(« back to home page)

English Church Architecture -



BARKING, St. Mary (TM 076 536)     (June 2008)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)



Few churches in Suffolk feel more secluded in mid-summer than this one (shown above, from the northeast), hemmed in by tall trees and situated up a long tree-lined drive with just the neighbouring old rectory for company, a hundred yards away to the north.  It is, nevertheless, a large church, for which the explanation is that until 1901 it was the mother church of Needham Market, a mile to the northeast, and it has many features of interest, both outside and in.


In plan, St. Mary’s consists of a chancel with a two-storeyed N. vestry of fortress-like appearance, an aisled nave with a S. porch, and a W. tower with polygonal clasping buttresses, which was reconstructed, at least in part, in 1870.  The N. aisle is lit by three, three-light supermullioned N. windows and a similar window to the west which are probably no earlier than the mid fifteenth century. However, the westernmost N. window has mullions formed of moulded terracotta (illustrated left), which Pevsner identified (from the use of the same moulds) with the craftsmen who worked at Old Shrubland Hall, between Barham and Coddenham, and at Layer Marney, Essex, where the work was commissioned by Lord Henry Marney, most probably only just before his death in 1523.  The tower rises in three stages, with a stair turret in the northeast angle between it and the N. aisle, and the W. door retains a little tracery arranged in vertical panels.  However, the S. door (inside the porch) is better and features elaborate tracery and St. Mary's monogram.  The S. porch is largely Early English in style and has windows with Y-tracery, and yet the S. aisle is Decorated and the porch outer doorway has a sunk quadrant moulding, firm dates for the employment of which in East Anglia seem hard to come by before c.1345 (see Appendix 2).  Perhaps the solution is that porch represents conservative work by an elderly mason at a relatively late date, therefore, but this is merely to speculate.  The S. aisle itself has a cinquefoil-cusped Y-traceried W. window, suggestive of c. 1300, but the two-light S. windows are Perpendicular, with supermullioned drop tracery beneath segmental-pointed arches, and the E. window has been blocked.  The chancel windows are largely renewed but the E. window here is four-light with cinquefoil-cusped intersecting tracery.  There are no surviving N. windows in the chancel but the vestry is lit by two single-light, trefoil-cusped N. windows, placed one above the other.


The interior of the church is large and appears all the more so thanks to the clear glass in the windows which ensure it is light and airy.  The five-bay nave arcades are original and instructive, with the S. arcade (shown right) employing wide hollow chamfers around the arches, surely the most typical of all Decorated mouldings, and piers of octagonal section with characteristically prominent capitals.  The N. arcade (below left), by comparison, has double-flat-chamfered arches springing from octagonal piers with capitals with a subtly more restrained profile, suggesting these arches are largely contemporary with the Perpendicular N. aisle windows, although not necessarily with the very late terracotta mullions of the westernmost N. window discussed above.  The clerestory consists of five pairs of two-light windows set in the arcade spandrels, with the easternmost pair placed immediately west of the chancel arch, to throw light on the rood.


The rood screen is probably fifteenth century in date and is topped by the ribbing which is all that remains of the erstwhile loft.  It is composed of two bays on each side of the opening, with double-cusped blank arches decorating the dado, and triple-cusped lights and an elaborate form of alternate tracery above. (See the central section, illustrated below right.)  There are also attractive parclose screens enclosing the chapels at the east ends of the aisles, of which that to the north was damaged by fire in a recent act of vandalism, although this is the side that retains a little paint.  Both parclose screens are composed of the usual two sections, the one facing the nave and the other crossing the aisle at right angles.  Of other wooden furnishings in the church, there are a couple of mediaeval choir benches with very worn poppyheads in the chancel, now enclosed within a large and low box pew.  The pulpit is Georgian and the communion rail, Jacobean, while neatly coming between the two of these in age is the Royal Arms of King Charles II, hanging on the nave S. wall, immediately west of the chancel arch. 


The relatively low-pitched nave roof, framed in five cants, is another in this immediate area with octagonal king posts, rising here from tie beams supported by arched braces with solid spandrels, and themselves reaching up to provide footings for the four-bay struts to the collars and collar purlin.  The wall plates appear from the ground to be moulded and the wall posts rise from poor little angel corbels which are curiously out of scale.


Finally, the bowl of the large octagonal font displays carved angels holding shields on the cardinal faces and the symbols of the Evangelists on the diagonal faces between.  The stem is supported by woodwoses (or “green men”) on the cardinal sides and lions on the diagonals, and the font is surmounted by an excellent openwork font cover which rises in six tiers.