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English Church Architecture -



BRETTENHAM, St. Mary (TL 967 542)     (October 2001)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)


The church (shown left, from the southeast) consists of a nave, chancel and S. tower, the latter of mediaeval origin and serving also as a porch, making it an unusual piece of work for its date, even though it is of no particular architectural merit.  It is embattled and diagonally buttressed and has two-light bell-openings with reticulated tracery, suggesting it dates from the early fourteenth century, as also does the nave and the basic fabric of the chancel.  The tower outer doorway carries a series of mouldings including a flat chamfer, a sunk flat chamfer and a wave, and has one order of semicircular shafts attached to the jambs.  The two-centred, two-light S. windows (see the example illustrated below left) and three-light W. window to the nave (below centre), have curvilinear tracery, while to the north, one window is similar to the S. windows, another has two lights and reticulated tracery, and a third has three lights and tracery formed of mouchettes set beneath a segmental arch, which together seem to make an unnecessary mishmash of the church's appearance.  Presumably they differ at least a little in age.


It is also the window traceries that are the most interesting feature of the chancel, for while these are now Victorian in the south and east walls, on the north they adopt the local form seen at Hitcham Preston St. Mary Rattlesden Stowlangtoft and Wortham (among other places), in which the lights are linked by small subarcuations.   (See the example below right, where the characteristic subarcuation has been indicated by an arrow.)  It may  be possible to date them all by reference to Stowlangtoft, where the entire church was erected c. 1380 - 1400.


The church interior is not very rewarding but there are a few features to notice.  They include the Decorated font, with trefoil-cusped ogee-pointed arch heads carved on each face, and the contemporary trefoil-cusped, ogee-arched piscina in the chancel S. wall, which is open both to the sanctuary and the window splay.  As for woodwork, the best piece is the communion rail, which looks like eighteenth century work, though Pevsner said seventeenth.  Finally there are attractively painted panels on the chancel E. wall in Arts & Crafts style.  The artist, unfortunately, appears to be unknown.