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English Church Architecture.

 

LAWFORD, St. Mary  (TM 089 316),

ESSEX. 

(Bedrock:  Eocene, London Clay.)

 

A church with an exceptionally fine, Decorated chancel.

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.  Inside, 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 each pierced by four, fourteenth century windows displaying an astonishing originality and boldness of design, no two of which are similar.  (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 around that time, and it is clear that the was the work was carried out under the direction of an exceptional mason who consciously 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 little 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 church, the N. arcade and chancel arch are Victorian and the important work is again the chancel windows (of which the westernmost pair to the north 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'  (Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Essex, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2007, p. 523).  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 a 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 immediately 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.  The chancel contains one monument of modest significance, dated 1584, 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.  However, Rupert Gunnis recorded two other monuments  (Dictionary of British Sculptors: 1660-1851, London, The Abbey Library, 1951, pp. 141 & 246), albeit clearly only for the sake of completeness:  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), whose work Gunnis described as 'extremely dull', albeit the monument here he considered one of three worthy of the accolade of 'the least unattractive'!