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English Church Architecture -



BARNINGHAM, St. Andrew (TL 967 769)     (July 2007)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


This church, consisting of a chancel, a nave with an adjoining S. porch, and a W. tower, is of modest interest externally, but there is rather more to see inside, largely due to the wooden furniture, of which the benches are paramount.


To examine the masonry first, the Decorated chancel appears the oldest part of the building:  its two, two-light S. windows have large elongated reticulation units in their heads, and its three-light E. window displays curvilinear tracery formed of outer lights subarcuated above daggers and pairs of small mouchettes, and above and between these, two large mouchettes squashed in around a quatrefoil set within a cusped circle.  At the other end of the church, the tower, rising in three stages to two-light reticulated bell-openings and stepped battlements, might be judged contemporary on stylistic grounds, but Pevsner recorded that a  Mr. A.R. Allen had “found wills of 1439 and 1440 which leave money to the fabric of the tower, the latter specifying that it is new (‘ad fabric’ nov’ campanil’ ibid’...’)”.  This conflict appears to have been resolved by W. M. Lingwood, author of the church guide (printed 1990), who was able to examine the bell-openings closely while scaffolding was in place around the tower and who discovered they were grooved for glazing, which - since bell-openings are never glazed - appears to show that they have been re-used.  If so, their obvious place of origin must surely be the nave, whose present Perpendicular windows would certainly fit a mid-fifteenth century date:  also two-light, these have supermullioned drop tracery with a tier of small quatrefoils at the top, beneath triangular arches.  It seems more likely they were inserted into pre-existing walls, than that the nave was reconstructed in its entirety at this time, and perhaps a small piece of corroborating evidence is the slightly ogee-pointed dripstone above the blocked N. doorway, which is more in keeping with the early fourteenth century than the fifteenth. The S. porch has two-light side windows with central mullions that terminate in castellated supertransoms halfway up the drop tracery.  The outer doorway carries two wave mouldings, of which the inner springs from semicircular shafts.


Almost any visitor to St. Andrew’s, Barningham, however, will find more of interest in its furniture than its masonry.  The rood screen(shown left), which Pevsner rightly described as “very good”, is formed of five one-light bays, with double-cusped ogee-pointed lights, alternate tracery in two tiers, and two tiers of brattishing on the cornice and top rail.  The double gates beneath the central bay are a seventeenth century addition with carved transverse panels halfway up and a row of turned balusters above, which support the top rail.  However, the nave benches are arguably still better and form another set like those to be seen at Norton, Stowlangtoft, Tostock and Woolpit.  They are clearly all by the same firm, as shown particularly by the characteristic bench ends (shown in the left hand photograph at the foot of the page), although there is no evidence at any of these places enabling them to be close-dated (albeit that Stowlangtoft church itself dates from c. 1380-90).  There are, however, subtle differences in the carved arm rests at Barningham compared with the majority elsewhere, for while many here still take the form of figures from the bestiary, there are rather fewer dogs and rather more that are ironically - even cruelly - humorous, such as a cripple with webbed feet (a symbol of his disability) (S. side) (shown below centre) and a priest parodied as a pig in a pulpit (N. side) (shown below right).  W. M. Lingwood  believed the communion table and carved chairs in the sanctuary were probably “donated by the wealthy Puritan, Maurice Barrow, who lived in Barningham  from 1628 until his death in 1666”.  The pulpit with tester appears to be a composite piece formed of sections of different provenances and dates, perhaps of both the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Finally, one striking internal feature not in wood, is the high flight of steps cut into the sill of the easternmost nave S. window (illustrated right), which once led to the rood loft. There are ten of these in all, beginning 2˝ feet (75 cm.) from the floor, and presumably once met below by a short flight of wooden steps.  A  cinquefoil-cusped piscina is recessed in the wall beneath.