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English Church Architecture.


ALDHAM, St. Mary  (TM 041 444),


(Bedrock:  Neogene, Red Crag Formation.)


One of 181 churches in England with round towers, of which all but five are in Cambridgeshire (with 2), Essex (with 6), Norfolk (with 126) or Suffolk (with 42).













Round church towers were almost invariably assumed by Pevsner to have a Saxon or Norman origin.  That is not necessarily the case, and the form is a function of geology rather than age, for the lack of the ready availability of good building stone to serve as quoins made this a cheap design option by avoiding the expense in the pre-railway age of bringing, usually by horse and cart or at best along the rivers by boat, heavy, bulk materials from afar.  The definitive book on this subject is, and is long likely to remain, the late Stephen Hart's The Round Church Towers of England  (Ipswich, Lucas Books, 2003), to which the notes on these buildings are inevitably, to a greater or lesser degree, indebted.


This heavily-restored but picturesque little church, situated in attractive hillocky countryside less than a mile and a half from the market town of Hadleigh, consists, beside the W. tower, of a chancel with a N. vestry and a nave with a S. porch.  The three unequal stages of the tower were considered by Hart to derive from three different periods, with even the lowest post-dating the Early English (thirteenth century) nave, as demonstrated by the brick tower arch constructed within the pre-existing nave wall and the contemporary brick lining to the lower stage, which Hart ascribed to the fourteenth or fifteenth century (Hart, p. 59), whereas the thicker bricks lining the windows and putlog holes of the second stage are commensurate with a seventeenth or eighteenth century date and the quality of the upper (bell) stage work appears to indicate that this a Victorian reconstruction.   Hart's dating, however, is questionable here, for the tower arch is constructed of yellow gault brick, the earliest known use of which appears to be 1815, as indicated on William Smith's geological map of that year, in which he labels the strata above the Lower Greensand as 'Golt Brick Earth' (Ron Firman, 'Gault: a Geologist's Cautionary Tale of Words as a Barrier to Understanding', Information Sheet 74, British Brick Society June 1998).  The present writer did not examine the bricks of the tower lining but cerainly it appears the tower arch must be eliminated as evidence. 


The majority of the nave and chancel windows have Y-tracery which, if it is to be trusted, suggests the late thirteenth century.   Two on the north side are cusped, which might push the date forward to around 1300, and a third has reticulated tracery, characteristic of the early fourteenth century.  The easternmost S. window in the chancel, with supermullioned tracery, is obviously a fifteenth century insertion.  The chancel E. window is modern, as also, presumably are the pair of niches on either side, internally, with crocketed ogee arches and brattishing above (pictured, in the case of the northern pair, below left).  The Perpendicular S. window, mentioned immediately above, has a lowered sill to act as a sedilia, and there is a piscina immediately beyond, tucked in beneath the window splay (as may also be seen in the photograph).

















Finally, the large square font with engaged octagonal corner shafts (above right), standing on five circular supports, the outer four with moulded bases and capitals, is another feature that defies reliable dating.  A little mediaeval carpentry certainly survives, however, in the form of a couple of bench ends to the north, including one carved with a bear, and a few re-set poppyheads to the west.  The communion rail with turned balusters is probably Stuart. 


[Other churches with round towers featured on this web-site are Bartlow and Snailwell in Cambridgeshire, Quidenham, Roydon, Rushall, Shimpling and Thorpe Abbotts in Norfolk, and Brome, Hengrave, Higham, Little Bradley, Little Saxham, Rickinghall Inferior, Risby, Stuston, Theberton, Wissett and Wortham in Suffolk.]