Sir Nikolaus Pevsner Architectural Guides Norman Saxon Churches of England

The Norman conquest of East Anglia by the historic Pevsner Caveat

There is doubt for what is evidence of Early to Late Anglo-Saxon architecture and when did conquered rural areas start building in the Norman style? Very strange for the land of the East Angles, with its unique and staggering amount of very old flint churches with round towers. How can the interpretations of both Saxon and Norman architectural examples in East Anglia still be creating confusion and differences of opinion?

In elevation much of Norman work is visible, but again little of it is of more than local interest. Cautley refers to at least 390 Suffolk churches mentioned in the Domesday survey and has counted 174 churches with some Norman features.

Yet Suffolk is not a Norman county. That means that either prosperity in the Middle Ages has swept away what there was before, or that in less prosperous areas nothing Norman and grand ever existed. The bulk of what survives is purely masonry… There are more Norman doorways by far than can here be listed.

Round towers have been commented on in connexion with Anglo-Saxon architecture. Cautley counts forty-two in Suffolk. They occur mostly in the NE of the country, nearly half the total.*

*In the gazetteer the towers will be called Norman, where there is no actual evidence of Saxon origin.
Suffolk – Buildings of England | Nikolaus Pevsner

If Pevsner did not observe any physical evidence of East Saxon/Angles craftsmanship, then especially in East Anglia, his square and round towered church guide would automatically designated it Norman at the earliest and not Anglo-Saxon.

The source of this inspiration and the reason for the fashion for round towers being largely confined to East Anglia has been the source of much debate.

… These features are mixed with the up-to-date Anglo-Norman features such as imported freestone dressings and Romanesque decoration such as chevron. The doorways at Hales, Haddiscoe and nearby Heckingham have abundant decoration of this sort. The survival of these Anglo-Saxon forms can be explained by the lack of experience of building with stone.
Round-Towered Churches of Norfolk | Exploring Norfolk Churches

Norman, Anglo-Saxon or East Angles round tower flint churches

Most East Anglian round towers are not Saxon, in fact in Norfolk they seem to have still been building them into the 14th Century, but this one probably is.
St Andrew Church, East Lexham | Norfolk Churches – Simon Knott

The problem is that Nikolaus Pevsner’s Architectural Guides of the ancient Churches of England seem to dominate all the academic fields of research and interpretation of these mysterious flint and mortar ancient structures.

It is often impossible to reliably distinguish between pre- and post-Conquest 11th century work in buildings where most parts are later additions or alterations. The round-tower church and tower-nave church are distinctive Anglo-Saxon types.
Anglo-Saxon architecture | Wikipedia

Church of St Andrew in East Lexham is suggested to be the oldest surviving Anglo-Saxon round tower left standing. Therefore, it should not be difficult to compare this structure with all the hundreds of others in the area.

Round tower St Andrew church, East Lexham, Anglo-Saxon

Standing on a raised mound possibly a pagan site, the round tower is said to be the oldest in England, built c900AD and recently restored with the aid of Heritage Lottery Funding. The belfry openings are a striking and unusual feature.
St Andrew’s, East Lexham | Exploring Norfolk Churches

But the same organisation, the Diocese of Norwich, states that these puzzling round towers were introduced by the Norman civilisation after they invaded Great Britain.

Norfolk is famed for its great number of medieval churches mainly spanning from the 11th century to the 16th. Many of these parish churches have a distinctive feature hardly known outside this region: the round bell tower attached to the west end of a church.

The round tower was introduced by the Normans in the 11th century. However, a significant number were built later in the Middle Ages. These towers are either of the same build as the church or a later addition to the church.
Round-Towered Churches of Norfolk | Exploring Norfolk Churches

If no accepted Sassenach evidence is observed, although there is no 100% consensus on that debatable subject, then a building is not constructed by the East Angles, not by any other pre conquest local tribe, culture or Empire.

St Andrew, East Lexham. Round tower, very probably Anglo-Saxon, see the N W bell-opening of two tiny arches on a turned, sausage-shaped baluster. The S W bell-opening has a very sturdy, short column instead, and the E bell-opening a (later?) Maltese cross. The body of the church is rendered, N and S doorways of c.1200.
Norfolk – Buildings of England | Nikolaus Pevsner

Beware the Sir Nikolaus Pevsner caveat or should it be the Norman Pevsner Caveat?

Saxon, East Angles, Anglo-Saxon square tower churches

All Saints, Hethel. Unbuttressed w tower, perhaps Norman. Later two-stepped battlements.
Norfolk – Buildings of England | Nikolaus Pevsner

In the distance, you can see the famous Hethel thorn, a thousand year old tree, apparently. Almost certainly as ancient is the tower of All Saints, or at least its lower half, which may be a rare example in Norfolk of a Saxon square tower. The top stage is 14th century I should think, although the pinnacles may even be an 18th century confection.
All Saints Church, Hethel | Norfolk Churches – Simon Knott

All Saints Church displays an unusual juxtaposition of styles, from its square Saxon tower to the red-brick east end.
Church of All Saints, Hethel, Norfolk | Wikipedia

The Norman Pevsner Conquest of East Anglo-Saxon churches?

If you were born and bred in Norfolk or Suffolk you would have been told matter of fact that all round towers are Saxon flint churches and post conquest Norman (1066 AD) churches are square towered. Absolutely no doubt, just ask any East Anglian to test this theory. Apart from perhaps Simon Knott and the not very local Pevsner.

Pevsner Norman or Saxon churches East Anglia Mautby Norfolk

Now, here’s a curiosity for you. This round tower has carstone banding, and this is usually taken as a sign of very early construction, probably before the Norman Conquest. The church was probably contemporary, but the wall that separates the church from the tower seems to be that of a bigger church than we see today.
St Peter and St Paul Church, Mautby | Norfolk Churches – Simon Knott

who built round towers churches in Norfolk Suffolk and East Anglia

Take away the late medieval tower and you can see at once that this is an ancient building, almost entirely a 13th Century rebuilding of what was a Norman, and possibly even Anglo-Saxon structure. The two round openings in the northern wall certainly look like Anglo-Saxon windows, although as Dr Pevsner notes they are curiously high.
St John the Baptist Church, Coltishall | Norfolk Churches – Simon Knott

Nikolaus Pevsner and the problem of the Norfolk round tower churches - St Mary Haddiscoe

St Mary, Haddiscoe. An interesting and puzzling church. It has a round tower divided by three bands and with handsome later battlements with flushwork chequer. The twin bell-openings are clearly Saxon and as clearly Norman, i.e. must belong to the so-called C11 overlap. Triangular heads to the two lights, but a course billet surround.
Norfolk – Buildings of England | Nikolaus Pevsner

In this corner of Norfolk with hundreds of tiny churches and a multitude of Norman survivals, it stands out as being of tremendous interest, an intriguing and impressive place. As Pevsner points out, the lower part is apparently Saxon, the upper parts Norman, but there is no obvious break and so it looks the work of one campaign in what he calls the C11 overlap.
St Mary Church, Haddiscoe | Norfolk Churches – Simon Knott

Saxon, East Angles, Anglo-Saxon, Norman architecture evidence and examples

St Mary, Thwaite. Unbuttressed w tower. The tower is basically probably quite early, see the quoining and the unmoulded arch towards the nave.
Norfolk – Buildings of England | Nikolaus Pevsner

Like many churches around here, this is a simple Norman nave huddling under thatch, and not much altered over the centuries since. The 14th Century square tower probably replaced a round one.
St Mary Church, Thwaite St Mary | Norfolk Churches – Simon Knott

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner Architectural Guides Norman Saxon Churches of England

St Edmund is a fine building, with a pretty turreted round tower. The bell stage is a lovely Decorated adornment to the Norman tower, dating as it does from the 13th century rather than from the 15th as you more frequently find.
St Edmund Church, Acle | Norfolk Churches – Simon Knott

The Norman Conquest of Medieval Chronology?

East Anglian history can be a bit doubtful, perhaps the confusion of dating Late Anglo-Saxon and Norman architecture is due to the timelines of Norfolk and Suffolk history being incorrect?

The source of this inspiration and the reason for the fashion for round towers being largely confined to East Anglia has been the source of much debate.

It is now thought that the two great Norman churches: Bury St Edmunds Abbey and Norwich Cathedral were the source. They had storeyed circular chapels radiating around their sanctuaries which parishes sought to emulate. The radiating chapels at Bury and Norwich had additional little turrets in the angles which other towers tried to copy.

Several of these towers have distinctly old-fashioned features such as triangular headed openings (Haddiscoe, Forncett, Roughton and Herringfleet), rubble dressings, long-and-short quoins and other old-fashioned types of decoration.

These features are mixed with the up-to-date Anglo-Norman features such as imported freestone dressings and Romanesque decoration such as chevron. The doorways at Hales, Haddiscoe and nearby Heckingham have abundant decoration of this sort. The survival of these Anglo-Saxon forms can be explained by the lack of experience of building with stone.
Round-Towered Churches of Norfolk | Exploring Norfolk Churches

St Andrew’s Church in Wissett Norfolk England with round tower

You could even have doubt about who actually built a fine example of perhaps one of the earliest Norman churches, St Andrew in Wissett, Suffolk.

You could have added or missing decades to how old these towers and churches are. At a stretch, using the more radical new chronologies you could remove a few centuries. In that scenario you could get different construction styles mixed together, with some civilisations may not have even existed in their alloted timeframe.

Other tribal groups could have even be morped with other peoples they might not have been part of. Even our definition of a distinct culture might not have existed, in their eyes.

You could even argue that the Romans or those Roman Britains built very large structures in flint and mortar, could they have built proto round towered structures that inspired these church towers? With all the missing history of East Anglia you may be able to argue that it was not as many centuries between late Roman Britain and when these earliest round towers were constructed, with their Roman Empire style chevrons etc.