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English Church Architecture -



TIBENHAM, All Saints (TM 135 899)     (June 2009)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


Tibenham is a small yet surprisingly long village and the church stands at its northern end.  It is a large structure, encircled, at the time of this visit, by a grass path cut through a wilderness of pernicious, chest-high weeds.  (See the photograph, left, taken from the southeast.) The present building obviously supersedes a Norman one, for a small blocked opening in the nave N. wall is surely of this time and the surrounding flint rubble is tellingly set herring-bone-wise in sharply defined courses.  This apart, however, the church today appears to be essentially late thirteenth century work in the chancel, early fourteenth century work in the nave and aisle (most probably as the result of one continuous but protracted period of construction), and fifteenth century work in the tower, porch and chapel, although the present clerestory windows (which exist only to the south) and two of the aisle windows are now also Perpendicular, albeit that they have been subsequently renewed.  The church consists of a W. tower, nave and chancel, with the addition to the south of a four-bay aisle, a one-bay chapel and a porch. The aisle and chapel are divided externally by a projection housing the former rood stair.  The surviving thirteenth century chancel windows consist of one with Y-tracery to the south, and the renewed E. window, formed of three stepped lancets set beneath an encompassing arch.  The early fourteenth century nave and aisle windows now comprise a very tall one with cinquefoil-cusped Y-tracery and another with tracery formed of intersecting ogees in the N. wall of the nave, and two, two-light windows with curvilinear tracery in the aisle, one each to the south and west (of which the former is shown in the upper thumbnail, right).  The Perpendicular porch (lower thumbnail, right) has two-light square-headed side windows and an outer doorway springing from jambs with an order of narrow attached shafts.  The tower rises in three tall stages supported by diagonal buttresses, from a basal frieze decorated with chequerwork lozenges, to two-light supermullioned bell-openings, flushwork battlements, and corner pinnacles in the unusual form of the symbols of the Evangelists.  (See the thumbnail, left.)  A semi-polygonal projection at the E. end of the S. wall, encloses the tower stair.   The W. wall shows evidence of an earlier doorway which has since been blocked and had a low square-headed window inset.  The “true” W. window above, has supermullioned tracery between strong mullions.


Inside the building, the nave arcade (shown right, from the west) consists of arches bearing an inner wave and an outer hollow, springing from quatrefoil piers with polygonal capitals and spurs between the foils.  The chancel arch is similar but taller, albeit without the spurs to the semi-quatrefoil responds.  The chancel communicates with the chapel through a single four-centred arch formed of two flat-chamfered orders separated by a deep hollow, of which the inner order is supported on shafts with capitals.  Presumably, both this arch and the chapel itself, are coeval with the square-headed aisle and chapel windows, and the present clerestory windows.  Beyond the chapel, in the chancel S. wall, there is first the priest’s door and then a sedilia and piscina.  At the other end of the building, the tower arch is formed of two orders, of which the inner is flat-chamfered and supported on massive semi-octagonal responds. 


Church woodwork includes the galleried family pew above the E. end of the aisle (shown at the foot of the page), which Pevsner (or Bill Wilson) considered to be the church’s principal feature (in the Northwest and South Norfolk volume of The Buildings of England): approached by a stair aligned west from the chapel, this dates from the reign of Charles I and is an interesting piece of curiosa, with turned balusters and supporting columns.  Nevertheless, it is rather overshadowed by the pulpit  as an example of the joiner’s art (see the thumbnail, left), which seems of very similar age.  This has a tall prominently-carved backboard, linking it to a huge tester, with openwork pendants below and obelisks above.   The nave and aisle roofs are probably contemporary with the aisle arcade if the present clerestory windows can be assumed to be replacements of earlier windows and not indicative of the age of the clerestory as a whole. The aisle roof has open tracery in the little spandrels between the rafters and arched braces, and the nave roof (shown in the thumbnail, right, viewed from the west) is of tie-beam construction, with purlins halfway up the pitch. Other woodwork includes the four box pews at the east end of the nave, and another group set transversely against the S. wall of the aisle.   Finally and unmissably, one other feature of the church is the collection of large Victorian inscriptions from the Bible, which shout at the visitor from various positions on the walls.  They were doubtless meant to be edifying but the effect is slightly hysterical.