English Church Architecture -
BRAMFORD, St. Mary (TM 127 463) (July 2012)
(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)
Birkin Haward made no mention of this church (seen above, from the north) in his otherwise excellent monograph, Master Mason Hawes of Occold, Suffolk (pub. The Suffolk Institute of Archaeology & History, 2000), yet the three-light aisle and clerestory windows with strong mullions and stepped castellated transoms beneath segmental-pointed arches, are identical to those he attributed to Hawes of Occold at Bildeston, Combes, Otley and elsewhere. Hawes's career appears to have spanned the three decades c. 1410-40 and it seems as safe as can be to assume that this is his work also. (See the photograph of the N. aisle window, above left.) This is also supported within by the hammerbeam roofs to the nave and chancel, with their moulded ridge beams, moulded purlins at the ⅓ and ⅔ positions, carved wall plates, and arched braces supporting collars. (The nave roof is illustrated, right.) These are very similar to the roofs at Bildeston and Wickham Skeith among other places where Haward believed Hawes had worked, although Hawes was unlikely to have been responsible for the carpentry himself but probably had a long-standing arrangement with a master joiner with whom he habitually collaborated - possibly John Hore of Diss, for whom a contract with the Abbot of Bury is dated 1434 (English Mediaeval Architects by John Harvey, pub. Alan Sutton, 1984).
The earliest surviving work at Bramford is probably to be found in the chancel, which is short but exceptionally tall and seemingly dated by the two-light, late thirteenth century window in the eastern end of the S. wall, formed of two lancets set within an encompassing arch, with a diamond light above. The triple sedilia recessed in the inside of the same wall, with a single flat chamfer around its three bays, two at one level and the third (the easternmost) at a higher level, is quite clearly contemporary, while further to the west, the two-light windows opposite each other with tracery formed from the intersection of an ogee with an inverted ogee, are, equally obviously, Decorated insertions (the N. window, obscured by the bush in the upper photograph, is shown left); the latter have rere-arches with a series of wave mouldings around the heads, above an order of circular shafts with moulded bases. The nave arcades were assigned by Pevsner to the early fourteenth century, which is probably sufficiently vague to cover the necessary range of possibilities: composed of double-flat-chamfered arches springing from octagonal piers, they would also accord with the previous century but for the form of their very prominent capitals, although there is evidence that at least one of these - the central one to the south - has subsequently been remodelled. (The church interior is shown at the foot of the page, viewed from the west, and a close-up of the central pier to the north is illustrated on the right.) The one certainty is that they were erected before the tower, for the four original bays have been truncated by the tower's internal buttressing, leaving, as it appears, approximately 3.6. (Curiously, D.P. Mortlock draws the contrary conclusion in his Guide to Suffolk Churches, but presumably, this is a straightforward mistake.) The narrow semi-octagonal E. responds to the arcades only support the inner order of the arches, leaving the outer order to die into the wall.
The tower is late.., perhaps very late..., Decorated work, and the britishlistedbuildings web-site's suggestion of c.1370 may not be far from the mark. It is a massive structure with a chequerwork basal frieze, angle buttresses, an irregular semi-polygonal projection at the east end of the N. wall rising to the bell-stage and housing the stair, battlements, and a "slender timbered-framed and lead-covered spire which is thought was added in the eighteenth century" (church guide). Only the bell-stage is demarcated by a string course and the renewed bell-openings have flowing tracery formed of a quatrefoil on a stem, above two mouchettes, resembling a child's drawing of a flower standing above two leaves. Inside, the exceptionally tall tower arch has a complex profile more Perpendicular in form than Decorated, and high up on the W. side of the arch there are very large corbel heads that may once have supported an upper floor. The rather crudely constructed S. porch of uncertain date, now serving as a kitchen, has side windows formed of two lancets set within round-headed arches and an outer doorway bearing two flat chamfers dying into a single flat chamfer below the springing.
The late fourteenth century N. porch (seen left, from the northwest) may have been added at the same time as the figure and animal pinnacles to the nave and N. aisle, perhaps around 1468, when a bequest was left for work "to the body of the church" (church guide). It shares with the N. aisle an attractively designed, carved parapet, which was also recreated when the cross-gabled N. vestry was constructed in 1896 (Pevsner). It seems virtually certain that before this porch was built, the principle entrance to the church had been from the south, for the N. doorway (inside the porch) is modest and off-centre, and clearly not designed to be part of a grand entrance. The diagonal buttresses at the corners of the N. porch and aisle are decorated on their leading edges with little blank arches on the base, crocketed Y-traceried ogee arches beneath the first set-off, and canopied niches with a vaulted canopies below the second. The porch E. window, formed of two large trefoil-cusped lights with a rounded triangle above, appears to have been brought from elsewhere and re-set in this position, though Pevsner drew the conclusion that it is in its original place and the porch was subsequently reconstructed around it. That seems unlikely to me in view of the off-centre inner doorway. The elaborate outer doorway is formed of an arch bearing two continuous waves, with a surrounding label rising from two lion hood-moulds, blank shields in the spandrels, and a canopied niche above containing a modern statue of the Virgin and Child.
The church's most impressive internal feature is the three-bay stone screen (shown right, from the nave) filling the space beneath the chancel arch. The outer arches carry wave mouldings above two orders of shaft rising from a plain stone dado with a moulded stone rail and the central arch is double-flat-chamfered with an inner chamfer that continues uninterrupted all the way round. This is thirteenth century work but the two large encircled quatrefoils piercing the spandrels and the castellated stone rail on the top are probably Victorian "improvements", most probably by the designer of the chancel arch above - Ewan Christian (1814-95), "none of [whose] churches rise above mediocrity" (Basil F.L. Clarke, writing in Church Builders of the Nineteenth Century, pub. SPCK, 1938).
The pulpit and the massive font cover are examples of Tudor carpentry. The former is octagonal and decorated with linenfold panelling, but the latter is more striking in consequence of its size. Decorated with tabernacle work on the sides and topped by a crocketed ogee-pointed dome with a finial, it dwarfs the octagonal font beneath, which is carved with angels holding shields on the ordinal faces of the bowl and shields in pointed sexfoils on the cardinal faces.