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English Church Architecture.

 

QUIDENHAM, St. Andrew  (TM 029 877),

NORFOLK. 

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk.)

 

One of 181 churches in England with round towers, of which all but five are in Cambridgeshire (with 2), Essex (with 6), Norfolk (with 126) or Suffolk (with 42).

 

 

Round church towers were almost invariably assumed by Pevsner to have a Saxon or Norman origin.  That is not necessarily the case, and the form is a function of geology rather than age, for the lack of the ready availability of good building stone to serve as quoins made this a cheap design option by avoiding the expense in the pre-railway age of bringing, usually by horse and cart or at best along the rivers by boat, heavy, bulk materials from afar.  The definitive book on this subject is, and is long likely to remain, the late Stephen Hart's The Round Church Towers of England  (Ipswich, Lucas Books, 2003), to which the notes on these buildings are inevitably, to a greater or lesser degree, indebted.

 

Here is another church within a few miles of Diss, distinguished by another round tower with an octagonal belfry, about which both the church guide and the 'Northwest and South Norfolk' volume of The Buildings of England (Nikolaus Pevsner & Bill Wilson, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 1999, pp. 596-597) are typically misleading.  Of the round lower stage, Pevsner or Wilson wrote, 'Is this... Anglo-Saxon, or early C12?  It could be either.'  Yet Stephen Hart cleared this up at once by observing that the 'coursed flints in the nave west wall [and the courses are sharply defined] match exactly and align with those in the fillet and tower wall', thus showing the tower and the nave to be part of the same build and so dateable by the nave's Norman N. doorway.  In addition, the tower cuts into the nave and, besides, the age of the tower is surely evident anyway from the tall round arch to the nave, which is supported only on abaci with chamfered under-edges, with no responds to the jambs below.  The octagonal bell-stage appears to be early Perpendicular judging from the bell-openings in its cardinal faces and its mock flushwork bell-openings in the ordinal directions, all of which have the straightened reticulation units typical of the late fourteenth century.  Thus, since there is no evidence of blocked bell-openings in the round part of the tower (the blocked round windows are much too low ever to have served that purpose), it seems reasonable to assume this bell-stage replaces an earlier one.  The shingled spire, for its part, is known to have replaced a former, taller one in 1867, although major work had to be done on it again in 1930.

 

The rest of the church consists of a chancel with a cross-gabled organ chamber to the north, and a nave with a S. aisle and porch.  The most important feature in the nave is the Norman N. doorway (left), composed of two orders - the inner, unmoulded and supported on abaci with chamfered under-edges, and the outer, bearing two rolls separated by a hollow, supported on shafts with leaf volute capitals. This is twelfth century work but it seems difficult to be more precise.  The windows are predominantly Victorian but the aisle W. window appears largely original.  In fact, there is a tradition that the S. aisle was once part of Buckenham Priory, three miles to the northeast, which was subsequently dismantled and brought here for reassembly after the Dissolution, thus accounting for the flushwork on the buttresses.  The porch is now largely Victorian also, but the outer doorway could be re-used Decorated work, with its hollow-chamfered outer order and an inner order with wave mouldings.  The S. arcade (illustrated left, viewed from the west) is formed of four bays of double-hollow-chamfered arches springing from piers of quatrefoil section with additional little quadrant mouldings in the diagonals.  This is an early fourteenth century form but it is difficult to know whether even the design of this work can be trusted since the piers, at least, have been renewed, albeit the responds at either end seem to be mediaeval.  These differ from the piers in being formed of single semicircular shafts, which support the inner hollow chamfer of the arches above but which allow the outer hollow chamfer to continue uninterrupted down the jambs.  The chancel arch has been renewed but, again, the arch between the chancel and organ chamber could be original.  The chancel itself has a triple sedilia with bays of equal height, recessed in the S. wall, and a piscina to the east of that.  The E. window has a niche on either side, which are certainly old, as are the keeled shafts that support the roll moulding above.  Four short shafts with volute capitals, re-set in the chancel N. wall, are reputed to have come from the base of a Norman font.         

[Other churches with round towers featured on this web-site are Bartlow and Snailwell in Cambridgeshire, Roydon, Rushall, Shimpling and Thorpe Abbotts in Norfolk, and Aldham, Brome, Hengrave, Higham, Little Bradley, Little Saxham, Rickinghall Inferior, Risby, Stuston, Theberton, Wissett and Wortham in Suffolk.]