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English Church Architecture -



NORTH LOPHAM, St. Nicholas (TM 036 826)     (May 2010)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


This church is part-Decorated, part-Perpendicular in style, and consists of a W. tower, a nave with a S. aisle and porch, and a chancel with a lean-to, Victorian N. vestry.  The tower (shown left, from the northwest) rises in three stages to integral battlements, supported by diagonal buttresses with flushwork on their leading edges, and - according to Pevsner - is dated by bequests to the years between 1479 and 1526. It is distinguished architecturally by a large inscription (illustrated above) sitting on the lower string course to the south, which reads,  "ORATE P.AIA JOH KALLI" ("Pray for the Soul of John Caley"), and by a basal frieze displaying flint flushwork devices that include a crowned "M" for St. Mary, a crowned "A" for St. Andrew (to whom - according to the church leaflet - the church was dedicated until an eighteenth century scribe accidentally transposed the dedication with the church at South Lopham), a crowned "T" for St. Thomas Becket (who was a popular dedicatee of trade guilds during the reign of Henry VII, 1485 - 1509), and various wheels of quatrefoils.  (See the photograph at the foot of the page, showing the frieze along the S. wall.)  The tower has a projection at the E. end of the N. wall, housing the stair turret and rising to the bell-stage.  The tall W. doorway has tumbled-in stone around the arch, alternating with knapped flint, and the W. window above is two-light, with supermullioned tracery, split "Y"s, and a quatrefoil in the apex. 


Elsewhere, the most notable external feature of the building is probably the unusual tracery of two S. aisle windows - a two-light window to the south and the three-light window to the east (illustrated right).  These display what is described on other pages in this web-site as "cruciform lobing set diagonally", the most notable employment of which was by the master-mason Reginald Ely (c.1415-1471), at Kings College Chapel, Cambridge and St. Mary's, Burwell, Cambridgeshire, and subsequently by his apprentice, John Melford,  at Cavendish and Long Melford churches in Suffolk. Here at North Lopham, it must be admitted, the design seems peculiarly square, due in large measure to the segmentally-arched (as opposed to four-centred) window heads and the triangular-pointed (as opposed to ogee-pointed) lights.  Nevertheless, it is similar enough to these other, prestigious examples, to show a probable influence, and to demonstrate, almost beyond peradventure, that pace Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (writing in The Buildings of England:  Northwest and South Norfolk, Penguin, 1992), this is not actually Decorated work, but in all likelihood, Perpendicular work of a century or so later. "Decorated" would, in any case, be a curious appellation to give the four-bay S. arcade (viewed left, from the northeast), formed of arches of two orders, bearing a flat chamfer and wave, springing from compound piers with circular shafts with capitals towards the openings only, a design that may have been previously used in neighbouring Suffolk c. 1375 at St. Gregory's church, Sudbury, where the illustrious patron was Simon Teobald, Archbishop of Canterbury.


The S. porch has an embattled S. front and a very worn outer doorway bearing two orders of sunk quadrants springing from an order of semicircular responds.  That it postdates the aisle at least a little, appears to be demonstrated by the way it cuts into the aisle window to the west.  The side windows to the porch are  later, wooden insertions and thus of no help in dating.  The chancel, however, has a three-light E. window with renewed reticulated tracery which may or may not have a Decorated origin (i.e. early fourteenth century).  Internally, the very slender chancel arch bears a couple of wave mouldings above responds with semicircular shafts   The N. windows to the nave include one with Y-tracery and a transom, which may have a thirteenth century basis, and two renewed Perpendicular windows.


The church contains few furnishings of note and the roofs are Victorian. However, the font is sufficiently similar to the font at South Lopham to be either by the same hand or at least based upon it (or, indeed, vice versa).  It consists of a canted octagonal bowl carved with circular and window tracery patterns, displaying a mixture of Decorated and Perpendicular designs, standing on a fluted octagonal stem.  (The thumbnail, left, shows the S. face, which features a three-light window tracery design with strong mullions.)  The wooden cover, also like that at South Lopham, is probably Jacobean.