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English Church Architecture -



HEACHAM, St. Mary (TF 681 380)     (March 2004)

(Bedrock:  Lower Cretaceous, Carstone Formation)


This is essentially a cruciform church of c.1300 (shown left, from the southwest) - or, rather, what remains of one, for the transepts were replaced in the early nineteenth century by aisle extensions, the windows have been mostly renewed, and the building has been heavily patched throughout with little concern for appearance.  This is illustrated, for example, by the huge, ungainly N. buttress to the central tower, built roughly of carstone and yet partly galleted (as illustrated in the photograph below right), and by the ugly nineteenth century intersecting tracery in the tower aisle and chancel windows. It is also shown by the masonry, which is an utter hotchpotch that includes cobbles, both gault and red bricks (sometimes used as rubble), limestone (for dressings), and areas of carstone/clunch chequer work.  Viewed, therefore, as architecture, this church is not a display of local building materials so much as a mess, from which its plain or worn details are unable to rescue it.  Only the wide S. doorway (inside the porch), still firmly in Early English style with two orders of colonnettes with stiff leaf capitals supporting an arch of complex profile, and the five-light nave W. window with curvilinear tracery but cinquefoil-cusped lights of possibly early Perpendicular date (i.e. after 1350), have any artistic pretensions. Otherwise the heavily restored, three-light aisle windows display supermullioned tracery above the central lights and inverted daggers above the outer ones, the bell-openings consist simply of open circles, and the rebuilt battlements fails to give the tower a properly finished appearance. The porch once had a quadripartite vault, but this too has been removed, leaving only the springers. 


Inside, the building is a little more attractive but not very much.  The five-bay arcades and the four crossing arches are all in keeping with an Early English/Decorated transitional date:  they are formed of two hollow-chamfered orders, springing from alternately circular and octagonal piers in the case of the arcades, and from semi-octagonal responds in the case of the crossing arches.  The arch from the S. aisle to the earlier S. transept, is similar, but the corresponding arch to the north, like the S. doorway, takes a more definitely thirteenth century form, its many roll mouldings producing an arch of complex profile, supported beneath on semi-quatrefoil responds.  To all appearances, this arch and the S. doorway predate most of the rest of the work here by, perhaps, two or three decades, although it is difficult to understand how this could actually be.


The church contains just one significant piece of woodwork, which is the rood screen.  Of probable fifteenth century origin, it comprises five divisions, of which the outer four have supermullioned tracery above ogee lights.