels. The parish includes the former medieval settlements of Kingsthorpe and Armston (RCHM, Northants. I, Polebrook (4, 5)), both of which are on the claylands. Although Armston has been occupied continuously, no early houses remain. Both hamlets were acquired by the Montagus in the 16th century; Kingsthorpe was depopulated in the 17th century, and Armston was enclosed in 1683 after which the population declined rapidly. Polebrook itself was enclosed in 1790.
Polebrook village stands to the N. of a stream. The road that crosses the stream from the S. formerly broadened out before meeting an E.-W. street. The church stands in what must be an encroachment into this wide area; it is a large building of high quality and dates from the late 12th and early 13th centuries. There were several manors in the Middle Ages, at least one of which was held by the Duchy of Lancaster in the 17th century, but apparently none had residents of status. The present Manor House (29) is a small building associated with the Duchy manor. Polebrook Hall (27) is larger but its associations are not certain.
The population of Polebrook in 1673 was 40 families, increasing to 60 in 1801. The Hearth Tax of 1673 suggests that Polebrook resembled the neighbouring clayland villages in having relatively few single-hearth houses.
(1) The Parish Church of All Saints (Figs. 171, 172; Plate 16) stands in the N. half of a churchyard and close to its E. boundary. It consists of a Chancel, Nave, North and South Aisles, North and South Transepts, North and South Porches, South West Tower with spire and a Vestry. The walls are of coursed rubble with dressings and parapets of freestone; the spire is of finely-jointed masonry. The main roofs are stone-slated. The greater part of the church dates from the late 12th and early 13th centuries but the position of the N. and S. doors may indicate a shorter nave of the earlier 12th century. The chancel arch, the N. arcade of the nave and the N. aisle can be dated to around 1180–90 on the evidence of the carving of the capitals. The church at this time had a N. transept as demonstrated by the long pier between the first and second arches. This long pier does not indicate a central tower as the walling is of insufficient width for such a structure (pace VCH, Northants. II, 106; Pevsner, 377). Except for this late 12th-century work, the church was entirely rebuilt in the first half of the 13th century. The architecture of the new building was of a high standard, particularly in respect of the rebuilt N. transept which is not only elaborate internally but is almost as large as the nave. In addition, the two round-headed arches of the S. arcade are of exceptional height. In the 14th century a transeptal chapel was built against the S. aisle which was also heightened. At the same time diagonal buttresses were added to the tower and the S. porch rebuilt. Walls were raised in the later Middle Ages and the parapets are post-medieval.
The plan form suggests that a church, earlier than any surviving structure, stood on the site. It may be conjectured that an earlier nave, shorter than the present one was lengthened westward in 1180–90, and that the S. wall of this older nave remained standing until replaced by the present early 13th-century arcade. Evidence for a similar development can be clearly seen at Duddington. Such a sequence would explain the position of the tower for which there was no space available between the W. wall of the extended nave and the boundary of the curtilage; also the ground falls steeply away on this side.
The church is remarkable for the extent and quality of its 12th and 13th-century architecture which has survived with scarcely any subsequent alteration. The continued use of round-headed arches well into the 13th century is clearly illustrated.
Architectural Description – The Chancel, of 1220–40 is without buttresses. At sill-level are external and internal roll-moulded strings. The low parapet, of post-medieval date, rests on a slightly-projecting corbel-table enriched with small carved heads; it is of the 13th century but probably reset when the wall was heightened in the 15th century. Two gargoyles on the S. are perhaps 13th-century but the corner pinnacles appear to be 17th-century. In the E. wall are three graduated lancets (Plate 37), discrete externally but united internally by moulded rear-arches and hood-moulds springing from shafts with roll-and-hollow moulded caps and annular rings. The E. wall with its lancets is, in this area, a rare survival of the 13th century; only the pitch of the gable has been modified by the raising of the side walls. The N. wall has a doorway which led to a former vestry, presumably of the 13th century; the pointed head is cut from one stone and the moulded label has floral stops. The two windows on the N. are lancets, the second being a low-side window, rebated below the transom for an external shutter. In the S. wall the sills of the first two lancets have been lowered, so cutting the string. The priest's door has a round head but is probably also early 13th-century (Plate 14); the rear-arch is formed of a flat slab, apparently an original feature. The last window is a low-side window matching that opposite. The chancel arch, of 1180–90, has two chamfered orders, half-round responds, capitals with re-entrant angles and flat-leaf decoration and bases with angle-spurs.
The Nave has a N. arcade of three round-headed arches of 1180–90 (Plates 17, 28). The first two are separated by a long pier, and each arch has two chamfered orders with roll-moulded stops and the capitals have re-entrant angles. The semicircular responds of the first arch have roll-moulded bases and capitals with flat-leaf decoration. The responds on the E. and W. of the long pier have continuous abaci. Capitals in the second bay are carved with tightly scrolled leaves on thin stems and the pier base has angle-spurs. The W. respond has a capital with flat-leaf decoration. The S. arcade of 1220–40 comprises two excoptionally tall arches with round, double-chamfered, heads (Plates 17, 28). The round columns have water-holding bases and the capitals have stiff-leaf decoration. In the W. wall of the nave the window has trefoil-headed lights and trefoils and roundels in the tracery; although much renewed it has a 14th-century origin. Against the W. wall, in line with the N. arcade, is a massive two-stage buttress, added in the 14th century.
The North Aisle has a thick N. wall of 1180–90 heightened in the 14th century when a small diagonal N.W. buttress and W. window with trefoiled lights were added. The N. transept occupies the E. part of the aisle and its W. wall is carried on a chamfered arch over the aisle; the arch springs from an elaborate shafted corbel with a grotesque head on the N. and dies into the wall on the S. Above the arch on the W. is a steeply-sloping weathering belonging to the earlier aisle roof.
The North Transept (Plate 16) of 1220–40, is without buttresses. Below the windows is a roll-and-fillet moulded string. In the E. wall are two 14th-century windows with flowing tracery, probably replacing earlier windows; an internal string steps up to the sill of the northern window presumably indicating the position of an altar. The 15th-century window in the N. wall has a cusped roundel in the head; the rear-arch is pointed and survives from an earlier window perhaps of the 13th century. In the W. wall is a single large lancet with a label and head stops. Against the N. and W. walls is blind arcading of three and six arches respectively. At the E. end of the N. wall is a locker. The arcading stands on a sill-seat and consists of multi-moulded, linked arches with continuous labels on detached shafts with moulded capitals and water-holding bases.
The South Aisle is shortened by the S. W. tower and its S. wall further curtailed by the later S. chapel. This wall is probably early 13th-century, as indicated by the steeply-sloping weather course against the E. face of the tower, but was heightened in the 14th century when the S. chapel was added, and again when the walls of the chapel were raised to accommodate a low-pitched roof. In the E. wall is a lancet window with an internal roll-moulded string which continues into the S. chapel. The S. doorway has a round head, roll-and-hollow moulded impost and a label with mask stops; it is probably early 13th-century. The South Transept is without buttresses; it butts against the S. aisle with a sill-height string course stopping against the earlier walling. The 14th-century E. window has a square head and trefoil-headed lights, and the S. window has modern tracery in a medieval opening. The roof is low-pitched and the original roof line of about 50° is preserved in the S. wall.
The South West Tower of the early 13th century has two external stages, the lower having diagonal three-stage buttresses, inserted at the corners in the 14th century. Much-restored lancets on the S. and W. have round heads and dog-tooth decoration on the labels; another on the E. is at a higher level and plainer. The transomed belfry windows, set in recessed areas of walling below moulded corbel courses with mask-stops, have central round shafts and double half-round responds with moulded capitals and bases. The octagonal spire has broaches, and three tiers of gabled lucarnes, the lower two having two lights. The corners of the tower are spanned by semicircular squinch arches and there are two tiers of plain corbels in the lower stages of the spire which were presumably used during construction. Internally there are tower arches on the E. and N., both with round heads of three chamfered orders, half-round responds, moulded bell-shaped capitals and water-holding bases.
The North Porch, of 1220–40, has side parapets with nail-head decoration on string-courses (Plate 25). The gable has been lowered and wide kneelers have been introduced, possibly in the 17th century. The arch has a round head of three roll-and-hollow moulded orders and a label with dog-tooth enrichment and carved stops, one a head, the other floral; the jambs have double nook-shafts separated by dog-tooth decoration, and the capitals carved with stiff-leaf and a beast. The central voussoirs of the inner orders have been clumsily reset to form a pointed arch. In the W. wall is a square-headed window of medieval date, and against the side walls are stone benches.
The South Porch appears to have been rebuilt in the 14th century. It has a gabled parapet, later finial and plain eaves. At the corners are diagonal buttresses. The arch has a head of two plain chamfered orders, resting on an impost with slight floral decoration; this part is probably 13th-century, reset, but the multi roll-moulded jambs may be 14th-century. Inside, are stone benches.
Roofs. The 15th-century, three-bay, chancel roof comprises moulded tie beams braced to wall posts, king posts braced to the ridge, shaped principal rafters, purlins and moulded cornices; bosses on the tie beams are carved with crowned and mitred heads, and floral decoration (Plate 58). The nave roof, of five bays, is a replacement of 1634 but has been largely reconstructed (Plate 59). It has moulded tie beams, wall posts, queen posts braced to collars and moulded cornices. On the tie beams bosses are carved with crossed keys for Peterborough and a Catherine Wheel (?); the purlins are decorated with rectangles and that on the N. bears the date '1636'. The other roofs are probably 19th-century.
Fittings – Bells: five; 1st, given by William Tawyer, 1717; 2nd, 16th-century, by Thomas Newcombe of Leicester inscribed 'Andrea'; 3rd, inscribed 'S. Maria'; 4th and 5th, inscribed with churchwardens' names, by Joseph Eayre of St. Neots, 1771 and 1765 respectively (North). Clock: with wooden frame of two compartments with an original verge and crown wheel escapement, probably 17th-century but adapted for a pendulum and restored in modern times. Doors: in N. and S. aisles, plank doors, probably 18th-century. Font: 13th-century octagonal bowl with cusped trefoils in square frames on each face; modern shafted base, medieval circular plinth with footpace (Plate 39). Hatchment: with arms of Ferguson impaling another, 19th-century. Hour-glass and stand (Plate 68): fixed to N.E. respond of nave, iron stand, the holder with scroll-ended bars carried on a twisted iron arm, 17th-century; hour-glass of uncertain age. Locker: in N. transept, rectangular, rebated, 13th-century.
Monuments: in chancel – (1), of Captain John Orme, 1768, and wife, Catherine, daughter of the Earl of Sandwich, 1761, wall tablet of coloured marbles in the style of Bingham of Peterborough, panel with pilasters, pediment with shields of arms of Orme impaling Montagu and Monthermer quarterly, apron carved with symbols of war (Plate 70); (2), of Captain Septimus Orme, 1842; (3), of Diana Isham, 1844, signed 'Stephens Barnwick'; (4), of Joseph Johnson, 1719, and wife Maria, tablet with arms of Johnson impaling another. In S. chapel – (5), of John Webster, 1824, and wife Laetitia, 1834, and others, signed 'Coles Thrapston'.
Painting: in N. transept, W. wall; on backs of third and fourth bays of blind arcading, nimbed figures, probably 13th-century; on soffit of first bay and on capital, traces of painting. Piscinae: (1), in chancel, sill with double sinkings, twin arches with central shaft, moulded heads, capitals and bases, united within a single blind arch and secondary arches, all decorated with dog-tooth; in the tympanum is a roundel containing a quatrefoil in low relief, early 13th-century (Plate 41); (2), in S. chapel, sill with double sinkings, central shaft with moulded capital and base, plain chamfered arches; 13th-century and presumably reset from the former S. aisle. Pulpit: oak, panelled sides decorated with gadrooning, 17th-century; modern base. Screen: oak, in five bays the centre being wider, window forms with cusped ogee heads and vertical tracery, dado painted with floral decoration, loft missing, 15th-century. Seating: in S. chapel, four pews of 17th-century construction incorporating 15 bench ends with concave and scroll tops of the late 13th or 14th century (Fig. 173); one pew is carved 'IB 1663'. A desk front with 17th-century shaped finials has panelling pierced with two window-form grilles, possibly from a medieval screen.
(2) King's Arms Inn, two storeys, thatched roof, parapeted gables with moulded kneelers, class 4a with rear wing, late 17th-century, extended to form a T-plan in 1821. The original house has stop-chamfered axial beams and a wide fireplace. A lozenge-shaped panel in the S. gable is inscribed 'T.T.' and a panel on the extension 'Rice Slatcher 1821'.
(6) Old Dukes Head Cottage (Plate 95), one storey and attics, thatched, class 1a. It was apparently built in 1595, the date on a mantel beam. Inside, the axial beam in the central room has elaborate ogee-and-bar stops with a fleur-de-lis and incised circles on the chamfer. A cambered mantel beam in the same room is enriched with circle and running vine decoration, and above the W. jamb is the date '1595' and initials 'IS'. The central and S. rooms are separated by a timber-framed partition with evidence of an original doorway near the present one; the partition continues into the roof space. The N. room has a wide fireplace with a cambered mantel beam. The roof has clasped purlins.
(9) Two storeys, thatched, parapeted gable on the E., formerly with three-light chamfered mullioned windows of which one remains, probably class 4a, 17th-century. To E. a one-room house, mid 19th-century. (Not entered)
(10) Hazeldene, two storeys, probably two class 4c dwellings now united, early 19th-century. Reset in gable, panel with inscription and date '1698', found in garden of Greyston House (15). (Not entered)
(15) Greyston House (Fig. 174), two storeys and attics, pantiled roof, parapeted gables with shaped kneelers, three-cell plan, 17th-century. One window, formerly with mullions, survives on the W., but the rest are modern. Inside, the S. room on each floor has a stone fireplace with a four-centred head in a square frame. Two axial beams are ovolo-moulded with shaped stops and a third rests on a fluted bracket. N. fireplace rebuilt.
(22) Barn, parapeted gables with moulded kneelers, opposed doors, early 18th-century. The date 1747 is scratched on a quoin. The roof of five bays has staggered butt-purlins, collars, ridge-collars and ridge-piece.
(24) Hartford Cottage, one storey and attics, Welsh slates probably replacing thatch, parapeted gables with moulded kneelers, perhaps 17th-century. Class 3a with large originally unheated room behind the single-flue stack. Stairs rise against the back of the stack. Cambered mantel beam.
(25) The Gables (Fig. 175; Plate 97), two storeys, banded masonry, parapeted gables, ashlar stacks. It was built in 1698, incorporating an earlier structure as a rear wing. The main front formerly had four narrow windows on each floor and a wider one at the E. end; two ground-floor windows have been blocked and replaced by a wider one. The windows, a particular feature of the front, have original wooden lintels, frames, mullions and transoms and leaded lights. The central doorway has a four-centred head in a moulded square surround. Above is a lozenge-shaped panel inscribed 'R C M 1698'. In the W. gable is a window with an ovolo-moulded surround, lighting a corner-stair which reached the attic.
Inside, between the kitchen on the W. and the central hall is a narrow space traceable on both floors, which probably contained the original stair. The stair from the kitchen gave access to the room above and to the attic, which is a single room with plaster floor. The main roof is original and has two tiers of purlins, the lower being square-set and butted, the upper either clasped or butted. The rear wing, of one storey and attics, has a Welsh-slated roof and is possibly early 17th-century. Cross beams are stop-chamfered.
(26) Garden Cottage and Barn Cottage, two storeys, formerly five class 4c dwellings, three in front range and two in rear wing, forming one corner of stable yard of Polebrook Hall (27); early 19th-century. Wooden lintels, leaded lights and fanlights with marginal panes.
(27) Polebrook Hall (Fig. 176; Plate 98), was built in the 17th century to an H-shaped plan. The S. room of the E. cross wing was probably added later in the century and was remodelled in 1719 (date-stone). During the late 19th century many alterations and additions were made to the house and panelling and other fittings imported, perhaps by Samuel Deacon, an auctioneer. Additions included a range on the W. and a top-lit hall with a hammer-beam roof on the S.; a range to the N. W. has a rainwater head dated 1881. In recent years most of the 19th-century additions have been removed and the majority of fittings, whether original or imported, have been dispersed.
The house, of two storeys, has parapeted gables with finials. The two gables on the main front were cased in the 19th century, but in the central section two first-floor mullioned windows are original. The modern porch bears the arms of J.F. Ferguson who bought the house in 1893. A two-storcy gabled bay window, in the centre of the E. elevation, is original. The S. section of the wing has a higher roof and dates from the 17th century and was remodelled in 1719 when the projecting quoins were inserted. The S. end of the wing has a first-floor platband and sash windows with plain architraves and keystones; in the gable is a shaped panel inscribed with the date 1719 and some illegible initials. The finials are modern. Elsewhere are various mullioned windows some of which are not original. Set in the gable of the W. cross wing is a sundial.
Inside, the central hall has a 17th-century moulded and cambered mantel beam. The house contains 17th-century panelling and woodwork, mostly imported, and 19th-century work in imitation. The N.E. room is lined with 17th-century panelling and a chip-carved panel applied to the door is dated 1624. The reset 18th-century stair in the E. wing has turned and fluted balusters and carved tread-brackets. The ceiling of the stair hall is 17th-century and coved, but is overlain with 19th-century egg and dart decoration. The S. room in the E. wing has a 17th-century fireplace with a four-centred head in a rectangular frame. The room above has bolection moulded panelling, presumably of 1719. In the W. wing an overmantel with decorative panels of small turned balusters is dated 1842.
(28) Two storeys, originally lower and of class 1b, perhaps the schoolmaster's house and a school built shortly after 1720 when the brothers Tanyer left money for this purpose (National Society for Religious Education). It was later sub-divided to provide poorhouses. In c. 1836 it reverted to a single house (class 6a) for the schoolmaster; the internal stack was removed and a staircase put in its place.
(29) The Manor House (Fig. 177), is a two-storey structure built in two stages in the 17th century and was occupied by tenants of the Duchy of Lancaster who farmed the associated 103 acres (42.9 hectares) (NRO, XYZ 1093, WH 358). The N. part was built in the early 17th century as a class 1a house, and later in the century the parlour at the S. end was rebuilt on a large scale. The S. room was converted into a summer house for Polebrook Hall c. 1915. The house has parapeted gables, the S. gable having a medieval headless quadruped finial reused from a roof of steeper pitch. The S. section has a large stack on the W., and an area of ashlar infill on the E. probably marks the position of an original wide two-storey bay window in the blocking of which on each floor are four-light ovolo-moulded mullioned windows with king mullions. There is a similar window at first floor on the S. Inside, there are no indications of any original partition. The first-floor N. fireplace has a moulded stone shelf and a deep cupboard at the side with a triangular head and stout door with iron furniture. The roof of the S. section has collars and two tiers of butt-purlins, the upper with wind-braces.