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English Church Architecture -



FURNEUX PELHAM, St. Mary (TL 432 280)     (October 2014)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


This is a substantial church (shown left, from the south) which holds considerable interest inside, although externally it has been very considerably renewed.  In approximate age order, it consists of a chancel, a W. tower, an aisled nave in three bays with adjoining S. porch, and a large independently-gabled S. chapel, of which the first appears late thirteenth century in date and the last was built by the lord of the manor around 1520 and adjoined to the pre-existing building with complete indifference to alignment.  It will be convenient to consider these parts of the church in the same order, with the exterior and interior together.


The chancel is lit by two restored lancets to the south (to the east of the chapel), two more to the north together with a blocked lowside lancet further west (an unusual feature on this side of the building, although cf. neighbouring Albury), and a three-light restored E. window with three encircled trefoils in the head. Internally, this window and the easternmost lancet on each side, have an order of side shafts supporting a roll above.  There is no chancel arch but the position of the chancel is marked by the raised floor and by the position of the rood stair, cut in the wall to the north.  In the S. wall of the sanctuary there is a piscina with a credence shelf above, followed westwards by a double sedilia beneath the easternmost S. window, and then another arch west of that, which possibly held a third bay or a former priest’s door, all with trefoil-cusped arches and triple shafts between.  The plain but attractive, collar-beam chancel roof (shown right) is framed in seven cants.


The W. tower is unbuttressed and rises in three stages to bell-openings with reticulated tracery, battlements above, and a surmounting Hertfordshire spike.  The date of its erection is probably indicated by the three-light W. window (left), which has tracery formed of elongated, straightened reticulation units suggestive of the late fourteenth century. (See Appendix 2 for some close dated examples of the use of the straightened reticulation unit in window tracery.)  The tower arch to the nave, formed of two flat-chamfered orders, dies into the jambs without responds.


The three-light aisle windows are almost entirely renewed and have supermullioned drop tracery beneath arches of variously segmental, segmental-pointed, or depressed triangular shape.   The S. aisle continues west of the porch to encompass the tower, which probably represents a later extension.  The two-storeyed S. porch has two-light cinquefoil-cusped side windows to the lower storey, which are mediaeval inside, and a three-light, square-headed window to the upper storey to the south.   The three-bay nave arcades - composed of arches formed of two orders bearing hollows separated by a deep hollow, springing from piers composed of four semi-octagonal  shafts with hollowed angles between - are, perhaps, the work of the early fifteenth century.  (See the S. arcade, right, viewed from the west.)  (Cf., for example, the piers at Hengrave, Suffolk, dated before 1419.) They have particularly large and well-carved label stops that include a king and a queen (first thumbnail, left) a bearded man (second thumbnail), and a woman wearing a mediaeval headdress. The low-pitched nave roof has been brightly and recently painted, making it difficult to date.  The nave clerestory consists of three pairs of cinquefoil-cusped lights, set in square-headed surrounds, positioned above the apices of the arcades below.


The S. chapel is lit by a three-light E. window and two windows to the south, one with two lights and one with four, all with supermullioned tracery and the last, above a doorway.  The chapel's position takes absolutely no account of the earlier S. arcade but commences a few feet east of the easternmost S. pier and extends eastwards alongside the arcade and then, after an untidy change in floor level where it suddenly rises up a large step, behind the western end of the chancel, where a squint looks through to the altar and a narrow arch beyond now houses the organ.  The shallow-pitched chapel roof is constructed in two bays, with what appear to be the original bosses at the midpoints on each side, and carved figures decorating the principal rafters. However, perhaps the most important feature of the chapel is the stained glass in the three- and four-light windows, the former of 1874, by  William Morris (1834-96) and Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98) jointly, in which Morris was responsible for St. Gabriel in the left-hand light, and Burne-Jones, for the other two, depicting St. Michael and the Virgin & Child, and the second of 1867, by Morris alone, depicting angels playing musical instruments.  (See the photograph, left.)  As is often the case, Morris’s female figures here all appear loosely based on Jane Berden, his wife, distinguishable by her auburn hair, though not by the sulky expression she was curiously but invariably given by the love-sick Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  


Finally a note must be added on the octagonal font, which appears to consist of an early thirteenth century bowl on a fourteenth or fifteenth century stem, the former perhaps from an earlier church and decorated with two simple lancets on each of its downward-chamfered faces, and the latter probably contemporary with this building and bearing a single trefoil-cusped arch on each side.