Tuesday, 16 August 2016

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

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