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Dean Church Architecture

The church from the south-west May 2011
The church from the south-west May 2011

All Saints is a fine church, well worth visiting. It is built from coursed limestone rubble with ashlar dressings.

The interior looking east May 2011
The interior looking east May 2011

Former County Archivist Chris Pickford in his Bedfordshire Historical Records Society volume Bedfordshire Churches in the 19th Century Parishes A-G of 1994 states that the church is first recorded in 1149 but there was no doubt a building here before the Norman Conquest of 1066. Nothing of these earlier buildings survives.

The interior looking west May 2011
The interior looking west May 2011

All Saints dates largely to the 14th century, with some 15th century remodelling. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner in his Buildings of England volume for Bedfordshire, however, notes that some nailhead decoration in the chancel arch shows that there was a church here before 1300 as nailhead is a form of decoration associated with the Early English period which covers the whole of the 13th century.

The nave, south chapel and south aisle seen from the chancel May 2011
The nave, south chapel and south aisle seen from the chancel May 2011

There is no doubt that most of the church dates to the 1300s, presumably from an almost complete rebuilding in the first half of the century. The church comprises a chancel, a nave, a west tower, north and south aisles, north and south chapels at the end of those aisles and adjoining the chancel and a south porch.

The gargoyle on the north side of the church May 2011
The gargoyle on the north side of the tower May 2011

Externally the Decorated tower is particularly impressive. It has some fine gargoyles and a frieze of heads.

Angel on the roof of the south aisle May 2011
Angel on the roof of the south aisle May 2011

Internally the roofs of nave and aisles are stunning, carved with angels and bosses in the form of birds and green men. These date from the 15th century.

A green man in the roof of the nave May 2011
A green man in the roof of the nave May 2011

The other main work carried out in the 15th century was to add a clerestory to the nave. A fragment of medieval glass survives in the church. Chris Pickford notes that illustrations of quarries for sand used in glassmaking in the parish survive in the British Library.

Fragment of stained glass in the south aisle west window May 2011
Fragment of stained glass in the south aisle west window May 2011

A Decorated tomb chest lies at the east end of the north aisle. It may be contemporary with the erection of the church as it commemorates a past vicar, Walter de Ireland, who died in 1310 or 1311 since his replacement, Richard de Wotton was instituted on 28th May 1311 on Walter’s death. A board in the church notes that the inscription on thje tomb contains mistakes, as if the mason was semi-literate. A translation reads: Walter de Ireland lies here: pray for his soul; God have mercy”.

The tomb of Walter de Ireland in the north aisle May 2011
The tomb of Walter de Ireland in the north aisle May 2011

The board states that the aisle was not built until the 15th century but this is not correct. The Victoria County History for Bedfordshire, published in 1912, shows the external walls of both aisles as 15th century, presumably on the strength of the windows but these may be later remodelling. Certainly the two arcades leading into the aisles are 14th century, thus dating the aisles.

Piscina on the south wall of the chancel May 2011
Piscina on the south wall of the chancel May 2011

Overall Dean is similar to Shelton, in that, as a less prosperous parish, it did not attract the hand of Victorian restorers. Therefore most of what we see today is either original or dates to the 15th century.

Heads on the upper west side of the tower May 2011
Heads on the upper west side of the tower May 2011