Friday, 14 October 2016

St John the Baptist, Barnack

St John the Baptist, Stamford

All Saints, Stamford

St Mary, Stamford

St Martin, Stamford

St Peter & St Paul, Alconbury

St Peter & St Paul is one of those churches that brings a stir to the heart of church enthusiasts. Sited at the end of a short cul-de-sac off the village centre in a spacious and well-kept churchyard, what particularly excites is the windows: they are a text-book display of Gothic. Early gothic lancets in the chancel give way to simply Y-tracery in the clerestory, and decorated and perpendicular in the aisles. These are further enhanced by a lovely collection of jolly gargoyles.

The church itself reflects a programme of building and remodelling in every century from the 12th to the 16th. Most of the fabric was rebuilt in the 13th century, when a low west tower was added. The broach spire was added around 1300 and the porch around 1340. The nave was remodelled in the 14th century; the roofs date from the 15th century (chancel) and 16th century (nave), and the windows reflect a similar pattern of change. In 1877 the tower was rebuilt in an amazing operation that kept the spire in place while the walls beneath were rebuilt - a plaque at the ear of the nave records how this was done.

The nave and aisles are rather scraped of plaster, although this does reveal some of the archaeological details, such as the line of the original and rather steep nave roof above the chancel arch. Most of the windows, mercifully, have clear glass, allowing the wonderful variety of tracery to be fully appreciated. Both nave and chancel have a fine set of carved corbels, and the chancel roof has fine angels and monstrous bosses.

But the glory is the chancel itself, which has splendid blind Early English Gothic arcades leading to an immaculate composition of three lancets, with rere-arches in the east wall. Interestingly, the aumbries below this, behind the altar, are large and square: did the church really have so much plate?

The church is immaculately maintained and has a regular pattern of traditional services supplemented by a more informal, monthly all-age service.

St Peter & St Paul,

Holy Trinity, Great Paxton

St Swithun, East Grinstead

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

St Bartholomew, Orford

St Michael, Framlingham

St Mary, Dennington

Sometimes entering a church still takes my breath away. Usually, it's the combination of architecture and fittings that provides the tingle of hairs down my neck. St Mary's did that.

The plan is typically Suffolk: a Perpendicular Gothic nave, clerestory and aisles, leading to a handsome decorated chancel. The architectural details are of high quality: elegant arcades of 14th century rather than 15th century design, but it is the spacious chancel that takes the prize: matching 3-light windows on the north and south walls lead to a large 5-light east window, all with reticulated tracery, hood moulds with carved stops. They bathe the chancel in light. The Piscina and Sedilia have a unique decorative treatment of straight-sided arches. At the end of the south aisle, the Bardolph chapel also has fine decorative stonework, particularly around the south window which has an unusual cusped arch, stone shafts carrying candle platforms, and panelling above.

The fittings and furnishings more than maintain the interest: both north and south aisle chapels have exceptionally well-preserved and painted 15th century Parclose Screens, complete with lofts; there is a three-decker pulpit of 1625-8; a wonderful mix of 15th century benches with carved poppy-heads and animals, next to severe box pews of 1630, 1765 and 1805; and decorated doors to rood loft stairs in both aisles. The chancel windows retain the upper fragments of 14th century stained glass, as well as a very rare spire-shaped wooden pyx cover, suspended from the ceiling above the high altar.

In the Bardolph chapel there is a fine alabaster tomb chest with effigies of William Phelips, Lord Bardolph (d. 1441) and his wife, Joan (d. 1444). The effigies are coloured and exceptionally well preserved, right down to the details of jewellery and Lady Bardolph's fine and rather uncomfortable looking head-dress. Bardolph himself is encased in armour of exceptional quality with the blue Garter (of the order of the Garter) on his left leg. His feet are propped on a startlingly gilded eagle.

St Mary the Virgin, Dennington, Suffolk, IP13 8AA

St Mary the Virgin, Earl Stonham

St John the Baptist, Needham Market

The story of St John's is that of a roof. In a county of innovative, impressive and decorative roofs, Needham market takes the prize. Pevsner's Suffolk edition of the Buildings of England devotes a whole page to describing it, and the author F H Crossley described it as 'the climax of English roof construction'.

The church sits on the town's main street, sorely beset by traffic. There was an earlier church on the site, but the present building was built by the Bishop of Ely in 1458-78. It was a Chapel of Ease until 1907 and is composed of a single, hall-like room without aisles, crossing, or a chancel arch. It therefore lacks many of the details one finds in other churches, though there are some surviving decorative poppyhead benches and the signs of a rood stair (but no chancel arch). On the outside, there is a timber-framed extension on the west end in an oddly mismatched vernacular style, and a late Victorian porch with a funny 'spirelet'.

But the roof is enough: the complex hammer-beam design provides a clerestory within the roof space, but it also gives the impression of providing a second nave and aisles in the air. It is as bold as it is breathtaking, and is inevitably decorated with angels.

St John the Baptist : High Street, Needham Market, Suffolk, IP6 8AE

St Mary, Combs

St Mary, Combs sits on a ridge overlooking the settlement of Combs, now effectively an extension of Stowmarket. It is grand and oddly isolated for an urban church - access is by a very narrow, mile-long lane from the edge of a housing estate.

A church is mentioned on the site in the Domesday Book, but most of the present building is typical Suffolk. it has a bold, Perpendicular Gothic tower, nave and clerestory; with a smaller, older Decorated chancel, although the west window in the south aisle dates from around 1300, suggesting that the nave and aisles were enlarged on the same plan in the 1400s. The interior is wide and spacious, but the interest is in the fine details: the striking piscina and three-seat sedilia in the chancel was composed as a unity, under four matching crocketed ogee arches. The effect is strangely modern.

Much of the mediaeval glass had survived until 1871, when an explosion at a gun works in Stowmarket blew out the windows. Nevertheless, enough remains to make for an interesting visit: subjects include the life of St Margaret, the Seven Works of Mercy (the counterpart to the better known Seven Deadly Sins), and part of a Tree of Jesse. Other items of interest are the 15th century Parclose screens in the north and south chapels, benches with poppyheads and beasts, a fine Jacobean pulpit, and a 14th century font with foliage and blind tracery on the stem.

St Mary's Church, Church Lane, Combs, Suffolk. IP14 2EH

Monday, 15 August 2016

St Nicholas, Rattlesden

St Peter, Felsham

St Ethelbert, Hessett

St Ethelbert is a church visitor's delight: a small village church packed with interest, and well preserved.

A church is recorded here in 1005, but the present building is largely 15th century, except for the 14th century chancel. The exterior has a handsome battlemented west tower, with decorative battlements continuing along the clerestory and aisle roofs. There is also a fine south porch, with attractive flush-work, niches for statues, panelled tracery and, above the arch, images of St George and the Dragon.

Inside, the elegant Perpendicular nave arcade draws the eye to a delicate chancel arch. This is filled with a late 15th century screen, still retaining traces of paint. the rood stair is still intact. The chancel beyond has a pretty decorated east window with flowing tracery, and benches with decorative poppy-heads, one of which has a splendidly carved back of shields, quatrefoils and birds.

But the real excitement is found in the aisles; these have the remnants of wall paintings, of St Barbara and St Michael in the south aisle, and St Christopher above the north door. Further along the north aisle is a depiction of the seven deadly sins, formed as a tree emerging from the mouth of hell. Below this is a very rare 'Christ of the Trades', with the head of Christ surrounded by the tools of various trades, and, oddly, a six of diamonds playing card. Traditionally, this motif was a warning against breaking the Sabbath by working; the tools surrounding Christ's bleeding head resemble a crown of thorns, the implication being that working on the Sabbath inflicts his wounds anew.

As if these treasures were not enough, the aisle windows contain late mediaeval glass, albeit rather muddled, so that St Mary Cleophas, surrounded by her four children, has been given the head of a Bishop (and therefore confused as St Nicholas). One of the children (St James the Less) is holding a fuller's club, the instrument of his subsequent martyrdom. (Pevsner cheerfully calls it a golf club in the Suffolk edition of the "Buildings of England"). There is also a fine panelled font of c. 1451, and a picture of two treasures, now at the British Museum: a sindon (pyx cloth), which would have covered the reserved sacrament, and a burse, for containing the linen for the act of consecration.

The Church is still used regularly for service, as part of the benefice of Rougham, Beyton with Hessett and Rushbrooke.

St Ethelbert : The Street, Hessett, Suffolk, IP30 9AX

All Saints, Beyton

St Mary, West Stow

All Saints, Icklingham

St Mary, Lakenheath

St Mary & St Andrew, Mildenhall