English Church Architecture -
STOW-CUM-QUY, St. Mary (TL 516 599) (August 2003)
(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Lower Chalk)
The church stands by an unattractive road junction between the A1303 and B1102, still very busy even though the A14 now by-passes it a hundred yards to the south. Externally the building is not promising either but there is rather more to see inside and it is worth going in search of the key if the building is locked.
St. Mary's consists of a W. tower, an aisled nave, a chancel, a N. porch, and a "half porch" over the S. doorway, just half a bay deep and more akin to a canopy; each aisle widens for its easternmost bay. The building is constructed of flint with limestone dressings and from the outside, appears wholly Victorian except in the two, two-light windows in the N. wall of the nave, one on each side of the porch, that to the east (seen left) with curvilinear tracery and that to the west (below right) with a curious and ungainly cusped triangle in the head. In both cases, the lights are cinquefoil-cusped and the date could be c. 1350, but if that is the case, then the nave arcades must be earlier, deriving from either the late thirteenth century or the earliest fourteenth. Essentially these consist of double-flat-chamfered arches springing from quatrefoil piers, but they are clearly not precisely contemporary (or else not by the same mason) and working out their exact order of construction is inevitably speculative. Thus on the S. side, the three western bays with slightly thicker piers and capitals could be a few years earlier or later, but the N. side presents the greater puzzle for here, although the arches are all like their counterparts to the south in form, the three western bays are separated from the eastern bay by the narrowest of wall pieces, as if their widths did not exactly match the corresponding bays opposite and this wall piece was needed to correct the alignment. (See the photograph of the northeast pier, left.) It could simply be the result of poor setting out but it seems more likely to represents some hiatus during the course of building operations such as the death of the original mason or anything else that might have led to the suspension of work for some ten or fifteen years. The E. respond of the easternmost S. arch, displays a fragment of dog-tooth, which makes this arch unlikely to be later than c. 1290. As it was usual for mediaeval church construction to be undertaken from east to west, perhaps this arch and the one opposite came first, but if the rest of the S. arcade is a continuation of the work by a different hand, how can the wall piece and the continuation of the N. arcade in the original style be explained? Both the tower and chancel arches are also double-flat-chamfered but these are both carried on semi-octagonal responds.
Finally, the church contains no furnishings of note but high up on the nave wall there is a large fragment of a wall painting, depicting St. Christopher.