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English Church Architecture -



SOUTH LOPHAM, St. Andrew (TM 039 818)     (February 2015 [sic])

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


This is an axial building (see Appendix 3), whose  principal feature is a massive Norman central tower, rising in five unequal stages, supported by diminishing clasping buttresses and decorated on stages two to four with unmoulded round-headed arches that are separated in some places by shafts with cushion capitals,  all the details of which are suggestive of c. 1100.  (See the photograph, left, taken from the northeast.)  The bell-openings are similar to the blank arches in form, while the large rectangular projection at the northwest angle, which houses the stair turret, is undecorated and unlit, except by two small slits on the N. side. The tower's flushwork battlements are clearly a Perpendicular addition; the flat-chamfered round-headed doorway with a missing order of shafts below, set off-centre in the S. wall, is probably about half a century later than the main structure - the product of the mid to late twelfth century.


Inside the church, the tower is supported on massive Norman arches to east and west, each composed of two orders, with an unmoulded outer order supported on plain abaci with chamfered under-edges, and an inner order bearing a roll, supported on demi-shafts with broad cushion capitals.   (See the photograph, right, which looks through to the nave from the chancel.)  The remains of the rood stair can be seen to the southeast and there are shallow blank arches recessed in the N. and S. walls, the latter of which is now pierced by a Decorated window.


The rest of the building comprises a nave, S. aisle and S. porch to the west, and a chancel with a lean-to Victorian N. vestry to the east.  The chancel windows in late Decorated style, have all been restored or renewed, but are probably faithful to the original work, at least to the north and south, for why else would they each be different?  The E. window, however, seems too ugly to be anything except a poor nineteenth century invention:  it is round-arched for some reason and the tracery is notable only for its ungainliness


The nave is lit to the north by a single, two-light Perpendicular window (illustrated left) with the significant feature of a little archlet linking the lights above, in a design almost identical to windows at a number of churches in central and northern Suffolk, including St. Mary's, Brettenham, St. Mary's, Hitcham, St. Mary's, Preston St. Mary, St. Nicholas's, Rattlesden, St. George's, Stowlangtoft, and St. Mary's, Wortham This design is sufficiently distinct to raise the possibility that all these windows are attributable to the same master mason and, if that is the case, then obviously the same period, most probable dateable by the work at Stowlangtoft, where the church was erected c. 1380 - 1400.  The N. wall of the nave, however, also retains  the oldest architectural evidence at South Lopham, for a circular double-splayed window in the western end (i.e. splayed inside and out) is almost certainly late Saxon (see the photograph, below left), suggesting the original church here pre-dated the Conquest.  (According to Sir Alfred Clapham, "The 'double-splayed' window forms one of the commonest and most distinctive features of late Anglo-Saxon architecture....  and there is, I believe, hardly an instance in England, outside our period, of a 'double-splay' window in a wall of normal dimensions" - English Romanesque Architecture Vol. 1: Before the Conquest, Oxford University Press, 1930.)  If we propose a date for this and the surrounding masonry, therefore, of c. 1000, then the present N. doorway (above right) is about a century and a half later, and so postdates the tower, for although this is Norman again, it shows a higher level of artistic sophistication with its chevron and saltire mouldings around its two orders, and its neatly-cut cushion capitals above a pair of octagonal side-shafts.  Other windows to the church are Decorated in the aisle S. wall and Perpendicular in the aisle E. wall and the W. wall of the nave, where the window is also transomed.


Going inside the church again, the four-bay arcade to the S. aisle (seen left, from the northwest) comprises arches bearing a hollow and wave, and quatrefoil piers with octagonal abaci and strong fillets to north and south.  A late fourteenth century date would also fit this.  The clerestory, formed of five, two-light windows above the aisle and four, two-light windows on the aisleless N. side (and, externally, surrounded to the south only by flint flushwork with tumbled-in brick around the heads)  is obviously later and most probably contemporary with the false hammerbeam roof constructed in seven bays (illustrated at the foot of the page) - called 'false' because the brace above the hammerbeam springs from the back rather than the front, such that no structural advantage is gained from the hammerbeam’s projection.  Both the hammerbeams and wall plates are decorated along their lengths with a line of small carved quatrefoils and rather larger rosettes at intervals on the coving immediately beneath. 


Finally, the church contains little in the way of furnishings but the font (shown in the thumbnail, right) appears to belong to around the time of the aisle arcade for it consists of a canted octagonal bowl supported on an octagonal stem, decorated alternately with circular and window tracery patterns, displaying a mixture of Decorated and Perpendicular designs.  The wooden cover is probably Jacobean.