English Church Architecture -
SWAFFHAM PRIOR, St. Julitta & St. Cyriac (TL 568 639) (May 2012)
(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Lower Chalk)
According to legend, St. Julitta and St. Cyriac, mother and son, were two Turkish Christians, martyred during the reign of Diocletian (A.D. 284 - 305).
Swaffham Prior is a rare example of a village with two churches sharing a single churchyard. (See the photograph at the bottom of the page. The present building is on the left.) Until 1667 these served separate parishes, but ever since, they have vied for position as first one and then the other passed through a period of disrepair. Today, much of the work at both churches is the result of restoration, and it is important not to draw hasty conclusions about their original appearances.
Today, it is St. Mary’s that is the “working” church and the present building, though equally well maintained, is in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust. That is how it should be, for only the tower here is mediaeval, the aisled nave and diminutive chancel and transepts being the work of Charles Humfrey (1772–1848), a pupil of James Wyatt (1746-1813), the bęte noir of Victorian Gothicists, who despised his unscholarly cathedral restorations and extravagant "Gothick piles". It was a tradition which Humfrey seems to have been determined to follow at Swaffham Prior: his combination of mock “Early English” lancet-pointed windows with ugly central mullions, with much shorter, uncusped pseudo-Perpendicular windows at the ends of the transepts and chancel, is positively bizarre, while the use of yellow gault brick for the material, must inevitably impoverish the design further. The interior - originally set out as a Georgian preaching house - is devoid of furniture today, but if the decor is faithful to its author's intentions, then it wilfully introduced another stylistic chronoclasm, for it may broadly be described as Adam style, with the dado around the chancel, the wooden doors to the transepts, and the gallery in front of the tower arch, all with painted panels in Wedgewood blue. The ceiling is flat and plain except for orange painted plaster strips, linking the lines of the piers. (The interior views below, look east and west respectively.)
The tower (illustrated top left, from the west) is Perpendicular in style throughout, rectangular in plan in the lower half and octagonal above, although its silhouette is impaired by the prominent semi-octagonal stair turret projecting to the northeast. The lower stage is diagonally buttressed while the octagonal stage has a “buttress” at each angle, hanging in mid air below. The splay-footed belfry has a tall, two-light, transomed bell-opening in every face. The W. doorway and window are badly worn, but the latter is transomed below upper parts now replaced in wood. The chequerwork basal frieze is constructed of clunch and brick.
This building was Swaffham Prior’s principal church from 1809, when Humfrey's rebuilding was completed, until it fell into ruin in 1903. Today the structure has been made good and opened for visitors, and for all its shortcomings, it is representative of its age.