Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Cambridge
Round churches were something of a fad following the first crusade in the late 11th century. They were modelled on the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, built by Constantine over Jesus's tomb in the fourth century. The Normans translated it into their own style in Cambridge, with thick pillars and supporting round arches, and rainbow-like concentric bands of dog-tooth carving.
2. Boothby Pagnell Manor, Lincolnshire
More a country pied à terre by modern standards, this is one of the few surviving fragments of domestic architecture from the end of the Norman era c1200. The first floor is only accessible by an external staircase, and contains a hall and a small bedchamber, while the ground-floor undercroft would have been storage and servants' space. It was probably joined to a larger timber structure, all surrounded by a moat. It even has a chimney, which at the time must have been the height of luxury.
Viewing by appointment only, 01476 585374
3. St Mary and David, Kilpeck, Herefordshire
The structure is fairly typical of a 12th-century village church, but the carvings here are something else, in both quality and quantity. Around the south door and on the remaining corbels (stone blocks set into the tops of the walls) is a lexicon of British symbolism, with some decidedly pagan entries. There are snakes eating their tails, mythical beasts, even an explicit sheela-na-gig. They almost look like the work of a modern-day cartoonist. There are also Christian figures such as angels and a tree of life over the doorway, but you're left wondering how they got away with it.
Viewing by appointment only, 01981 570315
4. All Saints, Earls Barton, Northamptonshire
In plain Saxon terms, this 10th-century church tower (c970) is riotous with ornament, dressed up as it is with decorative strips of stone (pilasters), none of which are strictly necessary to the structure. They may be an imitation of timber-frame buildings of the era. The five-light windows around the belfry also verge on the ostentatious but the "long and short" pattern of the tower's cornerstones is more characteristically Saxon. The rest of the church has elements from every subsequent century – from a medieval rood screen to Victorian pews.
5. White Tower, Tower of London
William the Conqueror's primary power base, an architectural two-fingered gesture to his reluctant London subjects: he was in charge and he was here to stay. The style was unlike anything else London had seen in scale and workmanship at the time of its construction in 1078. William imported the Caen stone with which to finish the windows and corners (the whitewash came 200 years later). It was impregnable as a military stronghold, but a gloomy royal residence. The Chapel of St John, in the southeast corner of the tower, is an oasis of austere Norman simplicity.
6. St John the Evangelist, Escomb, Durham
Clearly built to last, this is one of the best preserved seventh-century buildings in Europe. It was built some time between 670 and 690, using stone from a nearby Roman fort, which was a common Saxon practice. Some features, such as the chancel arch inside and the north door, are believed to be directly re-assembled elements of the Roman construction. It escaped with little alteration during the medieval period. The porch may be a late medieval structure and the nave roof is dated 1480-90. The small windows, splayed on the inside to let in maximum light, are typically Saxon. Its most unusual feature, though, is a sundial on the exterior south wall, thought to be Britain's oldest. It bears only three marks – one vertical and one at 45° to each side – showing times of prayer.
7. Durham Cathedral
"It rather awes than pleases," as Samuel Johnson put it. But England's finest Norman building, perched on the city's ecclesiastical acropolis, is an architectural leap. Built in 1093, its key innovation was the system of rib vaults and pointed arches over the nave and aisles – the beginnings of the structural order that enabled gothic architecture to soar and sprawl. The vast building holds innumerable riches and mysteries, such as the "odd column" with a different pattern to the others – a deliberate mistake? Or material for a new Dan Brown novel?
8. St Laurence's church, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire
While other churches of the era were destroyed by the Vikings, this humble little building, probably from the 10th or early 11th century, prevailed. Perhaps they overlooked it because its proportions are so modest. The nave is just 25 feet long, but high enough for later owners to include another floor and use it as a school. It was only in 1856 during renovation that it was recognised as a precious Saxon survivor. The row of blind arcading (see p18) around the outside is distinctly pre-Norman, but the most remarkable features are the "Bradford Angels" – two finely carved relief sculptures of flying angels, carrying cloths to wipe a long-disappeared Christ on the cross.
Open 9.30–5pm all year
9. St Mary's, Sompting, Sussex
The extraordinary, pyramid-topped spire of this church still looks incongruous today. It is known as a Rhenish helm – a style imported from the Rhineland in the time of Edward the Confessor, and this is the only surviving British example. Beneath the fancy foreign hat, note the narrow, triangular and round-headed windows and scant decoration on the tower. The rest of the church was built in the 12th century by the Knights Templar.
10. St Botolph, Hadstock, Essex
Proud home of what's believed to be the oldest door in the country, this simple little church could be a reminder of how little has changed in English village life. It has been through many changes, while enough 11th-century features remain – the walls of the nave, the north door and its honeysuckle carvings. The tower and south transept were added a few centuries later, but it has been in constant use for about 1,000 years. Historians say it may have been built by King Canute to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Assandun in 1016.
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