( back to home page)

English Church Architecture.


WALSOKEN, All Saints  (TF 477 105),


(Bedrock:  Upper Jurassic, Ampthill Clay Formation.)


A magnificent church with a fine Early English tower

and an even more impressive late-Norman interior.




This important church (seen above left from the southeast), now in the suburbs of Wisbech, consists of a chancel with two-bay chapels and a two-storeyed mediaeval southeast vestry or sacristy, an aisled nave with a S. porch. and a W. tower topped by a short spire lit by a single tier of lucarnes.  It  is notable chiefly for the work of two periods, namely its late Norman interior and its Early English tower.  The tower rises in four stages supported by polygonal clasping buttresses and is rendered particularly striking by three tiers of blank arcading that run all the way round it.  The lower two are divided, bay from bay, by colonnettes, but differ otherwise in that the bottom tier has slender, lancet-pointed arch-heads, and the second has chunkier, trefoil-cusped ones, suggesting the work was carried out approaching 1300.  The two westernmost arches of the second tier are pierced and glazed to serve as the tower W. window, and the W. doorway beneath is round-arched and provided with three orders of colonnettes with stiff leaf capitals.  The third tier of blank arcading around the (third stage of the) tower is merely incised in the masonry, but here it is interesting to note that a fossilized gable line of a former nave roof cuts through them on the E. wall, which must indicate the nave roof has been raised and lowered again, for the blank arches were clearly part of the tower's original decoration and the gable line must have originated later, when, for a time, the nave had a more steeply-pitched roof.  The nave clerestory is formed of three-light windows with strong mullions and supermullioned tracery and is probably contemporary with the lowering of the roof again.  Other windows in the building are a veritable assortment but chiefly Perpendicular and variously uncusped, untraceried, square-headed or over-large, as exemplified by the W. window in the S. aisle, where the apex almost reaches the roof-line (as seen in the photograph above right).  Only the tower and nave are embattled and the latter has small crocketed pinnacles punctuating the bays.  A small bell-cote sits above the nave E. gable.





The real glory of the church, however, lies inside.  The nave arcades (shown above left in the interior view taken from the west) consist of seven bays, and the chancel chapels, a further two, in uniform style composed of round arches of two orders decorated with chevron set horizontally on the outer order and vertically beneath the soffits of the inner order, springing from alternately round and octagonal piers with scalloped capitals except in the case of the E. responds, which have display waterleaf.  The chancel arch clearly belongs to the same construction phase but is pointed.  Could that and the waterleaf capitals suggest the nave was constructed from west to east (in the reverse of the more usual practice), to arrive at the chancel arch c. 1180 - 1200?  The chancel arch exhibits chevron moulding in three dimensions and a couple of elaborate variations on the theme.  (See the photograph above right.) The chancel itself may once have ended in an apse:  the present square-ended sanctuary appears to be a modification for there are blocked windows above the chapel arcades, showing the chapels to have been heightened, and a single pair of taller blocked windows beyond, suggesting an apse began immediately afterwards.  Returning to the chancel arch, the S. respond is decorated with three orders of side-shafts set in eight integral  shaft-rings and the N. respond was presumably once similar before it was cut away to make way for a large niche.  However, there is also more variety to be seen in the nave arcades, for close inspection reveals that all the scalloped capitals differ from one another and the arcades as a whole thereby serve as a wonderful illustration of what could be achieved with a simple basic design.  (The photographs below illustrate some of the more significant variations.)  The tower arch is lancet-pointed and carries a series of rolls above responds formed of a wide pair of keeled shafts with narrow, secondary pairs attached to the east and west, all with stiff leaf capitals.




Finally, the account of the church's furnishings and carpentry can be brief but must begin with the excellent font (shown below from two directions), which is dated to 1544 and one of a number in East Anglia to depict the Seven Sacraments on the faces of the bowl, with the Crucifixion on the remaining eighth side.  The woodwork does not amount to much for the nave has an uncomplicated couple roof supported by arched braces and the aisles have simple lean-to roofs although they are not identical and the N. aisle roof may be older.  However there is a reasonably good parclose screen between the S. aisle and S. chapel and a rather more basic one in the corresponding position to the north, and there are also four disfigured bench ends on either side at the E. end of the nave, adjacent to the central passageway, which once displayed carved figures, since decapitated, inside recesses.