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English Church Architecture -



BELCHAMP ST. PAUL, St. Andrew (sic) (TL 798 435)     (August 2013)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


Set in the attractive northwest Essex countryside, this is an all-Perpendicular building, albeit not one of a single period.  (See the photograph above, taken from the southeast.)  The windows adopt a mishmash of styles but are essentially mediaeval to the south and east (nave and chancel) and Victorian to the north (N. chapel and N. aisle).  The tower is the most impressive part of the overall structure, rising in three stages to two-light bell-openings with straightened reticulated tracery and surmounting battlements, supported by diagonal buttresses, and communicating with the nave internally through a tall arch composed of three chamfered orders.  It was erected as part of a major reconstruction of the church, completed c. 1490 (church guide), which was also responsible for the porch and chancel roofs, and for the two western bays of the N. arcade, composed of arches bearing two hollow chamfers above heavy octagonal piers with tall bases.  They terminate to the east in a short wall piece (as illustrated in the internal view, below, looking northwest), from the other end of which springs the rather lower eastern arch formed of a hollow-chamfered inner order resting on semi-octagonal responds with castellated capitals and an outer order that continues uninterrupted to the floor.  This arch probably led to a transept when first built but it cannot have been long before a change of plan led to its incorporation into the aisle.  The two-bay arcade between the chancel and N. chapel, and the chapel itself, are Victorian.  Visitors using the first edition of the "Essex" volume of The Buildings of England should note that Pevsner got in a serious muddle when compiling his entry for this church, describing the N. arcade as two bays in length - i.e. the western two - and referring to the eastern bay as the arch to the chancel chapel. The mistake has been corrected in James Bettley's revised edition, pub. Yale University Press, 2007.




The church interior is light and airy due to the absence of stained glass and the interesting roofs can be studied closely.  The chancel roof is framed in seven cants, with double collars and wall plates carved in relief with what Cecil Hewett described as a "a spirally-wound vine leaf" (illustrated below).  The same pattern is seen on the wall plates of the porch roof, which must surely be contemporary and most probably part of the reconstruction of c. 1490.  The rather simpler and presumably older nave roof "has composite scissors, made of tenoned short lengths, above the collars" (Church Carpentry by Cecil Hewett, pub. Phillimore, 1982).  The lean-to aisle roof is composed of two sections, corresponding to the two parts of the arcade, and a stone arch (visible in the photograph above) crosses the aisle between them.  Other carpentry of note in the building includes the only misericords in Essex except for those at Castle Hedingham, although these at Belchamp St. Paul (five on either side of the chancel) are not particularly special, boasting only carvings of leaves and flowers. 



Finally, Gunnis mentioned two monuments here in his Dictionary of British Sculptors: 1660 - 1851 (pub. The Abbey Library, 1951), one the work of John Challis of Braintree (fl. 1790-1820), commemorating the Rev. Jeremy Pemberton (d. 1811), and  the other, a simple wall tablet dedicated to his wife (d. 1834), by Charles Harding of Sudbury (fl. 1830-37).  The Rev. Jeremy Pemberton managed to combine his duties as vicar to this parish over a period of thirty years, with those as rector of Kingston in Cambridgeshire, thirty miles away.