( back to home page)

English Church Architecture.

 

EAST HARLING, St. Peter & St. Paul (TF 991 868),

NORFOLK.

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk.)

 

 

'The best church in its neighbourhood... with [a] picturesque, short C15 lead spire rising out of a crown of eight flying buttresses' (Pevsner).

 

This is an excellent building with many interesting features.  Consisting of a W. tower, aisled nave with S. porch, and short chancel with N. chapel, it is now predominantly Perpendicular in style, albeit of more than one date.  However, there is earlier work here too, in the form of the transitional Early English/Decorated tower below the battlements, a Decorated window in the S. wall of the chancel and two clerestory windows opposite in the N. wall, and the remains of another (blocked) Decorated window in the S. wall of the nave.  These appear to imply between them that a church of very similar dimensions was standing on this site by c. 1340 at the latest, but if that was so, it was subsequently much altered in two main phases of reconstruction, the first probably attributable to the late fourteenth century and the second, to the mid to late fifteenth.

 

A description of the church, therefore, most logically begins with the tower, which rises in three unequal stages supported by angle buttresses, to a bell-stage with cinquefoil-cusped Y-traceried bell-openings.  The three-light W. window has cusped intersecting tracery typical of its date (see the photograph, left), and the W. door beneath carries two rolls around it, one bearing a fillet,  but the most notable feature at this end of the building is the pair of  trefoil-cusped niches above the buttresses' first off-sets, with crocketed gables topped by finials.  Inside the church, the very heavy tower arch to the nave is composed of three orders carrying two hollows and a sunk quadrant above semi-octagonal responds with prominent capitals.  A century and a half later, the tower was crowned by Perpendicular, open-work stepped battlements (illustrated below right), pierced by little trefoiled arches, quatrefoils in squares, and rather larger quatrefoils holding shields. The battlements may have been added at the same time as the narrow lead spire, which is open around the base and supported at the sides by eight flying buttresses, springing across from a ring of eight crocketed pinnacles.   The effect is to give the church a splendid if rather capricious silhouette, like the fanciful topping to a wedding cake.

 

The chancel appears to have been built a few decades after the tower, for the two-light reticulated window to the south (seen in the photograph at the top of the page) cannot be much earlier than c. 1320.  This seems a little curious considering that church building was usually undertaken from east to west, but perhaps it was itself a reconstruction of earlier work.  There are also two contemporary clerestory windows to the north, composed of septfoils that look out over the chapel, and as already mentioned, part of a blocked window in the nave, visible internally above the S. door, apparently showing that the S. aisle was already this wide by this date.    

 

The next significant period in the construction of the present building, however, is the late fourteenth century, when the five-bay aisle arcades and taller chancel arch in similar style, seem to have been reconstructed (assuming the church previously had a N. aisle), and the two-centred N. aisle windows, with strong mullions and supermullioned tracery, were inserted.  The N. aisle extends alongside the chancel to form a chapel, although originally there appear to have been two smaller chapels here, later united into a single space, for it is roofed in two sections.  The nave arcades are composed of two-centred arches of two orders, each bearing a sunk quadrant moulding, supported on quatrefoil piers with little spurs in the diagonals and semi-octagonal capitals to each of the four shafts.  (See the interior view of the church below, taken from the west.

  

 

The last major phase of reconstruction at the church was undertaken about a century later and provided it with many of the proud features seen today.  These include the S. aisle windows and the two principal windows in the chancel, the clerestory and nave roof, the S. porch, and the battlements and spire above the tower, already discussed.   The chancel is lit from the south by a wide three-light window (east of the reticulated window previously mentioned), with strong mullions, supermullioned drop tracery, split 'Y's and a quatrefoil in the eyelet, set beneath a four-centred arch (as seen in the photograph at the top of the age), but the five-light E. window (illustrated left) - which, remarkably, retains much of its fifteenth century glass - is sufficiently different to imply it is either not precisely contemporary or that it is the work of a different mason, or both.  This also has strong mullions and supermullioned drop tracery, but now there are castellated supertransoms at two levels,  and the supermullions continue up to the window head without splitting into 'Y's, producing a design that is equally rich yet simultaneously more restrained.  The splendid clerestory and S. aisle windows are more akin to the chancel S. window than the E. window (see the S. aisle E. window, below right), for now the split 'Y's return and there are quatrefoils in the eyelets.  However, the windows are also taller  and narrower, the arches more depressed, and the tracery, shallower,  so while the S. aisle and clerestory appear to belong to the same phase of construction, it seems doubtful whether any of the Perpendicular chancel windows do. Inside the church, the nine pairs of clerestory windows are curiously slightly out of synchrony with the arcade arches below, after simply dividing the same available distance equally between them.  The implication appears to be that ten pairs of windows (i.e. two per bay) were decided to be too many to fit in, so it is fortunate that the clerestory windows are set internally behind deep rere-arches which limit the discordancy.  Finally, there is also a three-light window in the E. wall of the nave, which opens above the gable of the chancel roof.

 

The S. porch, which according to Pevsner was reconstructed  from the old materials in 1840 (The Buildings of England: Northwest and South Norfolk, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2002, p. 319) has side windows composed of two flattened trefoiled lights and just a modicum of tracery.  The outer doorway carries a flat chamfer on the inner order, above semicircular shafts with octagonal capitals, and the outer order bears a little roll and a wave which continue uninterrupted all the way round.  There is a small ogee-pointed trefoil-cusped niche above, but the principal decorative feature here is the flint flushwork covering buttresses and east and south walls (though not the west wall), comprising four tiers of trefoil-cusped blank arcading,  which steps up over the doorway. (Seen the photograph above left.)  Inside, the porch has a low-pitched couple roof and an inner doorway with a worn inner moulding that may once have represented a trail of vine leaves and which suggest this doorway was exposed to the elements for many years before the porch was added.

 

The church contains some important carpentry and monuments which must now be described in some detail.  To consider carpentry first, there is, above all, the very fine nave roof (seen  right), of single hammerbeam type, with wall posts appearing to rest on large stone angels holding shields, although the carved wooden angels that presumably once terminated the hammerbeams are predictably been sawn off.  The spandrels of the arched braces, above the hammerbeams, contain openwork tracery, and the ridge beam, principal rafters, and purlins at the ⅓ and ⅔ positions are all nicely moulded.  The S. aisle has a very low pitched couple roof while the narrower N. aisle roof adopts a simple lean-to form.  The former rood screen is missing but the dado remains, repositioned in two sections at the back of the church, behind the nave pews.  (See the two photographs below, showing the northern and southern sections respectively.)   Painted in red, blue and brown, they feature a frieze of Tudor roses in quatrefoils along the base, a row of cinquefoil-cusped arches in the centre, and a row of larger quatrefoils inside pointed quatrefoils inside squares(!) along the top.  The inner quatrefoils hold mostly shields but one to the south contains the Sacred Monogram while another to the north depicts the Stem of Jesse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The parclose screen round the S. chapel, occupying the two eastern bays of the S. aisle, is formed of two sections of different dates, one each to the west and north.  The former (seen below from the west) is an excellent piece of Perpendicular work with a fan vaulted loft, and alternate tracery with intricate subreticulation in two tiers, separated by castellated supertransoms.  The dado features blank arcading in double-cusped ogee arches with encircled cruciform lobing set vertically in the spandrels.  The screen to the north, across the second arcade arch from the east (the easternmost arch being open) is simpler and earlier, consists of three sections separated by turned columns. 

 

The chancel contains six misericords, two to the north and four to the south, with carvings underneath and on the arm rests. These  include a lion, an eagle, a Pelican in her Piety (regarded in the Middle Ages as an image of self-sacrifice since it was believed that the pelican fed her chicks from blood drawn from her own breast), a green man(?), and a couple of dragons or lizards.  (The photograph below left, taken from the east, shows the misericords to the south.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The church contains a series of large monuments, of which three tomb-chests will be described here, in date order.

(i) The first, which is fifteenth century in date and found against the S. wall of the S. chapel sanctuary (i.e. at the easternmost end of the S. aisle), consists of a tomb-chest decorated with quatrefoils holding shields, alternating with blank trefoil-cusped arches, and a canopy above with a double-cusped, crocketed ogee arch.  (See the photograph above right.)  Two unicorns(?) hold another shield in the apex of the arch while the mouldings around, consisting of a wave and a hollow, are decorated at intervals with baskets(?) and more unicorns.  The effigies of a knight and a lady lie on the tomb-chest, but only the former is considered original and believed to represent Sir Robert Herling (d. 1435), who lies straight-legged with his feet resting on a lion.

(ii) The large monument between the chancel and N. chapel (shown below left), in brown stone, though so much more urbane, is actually not much younger in date.  It commemorates Lady Anne Wingfield and her first husband, Sir William Chamberlain (d. 1462).  Here, too, the tomb-chest features quatrefoils in circles in the panels but there all similarity ends.  No effigy lies on the chest, which is open to the chapel beneath a very depressed arch, but above there is the most elaborate superstructure composed of double-cusped crocketed ogee arch-heads, rising from pendants and terminating in finials, and a taller, castellated openwork section behind, topped by an achievement and pierced by tall pairs of trefoil-cusped arches, while every available space below is covered in carving in gentle relief.  The sides of the monument are bevelled to the southeast and southwest and decorated with cinquefoil-cusped niches set between crocketed buttresses.

(iii) Finally, in contrast to both the above, the third tomb-chest, found against the S. chapel S. wall, west of Sir Robert Herling's tomb, is manifestly a seventeenth century composition.  (See the photograph below right.)  Here, the effigies of Sir Thomas Lovell (d. 1604 - Pevsner) and his wife, Dame Alice, their hands clasped in prayer, lie on a chest painted with shields, beneath a heavy canopy supported by non-standard alabaster columns, while above, a distinctly two-dimensional achievement framed by lattice-work is set between obelisks at the angles.