Know your buildings: Abbey to Ashlar


An abbey is a church that is, or used to be, part of a monastic order, such as the Benedictines, Dominicans or Jesuits.

Whilst abbeys can be found all over the world, in England they ceased to be (formally) called abbeys when the monasteries were dissolved in the 16th Century. For instance, Westminster Abbey is formally known as the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster.

Notable abbeys in Northamptonshire include:

  • Brixworth Abbey
  • Delapré Abbey
  • Northampton Abbey
  • Pipewell Abbey


An abutment is a solid piece of a structure – typically masonry or brickwork – on a pier or a wall that supports the lateral pressure of a vault or an arch.



An acanthus is a genus of about 30 flowering plants that were imitated in Corinthian architecture, typically as a decorative feature on a column’s capital.

Acanthus Corinthian Column


In a church an aisle is a passageway of either side of the nave that is separated by a row of pillars or columns. In a house an aisle usually refers to the lateral division of a house – again by using pillars or columns.

Take this example of a aisle in Kettering Parish Church

Church aisle


A home provided by wealthy individuals or charity organisations for the poor. Typically comprised of single-storey terraced cottages.

Sawyer’s Almshouses, built in Weldon stone, in Kettering, Northamptonshire are good examples from when Edmund Sawyer left £600 to the town upon his death in 1687.


Angel Beam

The end of a hammerbeam roof that has been carved to depict an angel.


A panel underneath an internal window sill. Usually decorated.


An arched – and often domed – recess behind the altar in a church.


A curved structure that spans a space between two columns or walls. Usually, but not always, load bearing.

Arches have evolved in shape and design over the centuries with new technologies and as fashions changed. The main types are:
* Rounded – first encountered in Norman architecture
* Pointed – common with Gothic architecture
* Trefoil – a pointed variant from the 13th century
* Ogee – another pointed variant that mirrors an ’s’ shape
* Shouldered – superseded the Gothic arches throughout the 14th century
* Tudor/Four-centred – popular during English Tudor times
* Segmental – a feature of Italianate architecture

See more examples of arches.

Kettering gothic arch


Decorative moulding that surrounds door and window frames, usually made of wood. In classical architecture it’s the beam that rests on columns.

Art Deco

Dominant in the 1920’s and 30’s and characterised by bold geometric shapes, bright colours, and motifs such as chevrons and zig-zags. Originating in Paris it soon spread to the United Kingdom and the States and became synonymous with large modern buildings such as airports, cinemas and shopping centres. Many houses were also built in this style as can be seen in the example from Pytchley Lane, Kettering.

Art deco house kettering

Art Nouveau

A short-lived decorative style from the end of the 19th century until the outbreak of World War I. Translated literally as “new art”, the style used swirling lines and plant forms that were integrated into tiles, stained glass panels and doors.

Arts and Crafts

An influential movement of the late 19th century that sought to reestablish traditional, handcrafting skills that were said to have been in decline since the rapid industrialisation of Europe. It took inspiration from mediaeval architecture with a rich history of ornament. Local materials were also the order of the day. Picture below shows a lovely example of Arts and Crafts architecture in Station Lane, Kettering.

Arts and crafts house


Well-dressed or sawn squared blocks of stone. Flat, smooth texture as opposed to rough, common walling stone.