St Mary, Kempley, Gloucestershire

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Feature Sets (3)


Kempley is a village in the N of the county, 13 miles NW of Gloucester and only half a mile from the Herefordshire border. The church has a short, barrel-vaulted chancel with and aisleless nave, both 12thc, a S porch and a 13thc W tower with a pyramid roof. A good deal of painted decoration survives on the interior odf the entire building from a height of approximately four feet upwards. This is 12thc in origin, and was whitewashed, probably at the Reformation, and rediscovered in 1872. The stone sculpture is a key monument of the Dymock School of sculpture, with work by the school on the W nave doorway, the chancel arch and E chancel window, and the S nave doorway. Dymock is just 2 miles away to the NE.


Kempley was held by Eadric and Leofric as 2 manors in 1066, and by Roger de Lacy in 1086, when it was assessed at 3 hides. Roger de Lacy rebelled against William Rufus, and his estates confiscated and transferred to his brother Hugh, who held them until his death in 1121. Hugh de Lacy might well have been the patron of the church, therefore. The manor probably remained in royal hands until c.1150 when it came into the hands of Hugh's nephew, Gilbert, who d.1163. It then passed to his son, another Hugh, and remained in the Lacy family until the male line failed in 1241.


Exterior Features


S nave doorway

Round headed, 2 orders with tympanum. The timbers of the porch conceal most of the sculpture from a frontal view, hence the photographic coverage is not as one would like.

Height of opening 2.25m
Height of tympanum 0.72m
Thickness of tympanum 0.22m
Width (diameter) of tympanum 1.44m
Width of opening 0.97m
1st order

Plain square jambs carrying a monolithic tympanum with no intervening imposts. The tympanum is carved with the Tree of Life motif in low relief, surrounded by two rows of beading.

2nd order

Engaged nook-shafts on spurred roll, hollow bases carrying double scalloped capitals with sheathed cones and paired confronted volutes at the bottom of each cone. Neckings are plain and imposts quirked hollow chamfered. The arch is decorated with lateral centrifugal chevron on the face consisting of a quirked hollow between two rolls with a cogwheel inner edge. There is a quirked chamfered label.

W nave doorway

Round headed, 2 orders with tympanum. Now sheltered by the later W tower. 

Height of opening 2.30m
Height of tympanum 0.81m
Width (diameter) of tympanum 1.28m
Width of opening 0.85m
1st order

Plain square jambs carrying a monolithic tympanum with no carving except for a slim lower angle roll between the jambs. The tympanum occupies the entire available space except for a small inserted repair at the apex.

2nd order

Engaged nook-shafts on spurred roll, hollow bases. They carry tall cushion capitals with angle tucks and plain neckings, and quirked hollow chamfered impost blocks. The arch has a heavy angle roll inside a hollow and another roll, and there is a chamfered label.


Chancel E window

Single order, round headed.

The exterior and interior have the same design: continuous with a heavy angle roll carried on bulbous bases.

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

Round headed, 2 orders to W and E.

1st order (shared)

Engaged half-columns on tall roll hollow bases with spurs, carrying volute capitals of the Dymock type. Both capitals have losses affecting the W volutes and the imposts above them, suggesting that a screen was once installed there. Imposts are quirked chamfered. The arch has an angle roll on the W side only with a row of chip-carved saltires in squares and a hollow outside it. The E face is plain and unmoulded.

2nd order (E face)

Engaged nook-shafts on bases as the 1st order, carrying tall cushion capitals with conical wedges in the angle tucks. The neckings are plain and the imposts as the 1st order. The arch is plain and unmoulded.

2nd order (W face)

Engaged nook-shafts on bases as the 1st order, carrying double scallop capitals with keeled angles and sheathed cones with keeled flat leaves at their bottoms. The imposts, as the 1st order, have been roughly cut back on the W face. The arch has a row of fat centrifugal chevron on the angle, with a cogwheel edge. There is aquirked hollow chamfered label.


The W door has been dated by dendrochronology and a felling date of 1114-44 established. The felling date for the nave roof is 1120-50. This work was reported in 1999. Prior to this, Gethyn Jones had argued that there were two phases of Romanesque work here: a plain church, with the lancet windows of the nave and chancel and possibly the existing W doorway was built c.1090-1100 and the S doorway, chancel arch and a large E window were elaborated c.1110-25. The dendrochronology must disrupt this chronology but there could still have been two pases of work. 


  • W. St C. Baddeley, "The History of Kempley Manor and Church, Gloucestershire", Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 36 (1913), 130-51.

  • J. Davies and T. Manning, Wall Painting Condition Audit, Kempley, St Mary’s Church, Gloucestershire. English Heritage Ancient Monuments Laboratory Report 64/97. 1997.

  • E. Gethyn-Jones, The Dymock School of Sculpture, London and Chichester, 1979, 31-37 and passim.

  • D. W. H. Miles, M. J. Worthington and C. Groves, Tree-ring analysis of the nave roof, west door, and parish chest from the church of St Mary, Kempley,  Gloucestershire. English Heritage Ancient Monuments Laboratory Report 36/99. 1999.

  • Victoria County History: Gloucestershire 12, 2010.

  • D. Verey, The Buildings of England. Gloucestershire: the Vale and the Forest of Dean, London 1970 (2nd ed. 1976), 278-80.

Exterior from SE
Exterior from NW
Interior to E
Interior to W


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SO 671 296 
now: Gloucestershire
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Gloucestershire
medieval: Hereford
now: Gloucester
medieval: St Mary (pre-Reformation)
now: St Mary
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
18 June 2009