to assume very reasonably that the clerestory itself is Norman but sadly it is a Victorian reconstruction. Even a cursory examination makes you realise that the delightful regular sequence of round-headed windows interspersed with pointed blind arches is too good to be true. Yet this modernisation in no way detracts from a church that is visually delightful and we have to be profoundly grateful to those who were responsible for relocating - and in some cases re-carving - the corbels rather than disposing of them.
A north aisle was added in the mid-twelfth century. The south aisle followed in around 1200. The Church Guide says that it is in Early English style but in fact it is a fine example of Transitional style. The arches are rounded and sit on square abaci as do the arches of the north aisle. Indeed, it seems that the masons, even if they had the skills to build in the new-fangled Gothic style, preferred symmetry with the north arcade that was itself still relatively new. The design of the arches is rather more elaborate than on the north side but it is the designs on the carved capitals that really sets the south side apart. Whereas the north side has very simple decoration, the south side has some very entertaining carved scenes. They are secular rather than religious and, moreover. they are in a a quite sophisticated style. If they are reminiscent of anything it is of misericord carving. Apart from the Church Guide the only reference to the date of this arcade is - predictably - Pevsner (although he does not describe it as Early English).
For reasons we can’t understand both Transitional and Early English designs tended to eschew frivolous carving. You will search in vain for an Early English corbel table for example. Don’t look for dragons or gryphons. Perhaps it was felt to be “old hat” or even, as Bernard of Clairvaux complained, just a distraction from spiritual thoughts? Whatever, I would not have expected to see these aisle carvings at that date. The Decorated style - and the fourteenth century - saw a limited return to historiated carvings and fine examples can be seen at Oakham in Rutland and Hanwell in Oxfordshire. It could be that the south aisle is “later than advertised” and that symmetry was seen as more important than modern style. Or, conversely, is this an example of a mason clinging to the Norman tradition of carving but doing so in a new, more sophisticated fashion decades ahead of its time? That argument (and Pevsner’s dating) is supported by the chancel arch that seems to be Early English above its capitals. You would have thought this work was carried out at the time of the south aisle, although we can’t know for certain. Either way, in my view these carvings are quite remarkable on an arcade of this period.
The Church Guide poses the theory that the work was carried out by masons of the Wells Cathedral workshop. This is, indeed, a theory that resolves all of the disjoints around the Hawkchurch carving. For a start it explains the quality of the carving at a time in a place that it would not have been expected. In his excellent and illuminating monograph “The Capital Sculpture of Wells Cathedral: Masons, Patrons and the Margins of English Gothic Architecture” (2010 - viewable here http://www.queensu.ca/art/sites/webpublish.queensu.ca.artwww/files/files/ReeveCapitalSculptureofWellsCathedralJBAA.pdf) Matthew Reeve talks of “a preceived stylistic antagonism between the capitals themselves and their architectural setting. Commentators on the capitals have sensed a disjunction between a “Romanesque” mode of sculptural decoration within what was a decisively and by some readings definitively “modern” Gothic building...” He believes that the capitals at Wells are from the 1184-1210 phase of building which fits perfectly with the Transitional and earliest of Gothic styles. At Hawkchurch there was no “Gothic building” - indeed as I have already suggested there was a conscious decision that the south aisle should not be in a Gothic style - but the apparent contradiction at Wells of Romanesque style carving at the beginning of the Gothic era is echoed here at Hawkchurch. Matthew Reeve explores the sculptural themes at Wells and notes the broadening out of the sources of such themes from the traditional one of the mediaeval Bestiary, the adoption of lay imagery and also the complete absence of New Testament themes. Again, this is visible at Hawkchurch. Much is made of the West Country School of sculpture centred on Wells and it interesting indeed to see the humble parish church at Hawkchurch bracketed with such noble buuldings as Bristol Cathedral! Having read Matthew Reeve’s book I am convinced that the Church Guide is right in ascribing the sculpture on the south aisle to someone from the Wells Cathedral masonic workshops.
The west tower is early sixteenth century. This is datable from the arms carved into a decorative door above the west door. It is very grand and sophisticated with a large west window and carved stone panels at the belfry and very much reminscent of the distinctive style to be seen all over Somerset. further to the west. The south porch conceals the south door which is also reckoned to be Early English and, as the Church Guide remarks, is again carved with a sophistication rarely seen at this period. Its arch profile is almost triangular and very shallow. The profile of the west door is similar so I imagine the south door was altered to match at that point.
There’s not much more to be said. The extensive rebuilding of 1859-61 shames the destructive Victorian work at many other English parish churches. It is a very satisfying church to visit.