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English Church Architecture -



WOODDITTON, St. Mary (TL 659 592)     (October 2004)

 (Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


Constructed of flint rubble with limestone and clunch dressings, this is another attractively situated church, standing in a large churchyard surrounded by horse chestnut trees.  Large and predominantly Perpendicular, it is composed of a chancel with a nineteenth century N. vestry, an aisled nave with a S. porch, and a W. tower which turns octagonal at the bell-stage in the Cambridgeshire manner (see the photograph left), above two lower stages with a W. wall canted out to meet broad clasping buttresses turning to angle buttresses at the second stage.  The nave, aisles and porch are embattled, and most windows are supermullioned (albeit often renewed), though a few are untraceried and the N. aisle W. wall is pierced by two cinquefoiled lancets suggestive of c. 1310.  The date of the Perpendicular work may be indicated by the very worn N. doorway, bearing the remains of sunk quadrant mouldings, which seem most often associated in East Anglia with the late fourteenth century.  (See Appendix 2 and the entry on Balsham church).  The evidence of the interior of the building fills out and reinforces these speculations.


The nave is constructed in four bays.  The S. arcade is composed of arches bearing a flat chamfer and a sunk quadrant above compound piers (one of which is shown below right) with semi-circular shafts towards the openings, the narrowest of wall pieces to north and south, and rolls with fillets in the diagonals.  This design is broadly comparable to that of the nave arcades at St. Gregory's, Sudbury (Suffolk), which are dated c. 1380. The N. arcade, in contrast, is a work of two halves (see the photograph below left, from the east), albeit that the central pier is a true pier and not a meeting of responds.  Both this and the eastern pier are merely octagonal (and the E. respond, semi-octagonal), and the arches they support bear two narrow flat chamfers - a form that would fit the early to mid thirteenth century. Yet not only do the western arches carry wider chamfers but the westernmost pier is formed of four semicircular shafts separated by hollows. Surely this is early fourteenth century work (conceivably of the same building phase as the N. aisle W. window), as Pevsner agreed, yet he appears not to have noticed the glaring distinction between the two eastern arches and the S. arcade opposite, which he dismissed with the four words "the rest is "Perp.", unless he decided the capitals of the eastern arches of the N. arcade suggested they were cheap Perpendicular work of comparable age to the S. arcade, a theory the writer has considered but dismissed.  (Cf., for example, the very similar capitals to the S.  arcade at Kirtling, which appear to be Norman-Transitional, or the related capitals of the crossing tower arches at Toddington, Bedfordshire Central, dated c. 1220.)  Pevsner did, however, draw attention to the N. aisle E. window, now only visible internally, where it opens into the vestry.  This is two-light and reticulated and if contemporary with the N. aisle W. window and the western half of the N. arcade, would imply these are a little later than suggested immediately above.  To the left of this window, a canopied niche  is supported by a demifigure below.  The chancel arch consisting of two narrow flat-chamfered orders dying into the jambs, appears to go with the N. aisle E. arches, but the tower arch is triple-flat-chamfered above responds composed of three orders of semi-octagonal shafts, and this must be Perpendicular.