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English Church Architecture -



LAWFORD, St. Mary (TM 089 316)     (October 2015)

(Bedrock:  Eocene, London Clay)

Approaching the church from the west, the W. tower proves to be a very odd affair, comprised of a jumble of brick, flint, pudding stone, and even a little limestone ashlar.  Its W. window and doorway are nineteenth century replacements, and the two-light bell-openings that may once have been Tudor, have also been renewed, but much of its basic fabric seems likely to be as old or older, albeit heavily patched up in the centuries that followed.  The narrow brick arch to the nave, supported on corbels, has been ascribed to remedial work carried out c. 1500, although a former church guide declared this too was altered later.



However, it is not the tower that is notable at Lawford but the incredibly opulent chancel - one of the finest examples of the Decorated style in Essex.  Window traceries are especially rich, for although the five-light E. window with curvilinear tracery dates only from the restoration of 1853, the N. and S. walls are both pierced by four, fourteenth century windows displaying an astonishing originality and boldness of design, each different to its neighbours.  (See the photograph above showing the S. wall, and the photograph below showing the N. wall.) The lights are variously two-centred trefoil-cusped, two-centred cinquefoil-cusped, ogee-pointed trefoil-cusped, and depressed ogee-pointed trefoil-cusped, while above, on the south side alone, there is a wheel of mouchettes in a circle, huge asymmetric double-cusped trefoils, tiers of daggers stacked up like ears of wheat, and cusped intersecting ogees. The date is probably no later than c. 1340 as the work appears to have been done at the instigation of the Lord of the Manor, St. Benet de Cokefield, who seems to have died at around that time.  The internal appearance of these windows is illustrated at the foot of the page on the left, but it is clear from the outside that this was the work of an exceptional mason who seems deliberately to have set out to display his ingenuity.  The S. wall of the nave, in comparison, is singularly unexciting, with rather slight, two-light windows, with tracery edging towards supermullioned - the product, perhaps, of the third quarter of the same century.  However, the half-timbered S. porch - or, rather, what remains of the original porch behind the later infill - may be contemporary with the chancel:  the original open-work traceries, though very worn, can still be seen inside and consist of nine divisions to the east and west and two to the south, featuring tracery with subreticulation in quatrefoils.  The S. doorway bears rolls and two deep hollow-chamfered mouldings above poorly preserved head label stops.


Inside the building, the N. arcade and chancel arch are Victorian and the important work is again the chancel windows (of which the easternmost pair to the south are illustrated at the bottom of the page), which are now revealed to be set in arches surrounded by the most ornate exhibition of leaf, flower and animal carving.  Once again, each is different.  “In the third window from the west on the north side one detects owls in the leaves, on the south side squirrels.  Moreover the easternmost north window has instead of foliage, two chains of little men.  They dance, wrestle, play musical instruments, hold each other by the feet.  It is full of indomitable exuberance”  (Pevsner).  The window arches are supported by side shafts and beneath them to the south, there are five cinquefoil-cusped ogee arches in which are set the priest’s doorway, the triple sedilia, and the piscina of equal size, and where may be found another amazing pageant of carving in the spandrels, albeit that here most of the figures have had their heads broken off.  (See the photograph below.)  The elaborate reredos against the E. wall of the sanctuary is Victorian, as also are the statues of SS. Mary and John and the niches in which they stand.  “By trying to outdo the magnificence of the mediaeval stonework in alabaster and naturalistic carving [this] is another blemish” (that is, in addition to the E. window), wrote Pevsner.  “It needed all the Victorian self-confidence not to restrain oneself in the presence of so much ornamental carving as the interior of the chancel displays.”


Finally and briefly after this, it can only be said that church furnishings at Lawford do not amount to much although the chancel contains one monument of modest significance, dated 1584 and commemorating Edward Waldegrave and his wife, Johan, who are depicted kneeling, facing each other across a prayer desk but with black marble Corinthian columns to either side and between;  the canopy is surmounted by their arms. Rupert Gunnis also mentioned two other monuments in the church in his Dictionary of British Sculptors: 1660-1851(The Abbey Library, 1951) - one to Edward Green (d. 1814) by Thomas Ellis of Hull (of unknown dates), whose only signed work this is, and the other to a reverend gentleman of the same name (d. 1844), by Henry Lufkin of Colchester (fl. 1812 - 55) - but  quite obviously only for the sake of completeness for he described the work of Henry Lufkin as “extremely dull” and his monument here, in particular, as among his “least attractive”!