( back to home page)

English Church Architecture -



BROME, St. Mary (TM 145 764)     (March 2009)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)

Except for a discussion of the monuments in the N. chapel and a mention of the Norman origins of the round tower (and it is more likely to be Norman than Saxon as the notes in the church claim, for a six foot thick wall was very unusual before the Conquest), Pevsner dismissed this building with the words "The rest mostly of 1863".  Yet the evidence is more complicated than that suggests and not easy to unravel.  The N. side, which one approaches first from the road, is obviously Victorian, but round the back to the south, mediaeval and Victorian work now seem blended together in an inseparable mix (see the photograph above, taken from the southeast) for surely the three-light windows here - two each to the chancel and nave - with ogee lights and supermullioned tracery between strong mullions, are Perpendicular in origin or why this sudden attempt at mediaeval authenticity, and likewise the S. porch (illustrated below left) must surely retain a substantial late fifteenth/ early sixteenth century basis in its supermullioned windows, its display of flushwork above and either side of an outer doorway bearing a complex series of mouldings with an order of bowtells to the jambs, and its crocketed pinnacles at the angles, enclosing the stepped battlements.  Indeed, the S. front of the church is probably now of more antiquarian significance than the tower, which Stephen Hart considers to have had the flint facing to its circular lower stage, entirely renewed, and either new openings inserted in the octagonal bell-stage or even its bell-stage completely rebuilt, save only in the re-use of the original corner bricks (The Round Church Towers of England, pub. Lucas Books, 2003).  It certainly looks Victorian now and, from the north, rather foolish, with its twee quadrant projection for the stair in the re-entrant with the aisle, with a doorway below and tiny porthole windows surrounded by cable moulding above.  (See the thumbnail, below right.)  Nevertheless, in spite of this, the Victorian parts of this church are worthy of examination, even if, perhaps, rather more so for its sculpture - identified as the work of the Suffolk sculptor, James Williams (1798-1888) - than its purely architectural features.  The latter adopt a mixed bag of styles, as exemplified by the N. front, with doubled lancets to the N. aisle and chapel and single lancets to the tower bell-stage, in First Pointed style, combined with an overdrawn three-light window in the transept, with extravagant flowing tracery based on a large double-cusped encircled quatrefoil, although in fairness, the composition is held together by a judicious use of materials that includes the use around all the windows of the same terracotta and stone bands, and the sharing of the same flushwork designs on the transept and nave parapet (above the aisle) on the one hand and on the aisle and chapel on the other.  The chapel E. window, formed of a huge encircled cinquefoil, is quite horrid but may be by a different hand.  The N. doorway has an order of octagonal side shafts with floriated capitals that differ left to right, and a keeled hood-mould on floriated label stops.


Brome church consists today then of a chancel, a nave with a S. porch, and a round W. tower, with what appear to be the wholly nineteenth century additions of a N. chapel, N. transept and N. aisle, though that there was also an earlier chapel here, is evident from the sixteenth and seventeenth century monuments it contains.  The two-bay arcades between the chancel and N. chapel and between the aisle and western section of the nave, are constructed in a heavy neo-Norman style, of which the architect has given no indication whatever in the exterior of the building (unless one includes the little projection for the stair tower). They are formed of piers and responds with two orders of attached circular side shafts, massive round-headed arches bearing two orders of rolls, and scalloped capitals with chevron on the abaci, while between these arcades, the transept opens directly into the nave through a similar but separate arch, and two more arches in like style open west, from the transept into the aisle, and east, from the transept into chapel. Perversely, however, the chancel arch introduces another change of form, returning to First Pointed style, not only in the use of a pointed arch, but also in its ornamentation, which includes three orders of narrower rolls and attached shafts and, in particular, stiff leaf capitals with dog-tooth on the abaci.  (See the photograph, right, looking northwest from the chancel, showing the north jamb of the chancel arch on the left and the west respond of the chapel arcade on the right.)


A list of other internal features to notice should probably begin with the font (illustrated left), which is mediaeval and similar to others in the area, though in a better state of preservation than most (if it can be trusted), featuring lion supporters separated by buttresses around the base and the symbols of the Evangelists alternating with angels holding shields on the faces of the octagonal bowl.  However, the best piece of sculpture in the church is the excellent reredos by James Williams (shown at the foot of the page), which was exhibited in London in 1881 notwithstanding the earlier date of death of its dedicatee which is displayed on it (1843).  It is formed of seven cinquefoiled arches, the central five of which contain carved scenes depicting, from left to right, the Nativity, the Agony in the Garden, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Doubting of St. Thomas, in crisp and passionate detail.  Perhaps also by Williams, albeit a largely mechanical exercise if so, is the piscina and sedilia recessed in the chancel S. wall, with their backs covered in a repeat floral motif and a frieze of ballflower above, which thus introduces in the building the characteristic ornament of yet another architectural period.  The large stone pulpit is a ponderous affair, whoever it is by, with figures of saints beneath trefoiled arches supported on circular shafts around the sides, and more shafts around the stem and acting as balusters beneath the handrail to the stair.      


Finally, the N. chapel contains five monuments which make up almost the entire subject matter of Pevsner's entry for this building and which must be briefly listed here.  They all commemorate members of the Cornwallis family and comprise in date order:  (i) a large tomb-chest set beneath the easternmost arch of the chapel arcade, commemorating Sir John Cornwallis (d. 1544) and his wife, Mary, and featuring two recumbent effigies with hands clasped in prayer and feet resting on dogs, and an attached wall monument behind, with Corinthian side columns;  (ii) a similar tomb-chest, again with recumbent  effigies on top and an attached wall monument at the east end, set against the eastern end of the chapel N. wall and dedicated to Sir Thomas Cornwallis (d. 1604, aged 85), son of Sir John and Treasurer of Calais during the short and terrible reign of Mary Tudor but who subsequently lived through the whole of the Elizabethan age, and his wife, Anne;  (iii) a wall monument on the N. chapel wall to the west, to Henry Cornwallis (d. 1598), another son, featuring an effigy of Henry kneeling in prayer beneath a round arch;  (iv) a monument of the S. wall of the chapel (backing on to the sanctuary), commemorating Frederick, first Lord Cornwallis (d. 1661), with an inscription in Latin between Corinthian column and beneath an architrave supporting a pediment;  and (v), a wall monument to Lady Elizabeth Cornwallis (d. 1680), on the chapel N. wall above and behind the tomb-chest to Sir Thomas and his wife, featuring a medallion in which is set an attractive bust of Lady Elizabeth, who married at eighteen and produced four sons before dying at the age of twenty-five, bearing a full-figured portrait of this unfortunate young lady, looking southwest, with putti on either side and a coat of arms above.