And it cannot be too strongly insisted upon, that our supreme, and often our sole authority, in these matters, is the contemporary evidence of the Fabric Rolls, Registers, or other original documents. Whereas the respectable antiquity (it is no more than that) of our earliest historians, such as the compiler of the Chronicon Breve Exoniense (c. 1400), Leland (c. 1538), Hoker (1540-1583), Godwin (1587-1633) has beguiled later writers, as Izaak and Oliver, into elevating the chance dicta of these writers (founded manifestly on the documents) into independent authorities.
In the matter now before us, Leland (who began his "Itinerary" or account of his peregrinations, as he tells us, in 1538, temp. Henry VIII) has recorded of Stapledon that "he voltid the Presbytery." (Itin. iii, 60). Now I do not for a moment doubt that Leland's authority for this statement was no other than the Fabric Roll just referred to, which assigns the painting of the choir vaulting to Stapledon's first year. Whereas that entry really establishes the very contrary of what it is thus alleged to prove: demonstrating that all but the painting was done in Bitton's time. And as to all the other writers, they are merely copying Leland and one another. Dr. Oliver adds that Stapledon "rebuilt the four higher (i.e., the eastern) arches of the choir," (p. 178): whereas he only added the triforium arcades (see Notes 54, 55, and text).
What Stapledon really did, in respect of the actual fabric of the choir, can have been little more than to give a few final, though not unimportant touches to the work of his predecessor. One very significant entry, in its bearing upon the state of forwardness of the works at his accession, is a payment, in his second and third years, for Pur beck marble. In 1310, William Canon is paid "for marble from Corf e," (in the Isle of Purbeck), " for the columns, œ35 2s. 8d, and no more this year: because the same William received in the past year œ26 13s. 4d." This, at first sight, might be taken to mean that the marble was then just imported for the columns: and that all the work had yet to be done. But if we may judge from a similar transaction twenty years later, 1332 (see Oliver p. 383, and below, Note 74 and Text), the erection of these pillars was done by contract; and so these payments were for work done: which agrees with our previous conclusion, founded upon the painting of the vault. And the payment, by two instalments, regulated probably by the progress made, countenances the supposition. For the payments under the contract of 1332 were made in three instalments. (Oliver p. 383). Here then we obtain, what we have desiderated hitherto, some light as to the date and progress of the very important Purbeck marble works throughout the whole choir For, by comparing the prices given in the later contract of 1332, for furnishing the nave columns, we gather, with tolerable certainty, how much of the choir-work was covered by the two payments here recorded. In that contract, each column cost œ10 16s. The total sum of œ61 108., therefore, would at the most, after allowing for their slightly smaller size, purchase the eight westernmost columns of the choir, at about œ8 a piece. This exactly falls in with indications which we have already met with, of the choir-work having been done in two successive portions. And there is reason for thinking that the first portion was finished, as far as concerns the pillars, by Christmas, 1299. For in the Fabric Roll of that year we find (Oliver, p. 392-396), "John of Corf, mason," (c&mentarius), receiving his wages weekly during the last quarter. We cannot say how long this had gone on; as the preceding Rolls for many years are wanting. But by the New Year, 1300 (the Rolls run from Michaelmas to Michaelmas), the name of John of Corf suddenly disappears, the other workmen remaining the same. This may fairly be taken to indicate that the "Corf" or Purbeck mason's occupation was gone. And thus we obtain January 1300 as the probable epoch at which the marble works of the sanctuary or presbytery were completed; leaving much to do, no doubt, between that time and 1303, when the glass of this portion was, as we have seen, fixed in its place. Meanwhile, somewhere after January 1300, the marble works in the rest of the choir would be resumed; probably as the funds came in. We find that, just at this time, "all the Canons contributed to the new fabric," (Oliver from Rolls, 1302, p. 380): while Bitton in 1303 set a good example, followed up by Stapledon for many years, by contributing the sum of œ124 18s.8d. And there must have been an earlier payment for marble; though, for want of the Rolls, we have no record of it. The only further notice of Purbeck work that we find at this time is, in 1303; " 3s. for Master Roger's expences to Corf, to buy stones:" - not marble, but a very inferior material, used for steps and such purposes.
Thus far, then, of the marble works of the choir, which Stapledon, it should seem, found done to his hand: with, however, one curious exception. Above the arches, as a general rule, throughout the Church, we now have an arcading of clustered Purbeck shafts carrying sandstone arches, and surmounted by a balustrade pierced with quatre-foils. But it has come to light, in the course of the recent works, that the presbytery, containing the four eastern bays of the choir, was originally finished off without any such arcade. The sills of the clerestory windows were sloped down without interruption, and rested on the top of the great arches. In proof of this, the jamb shafts of the windows are found to have been carried down, at first, to that line: for they still remain, with their bases, only hidden by the added masonry; which has been visibly carried up, as an afterthought, so as to form an horizontal sill for the balustrade to rest on, and furnish a backing below for the marble arcade. The windows west of the presbytery, on the contrary, betray no change of purpose: they were constructed, from the first, with shorter jambs, and a horizontal sill; and the arcade and balustrade are evidently coeval with them. In full accordance with this, the Fabric Rolls, of Stapledon's time (1316) mention thirty-eight columns, and "painting thirty-eight corbels (1318) for the galleries" (aluras) or triforia. Now this is exactly the number of triforium-columns in the presbytery, and nowhere else: viz., ten in each of three bays, and eight in the fourth, or easternmost; which has only three compartments, and therefore only four columns, on each side. Stapeldon, evidently, corrected this defect in Bitton's work. (See Notes 54, 55).