English Church Architecture -
LITTLE WILBRAHAM, St. John (TL 546 587) (August 2003)
(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Lower Chalk)
Approached from the south, the church appears to consist of just a W. tower, nave with S. porch, and chancel, but a circumnavigation reveals it has also a surprisingly wide, independently-gabled N. aisle. The heavily restored chancel is faced with pebble rubble and has short buttresses decorated with flint flushwork separating the bays, but everywhere else is rendered in concrete, which is surely the most unsympathetic of materials, although places where this has broken away to reveal soft clunch rubble underneath, do at least show why such treatment was considered necessary.
The S. wall of the nave appears to be the oldest part of the building. The masonry here is of characteristic Norman thickness and between the two three-light Perpendicular windows, there is a very small round-headed opening (illustrated right) which Pevsner seems to have missed, with scale-like patterning around the head. The chancel appears to date originally from the thirteenth century, to judge from two (re-set?) N. lancets, and the rest of the nave is likely to be contemporary for it was clearly standing c. 1300, when the tower was constructed inside the pre-existing church: it is supported on narrow, double-flat-chamfered arches to the north, south and east, and by flying buttresses thrown across in line with the latter, from the nave S. wall and N. arcade - a curiously busy arrangement. (The photograph on the right, taken from the nave, shows the tower east arch and the flying buttress from the N. aisle.) However, the aisle is Perpendicular for although the windows have been renewed, the original three-bay N. arcade is composed of double-flat-chamfered arches springing from compound piers formed of four semi-octagonal shafts separated by hollows. Other (inserted) features of the building include the three-light chancel E. window with curvilinear tracery, the two S. windows to the nave with supermullioned tracery and supertransoms above the central lights, and the three-light W. window to the tower. The tower bell-openings have cusped Y-tracery, most probably of restoration date. The porch outer doorway is equilateral and double-flat-chamfered all the way round but the inner doorway is acute (i.e. lancet-like) and renewed above the springing.
The church contains no old carpentry of significance but the corbels on which the wall posts of the more steeply-pitched, original nave roof once rested, may still be seen below its present replacement. Finally, a double piscina was discovered in the S. wall of the chancel in 2001 and was undergoing restoration at the time of this visit.