English Church Architecture -
BRENT ELEIGH, St. Mary (TL 942 483) (October 2001)
(Bedrock: Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)
The church (seen above, from the southeast) consists of a short W. tower rising in two stages, a nave with S. aisle and S. porch, and a chancel. That much of the building is Decorated is shown by the aisle windows with reticulated tracery and by a N. window to the nave with trefoil-cusped lights and cruciform lobing set vertically. Perhaps the arcade, of double-flat-chamfered arches springing from heavy octagonal piers, still has more of the thirteenth century about it, but the tower and chancel arches belong to the fourteenth, the former with hollow chamfers on the inner two of its three orders and the latter with two quadrant mouldings on the inner order. The tower itself is diagonally buttressed and has cinquefoil-cusped, Y-traceried bell-openings. The S. porch has two-light, square-headed side windows with uncusped ogee-headed lights and an outer doorway bearing two flat chamfers. The tower W. window, two nave N. windows and two chancel S. windows, are Perpendicular insertions. The chancel E. window is Victorian and was constructed in 1857 when a library of c. 1700 that previously abutted this end of the church, was demolished.
Much more significant than any of the masonry though, is the church woodwork, beginning with the fine S. door (shown left) with superimposed eight-light reticulated tracery, making it a rare example of a door of unambiguously early fourteenth century date. The church interior is distinguished especially by the box pews, with which the nave and aisle east of the S. door are fully furnished. Mainly eighteenth century work with plain rectangular panels, they nevertheless include a few on the N. side (at the E. end) of Jacobean date, as shown by their rectangular rather than moulded muntins, and their decorative carving. The E. end of the S. aisle is divided off to the west and north by parclose screens, with trefoil-cusped lights and open trefoils and quatrefoils above, the lights separated by shafts that are round but not turned. These could be contemporary with the S. doorway. The Jacobean pulpit (shown right) is a simpler version of that at Little Waldingfield, being also carried on a tall circular stem and having a wide cornice decorated beneath with leaf scrolls. One of these pulpits has definitely influenced the other if, indeed, they are not by the same carpenter. Also Jacobean and quite unusual is the little font cover (see the thumbnal, right), shaped like a tower lantern, with turned supports. This is at once both homely and attractive. The font below is less distinguished but it is clearly a thirteenth century piece, suggesting an early date for the S. arcade cannot be ruled out.
Around the E. window are fragments of mostly fourteenth century wall paintings which notes in the church describe in detail, although the average visitor will find it hard to be excited by them. Much more striking is the large monument to Edward Colman (d. 1731) against the chancel N. wall, signed by Thomas Dunn (c. 1676-1746). Dunn was a master-mason as well as a sculptor, responsible for several London churches (see the Dictionary of British Sculptors: 1660-1851 by Rupert Gunnis, pub. The Abbey Library, 1951). This monument is one of only two signed by him and features a fine effigy of Colman reclining on his elbow, on top of his tomb chest and beneath a grey alabaster pedimented arch. Putti sit upon the pediment while another floats on a cloud inside the arch. It is very sentimental, but its sensitivity and humanity must have come as a welcome relief after the monumental style of the seventeenth century that seemed much more concerned to invoke feelings of awe and horror than to commemorate its subjects.