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English Church Architecture.

 

BROME, St. Mary  (TM 145 764),

SUFFOLK. 

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group.)

 

One of 181 churches in England with round towers, of which all but five are in Cambridgeshire ( with 2), Essex (with 6), Norfolk (with 126) or Suffolk (with 42).

 

Round church towers were almost invariably assumed by Pevsner to have a Saxon or Norman origin.  That is not necessarily the case, and the form is a function of geology rather than age, for the lack of the ready availability of good building stone to serve as quoins made this a cheap design option by avoiding the expense in the pre-railway age of bringing, usually by horse and cart or at best along the rivers by boat, heavy, bulk materials from afar.  The definitive book on this subject is, and is long likely to remain, the late Stephen Hart's The Round Church Towers of England  (Ipswich, Lucas Books, 2003), to which the notes on these buildings are inevitably, to a greater or lesser degree, indebted.

 

Except for a discussion of the monuments in the N. chapel and a mention of the Norman origins of the round lower stage of the tower (and it is more likely to be Norman than Saxon as the notes in the church claim, for walls 6' thick were very unusual before the Conquest), Pevsner dismissed this building in the original Suffolk volume of The Buildings of England with the words, 'The rest mostly of 1863'.  In fact, the church today displays a complex medley of dates and styles by a variety of mostly second-class Victorian architects, identified by James Bettley (in the revised 'Suffolk East' volume of The Buildings of England, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2015, p.142) as J.K. Colling (who added the octagonal tower bell-stage in 1886), Sir E.C. Kerrison and the Rev. G.M. Paterson (who 'restored and partly rebuilt' the church over an extended period from 1857-86), E.B. Lamb (who re-roofed the chancel in 1860), and Thomas Jekyl (who restored the porch, re-roofed the nave, rebuilt part of the N. aisle, and added the N. transept between 1859-63), each of whom appears to have adopted his own favourite (and different) style, regardless of whatever had been done before, even to the extent of introducing a heavy neo-Norman style for the two-bay arcades between the chancel and N. chapel and between the aisle and western section of the nave.  From the whole of this period however, the only features really worthy of examination are the work of the Suffolk sculptor, James Williams (1798-1888), who designed, in particular, the excellent reredos, which was exhibited in London in 1881.   Formed of seven cinquefoil-cusped arches, the five central bays contain carved scenes in bas-relief, portray, from left to right, in crisp and passionate detail to which the photograph below does scant justice, the Nativity, the Agony in the Garden, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Doubting of St. Thomas. However the same artist's large, ponderous stone pulpit is, unfortuantely, rather less successful, notwithstanding the carefully cut figures of saints beneath the trefoiled arches supported on circular shafts around the sides. 

     

  

[Other churches with round towers featured on this web-site are Bartlow and Snailwell in Cambridgeshire, Quidenham, Roydon, Rushall, Shimpling and Thorpe Abbotts in Norfolk, and Aldham, Hengrave, Higham, Little Bradley, Little Saxham, Rickinghall Inferior, Risby, Stuston, Theberton, Wissett and Wortham in Suffolk.]