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English Church Architecture -



COLCHESTER, St. James & St. Paul (TM 002 253)  (October 2015)

 (Bedrock:  Eocene, London Clay)


This is a large and impressive town church (shown, left, from the northeast), opened daily for a time after receiving an English Heritage grant for its repair (which is a stipulated condition) but now firmly locked until another grant is needed!  Today almost wholly Perpendicular, it consists of a W. tower, an aisled nave with a N. porch, and a chancel with tall, splendid chapels.  However, it is the relatively modest, diagonally-buttressed W. tower, rising in two stages to surmounting battlements and a Victorian spirelet, that has the distinction of being the oldest part of the building, as witnessed by the little thirteenth century blocked lancet turned in re-used Roman brick(?) below the bell-openings in the S. wall. The tower stair turret shelters in the re-entrant between the tower and the S. aisle and rises about halfway up the tower's total height.  (See the thumbnail, right.)


The aisles and porch have had their exterior detail renewed but the chapels are largely original and faced with flint above basal flushwork friezes.  The great three-light windows (or four-light in the case of the S. chapel E. window) are almost identical to Dedham’s aisle windows, of which more later, and feature supermullioned tracery with trefoiled, ogee-pointed lights and sublights, strong mullions, and quatrefoil oculi. (See the thumbnail, left, illustrating a S. chapel S. window.)  The restored five-light E. window to the chancel has a quatrefoil in the oculus and outer lights subarcuated in pairs. 


The interior of the church is a fine one, notwithstanding the clear evidence of its phased construction.  The two eastern arches of the nave arcades are probably late fourteenth century work but either slightly different in date, north to south, or the work of different masons for although the piers are all octagonal, the arches carry a hollow chamfer and a sunk quadrant to the south (as shown in the photograph, far right) and a hollow chamfer and a wave moulding to the north (near right).  However, Pevsner and/or James Bettley, writing in the Essex volume of The Buildings of England, ascribe the N. arches to c. 1300, which seems too early to this writer (for see Appendix 2 for some close dated examples of the use of the sunk quadrant moulding in East Anglia) and describe the mouldings on the S. arches as two hollow chamfers, which might suggest that that work is indeed earlier, but as the photograph shows, cannot accurately be considered to be the case. 


Nevertheless, be that as it may, what is certain is that the two western bays of both arcades are later, for here the arches bear wave mouldings and the piers have shafts towards the openings only and are unmoulded to the north and south, producing a design which is similar to that at St. Peter’s church, half a mile to the west, where a date of c. 1450 has been proposed.  (See the photograph above, showing an internal view of the nave, looking west.)  The chancel arch and the arches between the aisles and chapels are different again:  these too are Perpendicular but now they have become as slender as it is possible to be - indeed, too slender to look truly satisfactory.  Yet that does little to impair the internal appearance of the church overall, due, in particular, to the impressive chapels further the east.


Here the affinities are entirely with St. Mary’s, Dedham, although not with Dedham alone, for the two-bay chapel arcades composed of narrow rhomboidal piers with four attached semicircular shafts separated by casements, supporting arches with ogee points rising to corbels on which the wall posts of the roof appear to rest, not only copy the design of the nave arcades there (albeit that the Dedham arches are four-centred rather than two-centred), but also the nave arcades at Stratford St. Mary, just over the county border in Suffolk, and - going backwards a little in time - the nave arcades at St. Mary's, Martham, Norfolk, and at Blackfriars' church (now St. Andrew's Hall), Norwich, at the last two of which the master mason was considered by the late Birkin Haward to have been Robert Everard (fl. 1440-85), who led operations at Norwich Cathedral from c. 1452 (Suffolk Mediaeval Church Arcades, pub. Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 1993).  Everard had an assistant by the name of John Antell, who appears to have died in the same year as his master but who may briefly have inherited the use of Everard's moulds, enabling him to pass them on to other masons in his family.  The most important of these appears to have been a Robert Antell (fl. 1492 - ?1538), perhaps a son or grandson, who may have been the man recorded working at King's College Chapel under John Wastell's direction in 1508 (see English Mediaeval Architects: a Biographical Dictionary by John Harvey, pub. Alan Sutton, 1987).  If these deductions are correct, then Robert Antell might have been the master mason of the chancel chapels here.  Haward suggested a date for the work of c. 1500 and thought the chapel roofs were probably contemporary.  (See the photograph of the S. chapel arcade and roof, below left.)


Finally and, perhaps, surprisingly, the church contains no memorable furnishings and only one important monument, albeit one by the great early eighteenth century  statuary, John Michael Rysbrack (1694 - 1770).  (See the photograph above right.)  Unmentioned by Gunnis in his Dictionary of British Sculptors, it seems to have been identified first in Michael Craske's groundbreaking study, The Silent Rhetoric of the Body (pub. Yale University Press, 2007)., but it is a fine piece of work in grey and white marble, commemorating a local benefactor, Arthur Winsley (d. 1727), who died without heirs and donated his entire fortune  to the foundation of twelve charity houses in Colchester, save only for £200 which he left to his executors to pay for this monument.  Depicted according to his own specification, reclining on his left hand and holding a book in his right hand, he requested that its inscription should be "as my most judicious friends think proper" (Craske).  Consequently, as he would probably have wished, it is suitably matter-of-fact, and only the book bears anything resembling a eulogy, encapsulated in the legend, “Go thou and do likewise”.