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English Church Architecture -



BADLEY, St. Mary (TM 062 559)     (July 2008)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


This building (shown left, from the southeast), barely two miles from the centre of Stowmarket, is one of the lost churches of Suffolk, stranded in open countryside far from any road.  It can only be approached by car - insofar as it can be approached by car at all - down a mile-long unmade track that leads east from the summit of Badley Hill on the B1113 Stowmarket to Needham Market road, and once the turning has been found, and the mile of track negotiated, it is no surprise to find that this is another building in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, or even that its principal architectural interest lies in its state of unrestoredness, to coin a term, which proves to be especially noticeable inside, where the arrangement of the untreated wooden furnishings seems to be exactly as the eighteenth or early nineteenth century left it. The nave is filled with benches set out in the usual transverse manner to a point about two-thirds of the way down its length, after which there follows, first, a two-decker pulpit to the south and a group of benches set longitudinally to the north, and then, further east, an assortment of box pews that fill most of the chancel. The nave roof is ceiled but of king-post type, with exposed octagonal king-posts that rise from tie beams supported by arched braces.


However, all this is to ignore the building itself, constructed of flint and pebble rubble, now largely rendered, with tiled roofs, and consisting of a nave and chancel  without structural division except for a slight change in roof level, a W. tower and a S. porch. The earliest evidence is of thirteenth century date, as shown, in particular, by the porch inner doorway (illustrated right), with its single flat-chamfered order running all the way round, interrupted only by little abaci.  There is no chancel arch but the tower arch springs from corbels and bears one flat and one hollow chamfer, suggesting this may be early fourteenth century work. The tower is unbuttressed and gives the appearance of having been constructed inside the nave, for the nave walls enclose it to the north and south, and the tower rises up, as it were, through the middle of the nave roof.  It is lit to the west by a large five-light supermullioned window, which is clearly an insertion, with subarcuation of the outer lights in pairs, and a central light given emphasis by strong mullions at either side, and two tiers of subreticulation units above, separated by a castellated supertransom. The bell-stage is an English-bonded (and, perhaps, early seventeenth century?) brick addition with two-light openings.  The chancel has a three-light square-headed window to the south, a three-light window with alternate tracery to the east, and a three-light supermullioned window to the north, and there is also a blocked N. lancet.  A blocked arch further east in the S. wall was probably once another window, while between it and the extant window, a sarcophagus on the exterior wall (shown left) displays a pediment above and an achievement in the centre.  The nave is lit by a square-headed window and a segmental-pointed window to the south, both three-light and, in the second case, with supermullioned tracery.  The narrow porch is half-timbered with a collar-braced roof, which is tiled above. 

This then, is not great architecture, but it is atmospheric, and in its isolated and lonely position, so near and yet so far from the bustle of the town, it is one of the county’s most enigmatic churches.