English Church Architecture -
BEDINGFIELD, St. Mary (TM 180 688) (October 2008)
(Bedrock: Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)
The little villages around Bedingfield are notable for the large number of minor and often now redundant churches they contain. St. Mary’s, Bedingfield is not an especially important building, considered architecturally, but it has a number of features of interest and it is pleasant to find it both open and in use, albeit that on this visit, it did not appear to be in a very good state of maintenance or repair.
The church (shown left, from the southeast) consists of a chancel, a nave with S. porch and balancing cross-gabled Victorian N. vestry, and a tower to the west, and is externally chiefly Decorated and Perpendicular in style. The most important individual feature is the nave S. window (shown below right), to the east of the porch, which is almost an exact copy of the aisle windows at Bildeston, and very similar to the aisle windows at Debenham and Wetheringsett. It is composed of three stepped ogee lights, with supermullioned tracery, split “Y”s, and castellated supertransoms on top of the lights, all set within segmental-pointed arches, whereas the windows at Debenham and Wetheringsett have, in addition, a lower tier of stepped transoms about a third of the way down. (See Appendix 3 for precise definitions of these terms as used here.) The possible significance of this (as explained in more detail under the entry for Wetheringsett) is dependent on whether at Bildeston and Debenham, these windows can be associated with the same phase of building operations as their respective arcades, which the late Birkin Haward attributed to the master mason Hawes of Occold, who appears to have been active around 1420. (Occold is the neighbouring village to Bedingfield, in the northwest direction.) Nothing else here can be firmly connected with this window, however, so that even if this speculation is reasonable, it does not necessarily help with the dating of the rest of the building. Other windows in the nave and chancel are mostly of simpler supermullioned form and either restored or renewed. The S. porch is faced with knapped flint to the south and has an outer doorway bearing a series of wave mouldings.
The W. tower rises in three stages to battlements, with bell-openings that have had their tracery broken away to the north and south, but which retain their reticulation unit above and between the lights to the west. This is presumably Decorated work, and Pevsner was happy to describe the whole tower as Decorated, but is that the case? The lower stage is square and unbuttressed, whereas the two upper stages are slightly recessed and supported by narrow diagonal buttresses at the northeast and southeast angles, decorated with a little flushwork on their leading edges. It seems rather more likely, therefore, that the lower stage is early thirteenth century work, and that the upper stages represent the partial reconstruction or completion of the original structure about a hundred years later.
Inside the porch, three very worn tie beams support king posts from which transverse braces rise to the ridge. The inner doorway has a complex Perpendicular profile formed of wave mouldings and deep hollows and there is a niche high up in the right hand spandrel. Inside the nave, the arch to the tower supports the hypothesis that the lower stage may be early thirteenth century in date, for it is simply a very plain arch cut through a very thick wall, entirely without responds and with just two flat chamfers that continue all the way round without intervening capitals. The chancel arch carries a series of wave mouldings above semi-octagonal shafts. The nave roof (shown left, from the west) is of double-hammerbeam construction, with the upper tier of hammerbeams arched to collars and now, alas, with all the figures sawn off. However, the benches are possibly more interesting although they are curiously reconstructed using a combination of Jacobean bench ends towards the central aisle and very worn mediaeval bench ends towards the N. and S. walls. One bench on the N. side of the nave carries the name “B. Bond”, which is probably more likely to have been the name of a former church warden than it is of the carpenter.