The medieval wooden corbel heads of Devizes, Wiltshire.

The heads were fashioned from oak, felled either in Wiltshire, Hampshire or Somerset (Bridge and Miles, 2005). Carving would have taken place whilst the wood was still green and relatively soft. All the Romanesque grimaces would have been visible to the congregation below. Thankfully, these medieval works of art were saved from destruction by Valentine Leach during the restoration of St Johns Church, Devizes. The Devizes corbel heads have been dated by Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory to 1408-30.

The 'heads' are extremely rare survivors and are the only known collection to exist as private artefacts.

devizes heads

Background

Fourteen - ex situ - solepieces or stub-tiebeams decorated with carved heads have been in Devizes Castle for at least a century, with one now in the British Museum. Examination of the mortices in the timbers clearly show that they originated from a medieval principal-rafter roof. There are side mortices for a coved inner cornice plate and in the tops of the timbers for an ashlar piece. Thus the heads would originally have been positioned at the top of a wall, at roof plate level, intended to be viewed from below. One of the heads clearly belonged to an end truss, as it is angled to one side. The roof from which these corbels originated would have been at least seven bays in length. Their likely source is St John's Church, next door to Devizes Castle, whose nave roof of eight bays had solepieces with decorated carved heads, and was replaced in 1862-3. Dendro-provenancing gave good matches with Hampshire and Somerset material, suggesting a Wiltshire origin for the timber. Anna F. M. Kemp, 'To establish the function of carved wooden heads in conjunction with stone or timber buildings of the medieval period in Britain', unpubl. BSc thesis, Bournmouth University, 2004. Dating commissioned by the present owner as part of a multidisciplinary study of the carvings.

 

Replicas for sale!

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View the heads

View the actual heads