English Church Architecture -
GARBOLDISHAM, St. John the Baptist (TM 004 816) (May 2010)
(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)
The most important part of this building is undoubtedly the W. tower (shown left, from the northwest), which forms one of a group with those in the Suffolk villages of Badwell Ash, Elmswell and Ixworth, a few miles away to the south or southwest. Stylistic evidence alone is sufficient to show these towers must be by the same hand but supporting evidence is also available as three of them can be close dated to the third quarter of the fifteenth century. Thus the prototype appears to be here at Garboldisham where one, John Smyth, left 20 shillings in 1463 "to new tower for stipend of mason in first year of work" (The Buildings of England: Northwest and South Norfolk, by Wilson & Pevsner, Yale University Press, 2002), and this seems to have been followed within a decade by the tower at Ixworth, for the date of which there is a positive glut of evidence, including bequests of 1471 & '72, a panel on the southeast buttress bearing the name of Abbot Schot of Bury St. Edmunds, abbot there from 1470-73, and a recorded observation of the eighteenth century antiquarian, Tom Martin, who noted the presence of a glazed brick in the S. wall inscribed with the name of William Dense, abbot of Ixworth Priory from 1467 to c. 1484 (Pevsner). Finally, shortly after this was built, it seems that the tower at Elmswell must have been constructed, for in 1476 Margaret Walter left 40 shillings for the "new tower" there. The towers at Garboldisham, Badwell Ash and Ixworth all have two-light bell-openings while at Elmswell they are three-light, but the kinship between the towers lies chiefly in their similar bulky construction, their stepped battlements faced with narrow flushwork arches, and - most especially - in the form and position of the flushwork devices on the buttresses and basal friezes. Yet compare also the W. window at Garboldisham with those at Badwell Ash and Elmswell: both are three-light with cinquefoil-cusped intersecting tracery beneath a depressed arch and both are rather too small for the wall in which they are set.... Or look at the profiles of the diagonal buttresses of these towers, for while there are seven set-offs at Elmswell and only six at Garboldisham and Badwell Ash, in each case that is rather too many for the height, making the sections appear rather too short and too shallow. This, then, is not necessarily great architecture, but it is confident work, apparently by a mason who knew his mind, was happy with his creations, and was ready to reproduce them on request, largely unaltered, from place to place. The only significant deviation from the standard pattern at Garboldisham seems to have been the original construction of a galilee or W. porch, the outline of which can be seen against the W. wall of the tower.
Flushwork devices like those shown above, are examined in detail in Mediaeval Flushwork of East Anglia (Poppyland, 2004) by the textile artist, Margaret Talbot, who uses these emblems in her work and has been able to interpret many with reasonable certainty. They are discussed at some length in this web-site under the entry for Elmswell and include at Garboldisham, the pommée cross of St. Michael on the uppermost set-off of the tower's northwest buttress (just visible in the photograph top left), and the Sacred Monogram "IHS" and the crowned "M" for St. Mary in the basal frieze to the north (shown immediately above). The crowned "S" between the latter is probably intended to portray the cup and viper of St. John the Evangelist. Sometimes the "S" is shown backwards, but the diagnostic features here are probably the open jaws at the top and bottom, and the fact that St. John's motif is commonly placed beside St. Mary's, to symbolize their vigil together beneath the Cross.
The rest of the church may be quickly described. Formed of an aisled nave with a N. porch, and a chancel with a N. vestry and chapel (now organ chamber), in most of its details it appears early Decorated in form, suggesting a date scarcely later than 1320. The aisle windows each have three round-headed, cinquefoil-cusped lights, with daggers above, set within intersecting cusped tracery. (See the example, right.) The N. porch (below left) has two-light side windows, an inscription round the base and another over the entrance, and an outer doorway with a crocketed canopied niche either side and an arch of two orders, with the inner springing from semicircular shafts and the outer bearing a casement moulding with fleurons at intervals around the head; the couple roof has a row of carved quatrefoils immediately above the wall plates. The chancel has been reconstructed, both without and within, but the N. aisle extension as a chapel is essentially mediaeval and retains its original N. window and, inside, the double-flat-chamfered arch from the aisle, which dies into the jambs.
The four-bay arcades to the aisles appear contemporary with the windows, at least insofar as the latter are original. They are formed of double-hollow-chamfered arches above octagonal piers and semi-octagonal responds, except that the first pier on each side from the west, is curiously circular. (See the N. arcade, right, viewed from the west) The tall arch to the tower is composed of three orders, with the innermost, flat-chamfered and springing from semicircular responds and the outer two, hollow-chamfered and continuous all the way round. The mediaeval chancel arch has been reused by the restorers and carries wave mouldings above semi-quatrefoil responds.
Finally, the church contains few furnishings of note and only the dado of the parclose screen between the N. aisle and organ chamber needs mentioning. Painted with a random selection of saints, this is dated by an inscription reading "Pray for the welfare of William Boyle and Kathryn his wyffe": According to the church leaflet, William Boyle died in 1504. Just west, in the aisle N. wall, are the remains of a rood stair.