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English Church Architecture -

Bedfordshire Central (U.A.).


SUTTON, All Saints (TL 219 475)     (June 2003)

 (Bedrock:  Lower Cretaceous, Lower Greensand Group)


This church stands directly on the lower greensand outcrop and is built of sandstone rubble and cobbles patched with limestone.  It consists of a diagonally-buttressed W. tower rising in four stages (shown left), an aisled nave, a chancel, and a S. porch, and it is the first of these that is the most immediately striking for it is tall and made the more imposing by being erected on rising ground.  Its details are not special, however, for the bell-openings have been renewed and the W. window is of the simplest (untraceried) Perpendicular kind, although internally the tower arch is interesting for its adoption of a local form found also at Everton and Potton, and at Great Gransden and Little Gransden just over the Cambridgeshire border.  In all of these, arches of somewhat varying profiles but essentially two orders, spring from responds formed of two orders of characteristically shallow, semi-octagonal shafts with mouldings superimposed. They appear to date from the third quarter of the fourteenth century and seem likely to be the work of the same mason.


The nave aisles are unequal, the N. aisle being by far the wider of the two, independently-gabled, and lit by Perpendicular windows that are untraceried in the north wall and provided respectively with supermullioned and alternate tracery to the west and east.  The S. aisle windows have been renewed, but there are some interesting windows to the chancel.  Here the three-light E. window lacks tracery but the N. wall is pierced by a two-light window with a straightened reticulation unit in the head, which appears to be another local form associated with early Perpendicular times (see Appendix 2).  The S. wall has two, two-light windows (one renewed) with segmental arches, still in Decorated style.  The large blank arch in the N. wall may once have communicated with a sacristy.


The porch appears new externally but an examination of the outer doorway from the inside will show this is not really so.  This arch has two wave mouldings and is Perpendicular, whereas the inner doorway is Early English and has a complex series of rolls around it, characteristic of that style.


The interior of the building is attractive and of considerable interest. The arcades are four bays long with - pace Pevsner - probably the N. arcade coming first.  This is formed of double-flat-chamfered arches springing from quatrefoil piers and looks early Decorated, a time with which Pevsner seemed broadly to agree.  However, he considered the S. arcade - which is formed of hollow-chamfered arches springing from quatrefoil piers with narrow keeled shafts in the diagonals - to date from the thirteenth century, a period the S. doorway may have suggested to him.  Yet hollow chamfers in this part of the country are most often associated with the Decorated style, not the Early English, and so a date of construction here two or three  decades after the N. arcade would seem a better guess;  and nor does Pevsner’s dating of the chancel arch really inspire confidence for the mouldings above the semi-quatrefoil responds here are sunk quadrants and close-dated examples of these in the region come principally from the late fourteenth century, including one at Houghton Conquest, dateable to 1392 (see Appendix 2 and also the discussion of Balsham church, Cambridgeshire).  In the absence of other evidence, therefore, it seems better to regard this arch as early Perpendicular.


Be that as it may, other architectural features to notice inside the church include a very florid, three-bay stepped sedilia with a double piscina beyond, in the S. wall of the chancel.  These cannot be said to be of high quality, however, for the leaf ornament above the cinquefoil-cusped arches, though certainly elaborate, is laid on like icing sugar.  Rather better carved are the internal head label stops above the chancel windows.


The church also contains quite a lot of good woodwork but paramount is the two-decker Carolean pulpit (see the thumbnail, right), a massive and excellent piece with tester and lower tier for a reader, dated 1628.  Next come the (chiefly) eighteenth century box pews in both the N. and S. aisles, admittedly notable more for their number than their quality, and the still partly original nave roof, of the low-pitched, tie-beam form, often attributable to the fifteenth century.  The S. door is mediaeval and very possibly contemporary with the doorway in which it hangs.


Finally, the N. aisle contains some important monuments to members of the Burgoyne family, of which the largest is a huge tomb chest against the N. wall (illustrated below left), with arch above, commemorating Sir John Burgoyne (d. 1604) and featuring a recumbent effigy of Sir John with a dog at his feet.  Against the E. wall is a monument to John Burgoyne (d. 1709) (below right)  by Edward Stanton (1681-1734), sculptor of monuments in Chichester, Ely and Lichfield cathedrals, and mason to Westminster Abbey from 1720, where he was responsible for the rebuilding of the N. front.  Here, next to John Burgoyne's monument, another monument high up on the right, commemorating Sir Roger Burgoyne (d. 1628), is thought to be by Grinling Gibbons (1648-1720), who worked under Hugh May at Windsor Castle and Sir Christopher Wren at many London churches and who came to be regarded as the greatest woodcarver of his age.  This monument, however, is not particularly remarkable and, besides, it is placed too high to examine closely.