In the fallow period between Christmas and New Year I like to escape for a few hours on a local adventure. It was one such day I took myself and my camera to Castle Cary. I came upon All Saints Church on a low hill on the outskirts of the town. It has an impressive collection of gargoyles. I was particularly taken by the moustachioed ones with their bulging eyes, wavy hair and curvilinear noses. They stare out at the world as their small hands pull back moustaches or mouths, to show their tablet teeth.
The hirsute 15th-century gargoyles radiate lightness and humour. The mason(s) who carved them demonstrated their skill in bringing to life creatures of imagination. They come alive from the stone with their distinctive wavy hair. They are a break in the formality and straight sections of the church building. Churches have functional gargoyles that channel the rain water away to protect the areas below. These gargoyles sit on a drip mould and water can run down through their open mouths. But there are also carvings on churches in the West Country that don’t have such a function. In the rural areas these carved grotesques are called ‘hunky punks’.
The carvings date from the Perpendicular period in England, when the taste for grotesque creatures further developed the form. The Romanesque period had brought the idea into England from Europe. Carvings such as those found on the 12th-century corbel table at Kilpeck, Herefordshire (attributed to the Herefordshire School of stonemasons), is an example. These wide-eyed guardians with their thick, curling manes is a theme that persists. It develops further in design at Castle Cary by the 15th-century mason(s).
Corbel Table Carvings at Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire (circa 1140)
Sometimes carved faces appear to represent real human beings. At Castle Cary they have a caricature style. The distinctive style of imaginative creatures would have been attributed to a particular mason or group of masons. I will be keeping an eye out on other churches in the area to see if I can find similar gargoyles or hunky punks!
‘Church of All Saints’, Historic England List 1056241, (1961),<https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1056241> [accessed 11 June 2019]
‘Church of St Mary and St David’, Historic England List 1099582, (1967), <https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1099582> [accessed 11 June 2019]
Wright, Peter Poyntz, Hunky Punks: A study in Somerset stone carving, 2nd edn (Loughborough: Heart of Albion Press, 2004)