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English Church Architecture -



BARROW, All Saints (TL 760 647)     (August 2005)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


The church (shown left, from the southeast) consists of a W. tower, nave, chancel, S. aisle and S. porch and, as is usual in this area, is constructed of septaria, flint and other fieldstones, with limestone dressings.  Unfortunately it was heavily restored in the 1840s and '50s so it is difficult now to know what to trust, but a lot of its features clearly are old, of which the earliest is the little Norman window in the nave N. wall, with the outlines of wall paintings on its internal splays, and the next are probably the Early English lancet in the S. aisle W. wall and the group of three restored lancets set in a partly reconstructed larger arch that comprises the chancel E. window.  The attractive windows with plate tracery in the north and south walls of the chancel are probably not reliable, for they are suspiciously consistent and this was also the part of the building most extensively renewed.  The S. aisle E. window displays reticulated drop tracery (sic) beneath a segmental-pointed arch - an odd combination which raises questions about its provenance, although the work is certainly mediaeval.  As for the S. aisle S. windows with geometric tracery, D.P. Mortlock at least was happy with them, describing them as "early fourteenth century" (The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches, pub. Letterworth Press, 1988), while Pevsner kept his own counsel.  Besides the Norman window, the nave N. wall has three, three-light windows with supermullioned drop tracery and supertransoms, which are unarguably Perpendicular.  What is needed to resolve the uncertainties elsewhere is a set of drawings of the church made in the eighteenth century, for the condition of the masonry is not a sufficient guide to the dating of the windows given that old stonework was regularly re-used or refashioned during restoration work, in Victorian times as now.  The tower is embattled but unbuttressed and undivided into stages.  This too has been altered and restored (see, for example, the little inserted, nineteenth century W. doorway), but that it is thirteenth century in its basic fabric is shown by the remains of a blocked lancet low down in the S. wall and another high up in the E. wall, now cut by the nave gable.


Internally the evidence for the original building includes the blocked tower arch (a smaller but still mediaeval doorway has been set within it), with keeled rolls around and rectangular jambs with chamfered edges, and the presumably later, four-bay S. arcade, composed of double-flat-chamfered arches and octagonal piers with capitals of Decorated profile.  That these piers are now so short is due to the floor having been raised some eighteen inches (45 cm.) to reduce rising damp, by building up the level with chalk rubble.  This must prove the double piscina in the chancel S. wall is of pre-restoration date and presumably, therefore, original (i.e. Early English), for why would it otherwise now be almost at floor height?  It is probably contemporary with the two-bay plate-traceried piscina in the E. wall of the S. aisle, discovered during restoration.


The best woodwork in the church is the choir stalls, which have skilfully carved poppyheads in the form of grotesques looking in two, and (as in the case of the example illustrated left) sometimes four directions.  The narrow-stemmed font (shown right) with octagonal bowl, is known to have been presented by the Dispencer family, Lords of the Manor, in 1401, but is not particularly special.  Finally there are a number of monuments on the chancel walls, of which the most important is the canopied tomb chest against the N. wall, commemorating  Sir Clement Higham, who died in 1570.  Yet this gives rise to a further uncertainty for Pevsner considered that the monument itself "with its complete lack of Renaissance detail, cannot be so late".  Perhaps this also, then, has been re-used - Pevsner thought from c.1500.