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English Church Architecture -



ALPHETON, St. Peter & St. Paul (TL 873 505)       (October 2001)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)


The church stands over half a mile down a no-through-road off the A134, in a quiet spot next to a farm.  It is a small building consisting of a diagonally buttressed and embattled W. tower, a nave, a chancel and a half-timbered S. porch.  The nave and chancel are rendered although the chancel has an exposed flint chequerwork basal frieze.  The tower is constructed of flint and pebble rubble with limestone dressings, and has flint flushwork decorating the battlements.  Windows are everywhere Perpendicular and mostly also renewed although those to the north are original.  However, the priest's doorway in the chancel S. wall and the S. doorway to the nave (inside the porch) are more striking:  the former has an order of bowtells and bands of fleurons in shallow hollows to either side, together with more on the dripstone, while the latter has a wider range of flower and leaf motifs carved on the dripstone and on the inner faces of two orders of hollow chamfers running round the arch and down the jambs.  This is an unusual form of decoration difficult to date closely on stylistic grounds alone but perhaps influenced here by the S. doorway of Holy Trinity church, Long Melford, barely 2 miles to the south, where the aisled nave and chancel may be dated by inscriptions to c. 1480.  Nevertheless, rather surprisingly, so far as this feature is concerned, the work at Alpheton is actually the more elaborate, which raises the possibility at least that the influence might have passed in the opposite direction.


Inside the building, the tower arch is composed of three flat-chamfered orders and the chancel arch, of two hollow-chamfered orders.  The chancel arch capitals have been mutilated where a rood loft was once attached.  This loft and its supporting screen have now entirely vanished but the rood stair may still be seen in the northeast nave angle, while to its right, a squint looks through the nave E. wall of the nave to furnish a view of the altar.  (See the photograph, below left.)  Above this, there is a niche that must once have held a statue, and another can be seen at a lower level on the S. side of the chancel arch, to the left of a piscina recessed in the wall.  A second piscina, this time with a decorative square surround and an ogee-headed crocketed arch, is recessed in the S. wall of the chancel, where it forms a single composition with the curious sedilia, the two eastern seats of which are provided by the low sill of the easternmost S. window but in which the western seat (shown below centre)  is elaborately set in its own crocketed ogee arch, again in a square surround but now with buttresses at the sides and a figure, presumably of Christ, inexpertly carved at the apex.


Finally there remain two items of woodwork to mention.  The octagonal pulpit is Jacobean and while the type is common enough, the wooden stand supporting it is less usual.  The nave roof (shown below right) is scissor-braced and although it is difficult to know how much of it is old, its functional, rustic construction is undoubtedly attractive.