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English Church Architecture -



DISS, St. Mary (TM 118 800)     (May 2009)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


This is heavily restored building (shown at the bottom of the page, from the southeast) which has lost much of its architectural interest and is now rather bland, both outside and in.  It does, however, retain work in three distinct architectural styles - the thirteenth century Early English style in the form of the tower (seen left, from the west), the early fourteenth century Decorated style in the form of the nave arcades and chancel arch, and the ensuing Perpendicular style, in the form of the aisled nave and porches, albeit that the windows in particular look almost entirely renewed.


The W. tower rises in four stages to battlements, supported by cumbrous angle buttresses at the southwest and northwest corners, which were probably rendered necessary by the north/south passageway beneath the tower, provided to facilitate processions since the church abuts the churchyard boundary (and hence the street) at this point.  The N. and S. arches over the passageway are triple-flat-chamfered and a doorway leads from it, eastward into the nave.  Outside, the tower W. wall has a small war memorial standing against it where formerly there was a shop (church guide), and above this there are two lancet lights (in the first and second stages) and niches in the buttresses (second stage). The bell-openings have Y-tracery and may be original.  The tower is surmounted by an insubstantial iron structure, probably first erected in the eighteenth century but subsequently replaced, supporting a wind-vane above.


The rest of the church consists of an aisled nave with N. and S. porches, and a chancel with a S. chapel composed of a long, single bay, and opposite, an organ chamber and sacristy.  The nave is embattled and there is a bell-cote at the E. end, looking over the chancel roof. The brick-built, parish room adjoining the nave to the north (known as St. Mary's Hall), was added in 1972.


At least in stylistically terms, the tower is succeeded in short order by the five-bay nave arcades, though whether construction of the church proceeded from west to east or whether the nave was erected more-or-less simultaneously, on more "advanced" lines, seems impossible to tell.  The arches here bear two hollow chamfers (the inner wider than the outer), supported on octagonal piers with capitals of characteristically prominent, Decorated profile.  The high chancel arch is similar in style, though possibly raised, while almost everything to the east of this is the work of a succession of enlargements and "improvements" that began in 1850 when the organ chamber was constructed (though this was formerly the Chapel of Corpus Christi) and continued in 1857 with the eastward extension of the chancel. However, an opening for a former rood stair still survives to the north, just east of the chancel arch (sic).


The original Perpendicular work, such as it is, seems otherwise confined to the nave, aisles and porches, and includes the tall S. porch with its modest flushwork decoration in two tiers of trefoil-cusped arches (one above the apex of the doorway and the other below the springing level) and the carved parapet above, featuring shields set in octfoils.  The doorway is surrounded by two casement mouldings featuring worn carvings at intervals, and the inner doorway carries two slightly hollowed chamfers  that merge into flat chamfers down the jambs.  The N. porch is two-storeyed and a four-centred doorway to the stair leading to the upper room, opens inside the N. aisle to the west, beginning some three feet up and presumably once reached by means of a few wooden steps below.  


The nave and aisle windows all appear renewed but may be faithful to their fifteenth century forms: the nave clerestory is formed of ten pairs of untraceried windows, positioned above the arcade spandrels, with stepped lights topped by castellated supertransoms;  the wider aisle windows are each formed of three cinquefoil-cusped ogee lights beneath a segmental-pointed arch, with strong mullions and stepped supertransoms dividing the sub-reticulation units into two tiers.  However, the buttresses between the aisle windows are old and have animals lying on one of the set-offs and, in one case (shown right), a canopied niche above this.   


As might be expected after this, woodwork and other furnishings in the church are largely Victorian now, including the attractively carved font (of 1857).  The church interior is cast into dim religious gloom by heavy Victorian glass in almost all the windows (of which that in the aisles was described as "terrible" by Pevsner).  The roofs are new but the wall posts rise from mediaeval stone corbels.  Finally, there are no striking monuments but Gunnis mentioned two which bear signatures (Dictionary of British Sculptors: 1660 - 1851, pub, The Abbey Library, 1951), namely: (i) by William Adron (fl. 1792 - 1838), whose work is "uninspired,  though... carefully carved", commemorating Thomas Manning (d. 1805); and (ii) Frederick Harvey (fl. 1830-40), who appears to have lived in the town, commemorating Elizabeth Bunny (d. 1836).