English Church Architecture.
GESTINGTHORPE, St. Mary (TL 812 386),
(Bedrock: Eocene, London Clay.)
A church with a number of interesting features including a stately Tudor brick tower and possibly the best double-hammerbeam roof in Essex.
This is an significant building with a large and imposing brick tower. The basic fabric of the chancel appears to be thirteenth century in date for a blocked lancet can be seen internally in the N. wall, but the surviving mediaeval windows in the chancel, nave and S. aisle all take a variety of Decorated and Perpendicular forms, of which two Decorated windows in the chancel are worthy of careful examination. The first of these (illustrated below left), a two-light window with cruciform lobing set vertically in the N. wall west of the vestry, adopts a design that crops up sporadically in Suffolk, usually as isolated examples and with a number of variations: a near relation may be seen at Felsham, about fifteen miles to the northeast, but none seem capable of very close dating. The other window of interest is the unusual five-light E. window (below right), with pre-ogee tracery composed of lines of cusped reticulation units standing directly on the apices of the units below, producing a design resembling conventional reticulated tracery left half-formed. It seems likely this is a form transitional to the coming style, and if that is a fair interpretation, a date around 1315 would probably fit it well.
In 1498 William Carter bequeathed the princely sum of £2 towards the cost of erecting the W. tower and his munificence is manifest today in the splendid Tudor brick structure that dominates the church. (The photograph below left, shows the upper parts seen over a hedge from the southeast.) Built in four stages supported by angle buttresses, it rises to crocketed pinnacles and stepped battlements with gabled merlons above a trefoil-cusped, arched corbel table, some 66' (20 m.) above the ground, its effect enhanced by the forthright semi-octagonal stair turret at the southeast angle, rising higher than the tower itself, albeit the three-light bell-openings detract a little from the design as a result of their awkward intersecting tracery. The tall tower arch to the nave is composed of four orders in moulded brick, the outer two of which merge together as they descend down the jambs. The brick S. porch may be roughly contemporary although the design is simpler; the roof has a king post truss at each end and castellated wall plates between.
Inside the building, the S. arcade is Victorian, save only for some re-used stonework around the double-flat-chamfered arches, and the chancel arch and one-bay extension of the aisle arcade alongside the chancel are also the work of the nineteenth century, as is the organ chamber to the north. The chancel roof is Victorian but the splendid double-hammerbeam nave roof (shown below) is one of the finest examples of mediaeval carpentry in Essex, and bears an inscription giving the date 1489 (Cecil A. Hewitt, Church Carpentry, London & Chichester, Phillimore, 1982. p. 106) and the names Alice and Thomas Loveday, 'probably... two of the donors, be there can be very little doubt that it had been designed and constructed by [Thomas]. It shows affinities both with the hall roof at St. John's College, Cambridge, and with the double-hammer-beam roof over the nave of the church at Castle Hedingham, where Loveday was living when he made his will [endorsed 1535, Julian Calendar]' (John Harvey, English Mediaeval Architects - a Biographical Dictionary down to 1550, London, Alan Sutton, 1987, p. 190). (However, compare also the fine roof at Great Bromley.) The spandrels above the arched braces are filled with attractive openwork tracery and the struts and wall posts terminate in carved bosses.
This excepted, the church is not rich in furnishings but the font (shown above right) should be mentioned briefly: it is Perpendicular and has a stem carved with blank tracery and an octagonal bowl bearing the symbols of the Evangelists (although one is now missing) alternating with rosettes in octfoils. The rood screen is not a thing of much beauty although it incorporates some original woodwork. The only monument of significance, on the N. wall of the sanctuary, is dedicated to John Sparrow (d. 1626) and features an inscription in Latin and a small kneeling effigy, looking west towards a pedestal on which a helmet has been placed. The large wall monument in the S. aisle dedicated to John Ellison (d. 1741) was mentioned by Gunnis (Dictionary of British Sculptors: 1660-1851, London, The Abbey Library, 1951, p. 345), as the work of Thomas Scott the Younger (c. 1703- 1757), son of Thomas Scott the Elder and father of Robert Scott, but none of the family achieved any great distinction.