English Church Architecture -
GOSFIELD, St. Catherine (TL 777 294) (December 2017 [sic])
(Bedrock: Eocene, London Clay)
This interesting church (seen above from the southeast) is essentially the product of four periods of construction during the fifteenth, mid sixteenth and early eighteenth centuries. The first, approximately corresponding with the 1430s, was responsible for the present nave and chancel E. window, although at the time, the former late Norman church on this site was completely rebuilt at the expense of the then Serjeant-at-Law, Thomas Rolf (d. 1440), whose brass may be seen on the tomb chest south of the altar (church notes). It is thought that it was his daughter, Editta, who paid for the erection of the W. tower c. 1490 in order to bring her father’s project to a completion. However, seventy years after that, Rolf’s great-great grandson, Sir John Wentworth, who had just overseen the raising of Gosfield Hall, commissioned the building here of the large N. chapel in English-bonded brick with vault below, for the future burial of himself and his family, and this so unbalanced the aspect of the church from the east that it was then felt necessary to both heighten and widen the chancel to the south. Lastly, in the 1730s, the widow of John Knight M.P., later Countess Nugent, paid for a square brick room enclosing a family pew to be constructed against the W. end of the chapel, from which it is approached up six steps. This contains a large and very fine monument by the eminent sculptor John Rysbrack (1694 - 1770). The work deriving from these four building phases is now best described briefly in turn.
The nave is aisleless but quite wide and has two-light S. windows with supermullioned tracery. “The finely executed nave roof (shown below), which is single-framed and arched to its collars, must have been an erection task of complexity and difficulty.... The collars have clasping ends to hold the principal rafters, and similarly the spur ties clasp the eaves pieces to the arch timbers; the common couples are framed in seven cants” (Church Carpentry by Cecil Hewett, pub. Phillimore, 1982). The four-light chancel E. window has supermullioned tracery with a castellated supertransom.
The diagonally-buttressed W. tower rises in just two stages to battlements and now seems rather small for the rest of the building. It has a brick and limestone chequerwork basal frieze, a three-light double-transomed W. window with drop tracery, two-light bell-openings, and a projecting stair turret at the southeast angle. Inside, the tower arch is very tall and consists of a hollow-chamfered inner order supported on semicircular responds and two flat-chamfered outer orders which continue down the jambs without intervening capitals.
The independently-gabled N. chapel is lit to the north and east by three large, four-light, square-headed windows, which are transomed but uncusped. The S. windows to the chancel, which was extended in brick, were replaced at the same time (see the photograph below, showing the chancel and N. chapel from the southeast), and the chapel arcade (shown in the thumbnail, left) was constructed of two, four-centred arches supported on a central pier of rhombic section. The new chancel roof was a gift of the 16th Earl of Oxford, of the princely de Vere family, whose emblem of a silver star was added by way of acknowledgement and compliment to the northeast chancel buttress projecting just in front of the N. chapel.
The Knight family pew is a very grand conceit from which it was intended the occupants could look down at the altar over a parapet. Adorned with a magnificent plaster ceiling with a large oval central panel and elaborate floral designs, and with a Palladian W. window and a doorway enriched with Ionic pilasters at the top of the steps leading up to it from the east, these superior beings might as easily have imagined themselves seated in their own splendid Renaissance drawing room as here in a church - at least, had it not been for the fact that the N. wall was wholly taken up with Rysbrack’s magnificent monument to John Knight (d. 1733), depicting the deceased leaning over to comfort his widow, Anne, whose right elbow rested on an urn, intended to represent the eventual mingling of their ashes in death. (See the photographs below.) It was all to prove distinctly embarrassing when Anne remarried less than a year afterwards, and to spare her blushes, had to boarded up. Interestingly, an earlier monument by Rysbrack (1694 - 1770) at St. Germans in Cornwall, similarly graced with an inscription by Pope, a family friend, had been commissioned by Mrs. Knight's sister, Elizabeth Eliot, née Cragg, after she had been widowed in 1722. She, however, behaved in a 'proper' fashion, and under Pope's influence "embraced Catholicism and followed the Continental pattern of a life of prayerful meditation until her death.” (The Silent Rhetoric of the Body by Matthew Craske, pub. Yale University Press, 2007.)
Finally a few words must be added on some of the other church furnishings and additions. Most of the carpentry is Victorian or later but the backs of the choir benches (and, perhaps, their fronts) appear original (that is, of c. 1560 - the time of the chancel’s enlargement) and have linenfold panelling below and panels carved with figures above. (The photograph at the bottom of the page shows the panelling behind the choir benches on the S. side of the chancel.) The gated nave benches east of the S. doorway are thought to date from c. 1830 and there is “a screen-like frame dividing the western bay of the nave from the rest that may have been associated [presumably only briefly if so] with a timber bell-turret” (Hewett). The nave E. wall, south of the chancel arch, displays a monument by John Soward (fl. 1802 - 1838), whose work Gunnis describes as “not very exciting”, commemorating John Sparrow (d. 1838) (Dictionary of Brtitish Sculptors: 1660 - 1851, pub. The Abbey Library, 1951). The S. porch is Victorian.