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English Church Architecture -



SHELFANGER, All Saints (TM 108 837)     (May 2009)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


This little church (shown left, from the southeast) has more features of interest than first appearances suggest, for the building consists of just a chancel, nave, N. porch and W. tower, and most of the windows have been restored.  The two-light nave windows assume various minor Perpendicular forms but the three S. windows (of which the easternmost is shown below right) have the little linking subarcuations between the lights to be seen at a number of nearby churches on both sides of the Norfolk/Suffolk border, the most directly comparable of which are a pair opposite each other at the west end of the chancel at Wortham (Suffolk), which are similarly four-centred with an inner pair of straight-sided triangular-headed reticulation units above the lights and an outer pair of rather discordant falchions. This theme is then taken further by the N. and S. chancel windows, which  have segmental-pointed arches, ogee lights, and ogee-pointed linking subarcuations, but the three-light chancel E. window has intersecting cusped tracery characteristic of c. 1300, and this date probably also fits the tower, which rises in two stages supported by diagonal buttresses, to bell-openings with renewed Y-tracery.  The flint chequerwork battlements above and little pyramidal roof behind, are likely to be later additions.  However, one puzzling feature of the church that becomes evident now, is that compared to the tower or chancel, the nave is set off-centre to the south, suggesting it has been widened in this direction, yet the roof, which seems largely mediaeval, is scissor-braced above collars - a framing system typical of the thirteenth century. (See the photograph at the foot of the page, which was taken from the west.) Perhaps the conclusion to be drawn, therefore, is that the present ground plan of the church is true to the original arrangement and the odd setting-out is due to considerations now forgotten, such as the position of former burials, for the building seems unlikely to be the first on the site.  A circular window in the west gable of the nave, to the south of the tower, provides additional light at this corner.  The tower has a Y-traceried W. window and a little cinquefoil-cusped niche above.  The N. porch (left) is an attractive half-timbered addition, dated by a legacy to 1506, and is probably the best work visible outside, with its close-studded box-frame infilled with flint and fieldstones, its four-light side windows, and its four-centred outer doorway with traceried spandrels, now very worn.


Inside the church, the tower arch is formed of two orders which die into the jambs and the chancel arch, of a hollow-chamfered order springing from semi-octagonal responds.  The remains of the rood stair are visible in the nave N. wall, immediately west of the chancel arch.  However, the font is of more interest for this is dated by the initials of the donor, "A. B.", for Adam Bosville, whose name appears in the list of patrons of the church in 1376.  (See the notes in the church by Richard Butler-Stoney, dated 2003.)  It is worthwhile examining this for any stylistic guidance it may provide for the dating of other late fourteenth century fonts in the region (see the photograph, right):  the octagonal bowl faces the cardinal and ordinal directions, unlike many fonts locally which are aligned east-northeast, east-southeast, etc., and it is carved with shields and tracery designs above, with faces at the corners on the bevel beneath. Also interesting and about a hundred years older are the remains of two wall paintings uncovered in the northeast and southeast corners of the sanctuary, which appear to have survived from an earlier thirteenth century church, a fragment of the east wall of which was presumably encompassed within the present building. The northeastern painting consists only of scrollwork, but the southeastern painting (illustrated left) is much finer, being a very clear portrayal of the Virgin and Child visited by the Magi.