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English Church Architecture.

 

BADWELL ASH, St. Mary  (TL 989 680),

SUFFOLK. 

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk.)

 

One of several churches in Mid Suffolk and South Norfolk with related towers

notable for their similar decoration with flint flushwork devices.

 

Flint flushwork - the combination of knapped flint and pale stone to create a decorative wall facing - is an East Anglian building tradition that was firmly established by the late fourteenth century.  More often than not, the decoration is confined to repeating patterns such as chequerwork or rows of blank arches, but in some places it is more elaborate and might include, for example, the names of the donors or their armorial bearings.  One particular set of exemplars is to be found in a handful of churches in Mid Suffolk and South Norfolk with related towers whose construction may have been directed by the same master mason, which feature flint flushwork devices representing saints and specific dates in the Christian year.  A few of these are brought together on this web-site, for close comparison.  Readers looking for a more detailed examination of this subject should refer to Margaret Talbot's Mediaeval Flushwork of East Anglia and Its Symbolism, Cromer, Poppyland, 2004.   

 

It is therefore the tower of this church that is most interesting and one of a family provided with a full description under the entry for Elmswell, which will not be repeated here.  The differences between this and the Elmswell tower are just three in number, namely:  (i) the bell-openings, which are simple and two-light here but four-light with flushwork panelling at Elmswell; (ii) the buttress set-offs, of which there are six here and seven at Elmswell;  and (iii), the tower arch, which has a wide hollow on the second order and a sunk quadrant on the third at Badwell Ash, compared with hollows on both orders at Elmswell.  Conversely, however, both towers have a remarkable display of flint flushwork devices around their basal friezes and down the leading edge of the buttresses, and the W. doorways of both have the tumbled-in brick and flint patterning round the arch heads so often met with locally, a fashion that is certainly mediaeval in origin but which was also been much spread around in East Anglia in nineteenth century restoration work.

 

This patterning is repeated around the window heads of the S. porch (illustrated right), which shares the design of its basal frieze with the tower and is possibly by the same mason.  Above the frieze, the S. front displays narrow flushwork arches in four tiers, and there is a fifth tier on the stepped battlements and more flushwork arches on the inner and leading edges of the diagonal buttresses. The outer doorway has a complex series of mouldings and two orders of shafts at the sides, beneath a square surround with St. George and the Dragon carved (badly) in the spandrels.  The windows have Perpendicular drop tracery and are set in side walls faced with knapped flint.  

 

The S. aisle windows are two- and three-light, with partly renewed drop tracery.  Two of these - the E. window (seen left) and the easternmost S. window - have little subarcuations linking the lights, similar to the church windows at Stowlangtoft where they are dated to the closing years of the fourteenth century.  The nave N. windows are probably also of this date (there is no N. aisle), as shown by the straightened reticulation units in their heads - generally a sign in East Anglia of the second half of the fourteenth century, while the two tall chancel S. windows with cruciform lobing set vertically (illustrated below right) appear to be Decorated (but see also the discussion of this motif under the entry for Stansfield).

 

Certainly the four-bay S. arcade and chancel arch appear to be early fourteenth century work, with their arches formed of one flat- and one hollow-chamfered order, springing from octagonal piers and semi-octagonal responds with large capitals of characteristic profile.  The only other internal features of the church requiring mention are the font and nave roof.  The former has cinquefoil-cusped arches on the faces of the octagonal bowl, a castellated rim, figures of saints supporting it, and shields between buttresses on the stem.  The nave roof alternates tie beams with single hammerbeams bearing massive carved angels, and has wall posts decorated with figures standing on castellated corbels.

 

[Other related churches to consult on this web-site include Elmswell, Gipping, Grundisburgh and Ixworth  in this county, and Fincham and Garboldisham in Norfolk.]