English Church Architecture -
ARKESDEN, St. Mary (TL 482 346) (August 2012)
(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)
This is quite a large church but one so substantially restored and reconstructed that its architectural interest is now confined to a number of individual features. The building (shown above left, from the south) consists of a chancel, an aisled nave with a S. porch, and a W. tower with a prominent semi-polygonal stair turret at the southeast angle, and externally, almost its only surviving mediaeval features appear to be two, possibly re-set, Decorated windows towards the east end of the N. aisle - a two-light one to the north and a three-light one to the east (illustrated above right), the latter with ungainly tracery composed of a quatrefoil and two over-large mouchettes above trefoil-cusped ogee lights. The tower and nave clerestory were entirely rebuilt in 1855 (notes in the church) but the porch is essentially Perpendicular: its outer doorway carries wave mouldings and hollows beneath an ogee-pointed dripstone and a stone panel carved with two shields and a cross, while the inner doorway carries two flat chamfers above two orders of semi-octagonal shafts. The material in all parts of the building is flint and pebble rubble with dressings, according to Pevsner, of imported Caen stone.
Inside the church, the differing pier sections of the N. and S. arcades presumably have some mediaeval basis (both arcades carry two narrow flat chamfers but the S. arcade has round piers while the N. arcade has octagonal ones) but it would be a risky matter to pursue this far as the capitals on both sides look distinctly suspicious. (See the N. arcade, above left, and a general view of the interior from the west, above right.) The chancel arch makes no pretence of being anything other than it is - a competent but unspecial Victorian piece with a complex profile springing from semi-octagonal responds with capitals decorated with deeply-cut leaf carving. The E. window, seen from inside, is rather more striking, though perhaps chiefly for the contrast between its white-painted general stonework and grey stone shafting than for the architecture itself.
Features of note inside the building include the font, composed of a square cambered bowl above a base cut on each side by an open lancet arch with a roll moulding around it. Pevsner suggested the bowl might be twelfth century work and the stand, thirteenth century, but if so, then both appear to have been scraped or re-tooled. The monuments are more important, beginning in age order with one set in the N. wall of the chancel, depicting a recumbent effigy (shown below) bisected by a slab of masonry halfway along, like a stunt-woman at a circus who has been "sawn in half". Commemorating John Croxby, who was vicar here from 1453-56 (or 1435-56 - the inscription beneath and the notes in the church are contradictory), it features crocketed gabled niches at the ends and mid-point that leave the effigy visible through two very depressed four-centred arches beneath an embattled cornice. Yet more striking than this, however, is the enormous painted tomb chest at the E. end of the S. aisle, with the recumbent effigies of Richard Cutte (d. 1592) and his wife on top, their hands clasped in prayer on their chests, beneath a heavy canopy supported on six balusters. The couple's six children kneel around the chest but only the two girls have escaped decapitation. Finally, and best of all, there is a wall monument to John Withers (d. 1692) and his wife (illustrated above right) on the N. wall of the tower, featuring busts of the couple on brackets, drapes at the sides, the head of a winged cherub above and between them, and an open pediment on top, filled with a huge achievement above. The detail of the two busts is good (the other work was probably delegated to an assistant), as one would expect if Gunnis was correct in his attribution of the monument to Edward Pearce. Pearce was employed at various times in his career at St. Paul's, Hampton Court and Whitehall, but this must have been one of his last commissions for he died in 1695. The chancel and nave roofs of hammerbeam construction are Victorian but in the nave, at least one of the original head corbels beneath the wall posts has been preserved.