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SOUTH LOPHAM, St. Andrew  (TM 039 818),

NORFOLK. 

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk.)

 

An axial church with an exceptional Norman tower.

 

This is an axial church whose principal feature is its massive Norman tower, rising in five unequal stages, supported by diminishing clasping buttresses and decorated on stages two to four with unmoulded, round-headed blank arches, 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 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 flushwork battlements are clearly a Perpendicular addition and the flat-chamfered, round-headed doorway with a missing order of side-shafts, set off-centre in the S. wall, is probably fifty years younger than the main structure and the product of the mid to late twelfth century.

 

 

Internally the tower is supported on massive Norman arches to the 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, of which the latter 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 all differ?  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 among others.  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 probably dateable by the work at Stowlangtoft, where the church was erected c. 1380 - 1400.  The nave N. wall, 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 Before the Conquest, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1930, p. 113).  If we propose a date for this and the surrounding masonry, therefore, of c. 1000, then the blocked 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.

 

Entering the church once again, the four-bay arcade to the S. aisle (seen left, from the northwest) is formed of arches bearing a hollow chamfer and a wave, and quatrefoil piers with octagonal abaci and fillets to the north and south.  A late fourteenth century date would 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) - denoted '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 there are larger rosettes at intervals on the coving beneath. 

 

Finally, the church contains little in the way of furnishings but the font (shown 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.