English Church Architecture.
WETHERSFIELD, St. Mary Magdalene (TL 712 313),
(Bedrock: Eocene, London Clay.)
An attractive village church of rustic appearance, featuring some interesting carpentry.
The most notable feature of this building is the squat, unbuttressed early thirteenth century W. tower (shown left, from the northeast), with two-light bell-openings each consisting of a pair of lancets separated by a shaft with a capital, and opening internally to the nave through a wide pointed arch which is entirely unmoulded save only for the chamfered under-edges of the abaci. The short shingled spire, formed of a lower stage with dormer openings and an upper stage of broach form, was examined in detail by the late Cecil Hewitt and ascribed to the final quarter of the thirteenth century (Church Carpentry, London & Chichester, Phillimore, 1982, pp. 64, 66 & 135-136). Four secret notched laps are used in the frame - a carpentry joint employed from c. 1220 until they were succeeded by tenoning - and the frame is elaborately saltire-braced in a manner showing 'the separate traditions of straight and bent-wood usage'.
The rest of the church is formed of a chancel with a Victorian S. vestry (sic), and an embattled, aisled nave with N. and S. porches. The S. arcade (shown below right) is thirteenth century in date, although as Pevsner observed, 'probably later than the tower' (James Bettley & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of |England: Essex, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2007, p. 825), being composed of four double-flat-chamfered arches supported on circular piers with nicely moulded circular capitals. The N. arcade (below left) seems to have been constructed about a century later and may be contemporary with the present aisle windows, described below: the piers on this side are octagonal, with octagonal capitals, and there are broaches where the inner flat chamfer of the arches meets them.
The Decorated chancel would fit a date around 1340. It is lit by a three-light window to the east, with standard reticulated tracery, and one rather odd two-light window in each of the north and south walls of the sanctuary, featuring ogee-pointed lights and misshapen quatrefoils above. The re-set E. window in the Victorian vestry has cinquefoil-cusped Y-tracery and a transom. Inside, the N. and S. walls of the chancel are each decorated with four bays of blank, unmoulded arcading. A double sedilia in the south wall continues eastwards in similar style, while the double piscina further east again has double-cusped Y-tracery supported on a shaft with a capital, and a quatrefoil in the eyelet above.
The aisle windows adopt the same non-standard form to be seen at neighbouring Shalford, making it probable they are the work of the same mason. Most have been externally renewed, but the N. aisle E. window is old (see the photograph, right) and, like the others, square-headed beneath a segmental-pointed(?) hood-mould, with tracery composed of a pair of straightened reticulation units above cinquefoil-cusped lights, in what appears to be the early Perpendicular modification of reticulated tracery associated in East Anglia with the late fourteenth century. The Perpendicular S. porch has an outer doorway bearing two waves springing from shafts, while inside, it holds the original, very worn, early fourteenth century font, with a plain bowl supported on a stem decorated with transomed, cinquefoil-cusped Y-tracery. The N. porch appears to be eighteenth century work: it is constructed of brick in mixed bond, with two widely-spaced lancets in both the east and west walls and an outer doorway framed by tumbled-in brick with a keystone in the head. However, the clerestory, by contrast, can probably be ascribed to the turn of the fifteenth century, for the brickwork here is clearly Tudor and the square-headed windows are composed of pairs of cinquefoil-cusped lights without tracery. The nave roof is contemporary with this, being constructed 'in four bays [with] wall pieces with Tudor-style pendant ends, resting on wooden corbels' (Hewitt, op. cit).
Finally, furnishings in the church include the Perpendicular rood screen with four lights each side of the opening, separated by very slender mullions supporting a wide cornice that is not yet a loft. The 'south door .... is of Decorated arcuation having a cheaply jointed rear frame of portcullis pattern, well planed edge moulding on its face planks, and good strap hinges. The north door is also good and similar' (ibid).