English Church Architecture -
CASTLE ACRE, St. James (TF 816 151) (March 2004)
(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)
Castle Acre, with the remains of its priory, castle and bailey gate, is one of Norfolk's best villages, and the church at the west end of Stocks Green forms part of an attractive grouping with the carstone and brick houses that line the main village street. Nevertheless, St. James's is not an especially interesting building, consisting chiefly of rather ordinary Perpendicular work, combined with a little from the thirteenth century and some very poor stuff of 1875. This last is by Ewan Christian, of whom B.F.L. Clarke wrote, “None of his churches rises above mediocrity” (Church Builders of the Nineteenth Century, pub. S.P.C.K, 1938). The Perpendicular remains would largely fit a mid to late fourteenth century date, although Bill Wilson (writing in the Northwest and South Norfolk volume of The Buildings of England, pub. Yale University Press, 1999) proposes a more complicated history. What is clear, however, is that the W. tower (shown left) is approximately dated by money left for its construction in 1396: it rises to flushwork battlements and is supported externally by angle buttresses and internally by an arch bearing two wave mouldings and a sunk quadrant. It seems reasonable to assume that this is likely to have been completed within five or ten years of the aisled nave. The N. windows to the N. aisle include three with cruciform lobing set vertically, ogee-arched lights and cinquefoil-cusping (see the example illustrated right), and Wilson (or Pevsner, whose work Wilson was revising) describes these as Decorated, but surely that is too early given their depressed arches, especially as Norfolk churches are notable for the unusual number of examples they include of Decorated forms lingering on into the late fourteenth century, and even the fifteenth. Wilson (or Pevsner) then states that the five-bay nave arcades, composed of double-hollow-chamfered arches springing from compound piers of alternately four semicircular and four semi-octagonal shafts (see the N. arcade, illustrated below), are of fifteenth century date above the springing and in the piers of the second type, but that the piers of the first type are early fourteenth century work re-used. Yet he gives no grounds for this hypothesis, and if his only justification is stylistic, then that surely is insufficient, especially as the chancel arch responds are actually composed of the supposed earlier-style, semicircular shafts, and not of semi-octagonal shafts, as Wilson (or Pevsner) claims. Perhaps its more feasible building history, therefore, is that the arcades were constructed in their present form, in a single phase of construction in early Perpendicular times, conceivably in a building campaign involving more than one master mason. As for the remaining aisle windows, these have supermullioned tracery, as do the chancel S. windows and a N. window to the N. chapel, albeit that the latter boast the addition of castellated supertransoms. The two-bay arcade from the chancel to the chapel has castellated capitals.
Finally, there are two important pieces of woodwork in the church that must be mentioned, both of which can probably be dated by virtue of their presumed connection with one William Castleacre, "steynour and peyntor", known to have been working at Castle Acre around 1440. They are the dado of the former rood screen and the "wine glass" pulpit (see the thumbnail, right), the first painted with pictures of the twelve apostles and the second with images of SS. Augustine, Gregory, Jerome and Ambrose.