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English Church Architecture -



BRUNDISH, St. Lawrence (TM 271 695)     (April 2011)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)

This is an interesting church in an attractive rural setting.  The tower is essentially Norman but the rest of the building belongs to the family exemplified by St. George's, Stowlangtoft, which is known to have been constructed in the reign of Richard II (1377-99).


The tower is characteristic of its time in its lack both of buttresses and of string courses dividing it into stages, but the twelfth century features notable by their presence rather than their absence are the bell-openings in the E. wall, the blocked openings lower down in the north, west and south walls, below the present bell-openings, and the blocked arch between the tower and nave, best viewed from the former. Examining these in turn, the E. bell-openings, above the fossilized gable line of the earlier, steeper nave roof, consist of two round-headed lights decorated by nailhead, divided by a demi-shaft with a leaf volute capital.  (See the photograph of the church from the southeast, at the top of the page, and the upper thumbnail, above right.)  They appear to have been re-set since the blocked openings  in the S. wall, below the current bell-stage (examine carefully the photograph on the left), suggests the tower once ended here before being heightened in the early fourteenth century and given its present reticulated bell-openings to the north, west and south.    The tower arch is formed of a single unmoulded order resting on abaci with chamfered under-edges.  (See the lower thumbnail, above right.)  It does not appear to be especially late.


The nave and chancel are particularly intriguing for they are lit entirely by windows of the Stowlangtoft, Parham and Wingfield (nave aisles) pattern, which is dateable in all three of those places to the late fourteenth century. This design, save only for the number of lights, is virtually unvarying:  the lights are linked by little subarcuations above; the straight-sided, trefoil-cusped sublights are round-arched in the outer pair and ogee-pointed in the others; and quatrefoils occupy the window heads, beneath the segmental-pointed (occasionally segmental) arches.  Still more of these windows to be seen at Fressingfield,  Preston St. Mary and Wortham, among other places. Brundish has twelve altogether - four each side of the nave and two each side of the chancel, all of which are two-light except for the easternmost on each side of the nave. (The photographs, right, show the easternmost N. window to the nave and the next along to the west, respectively.) These details are so precise that the attribution of the work to the same mason seems almost beyond disputation. Another common feature between many of these churches, seen here on the nave, is the linking of these windows by a string course at the springing level of the lights. However, there are further close similarities to be discovered inside, and when one sees these windows, one has a good idea what to expect.


In particular, this concerns the form of any contemporary arches.  St. Lawrence's is aisleless and the Norman tower arch has been discussed already. However, the chancel arch is identical to arches or arcades at Fressingfield, Parham, Wingfield and Wortham, which are composed of two orders bearing chamfers, springing from semi-octagonal responds with the additional, diagnostic feature of an additional narrow flat chamfer immediately outside, terminating just below the capital in an incised trefoiled arch.  (See the photograph of the N. respond, left.)  The capital itself is composed of a  series of deeply-cut narrow mouldings and the hood-mould round the arch rises from nicely carved head label stops.  A second feature seen in most of the other churches mentioned (Parham is a good example), is the segmental-pointed hood-mould over the nave doorway rere-arches, with little "L" and reverse "L"-shaped side pieces. (See the S. doorway hoodmould, left.)


Apart from the direct comparison of this work with that at Stowlangtoft and elsewhere, circumstantial evidence for the dating of St. Lawrence's is provided by a transcript, hanging in a frame on the W. wall of the nave.  This inauspicious-looking sheet of close typing proves to be a translation of an exchange of letters between Henry Spenser, Bishop of Norwich from 1370 to 1406, and John Pyshale, priest, laying out the foundation deeds of a chantry chapel Pyshale wished to establish, and a third letter from Richard II, granting the king's permission.  The chantry is traditionally believed to have stood about a hundred yards south of Brundish church, on the present site of Chantry Farmhouse, but Pyshale’s letter specifically refers to “a Chantry of one Chaplain which by the help of God I intend to found at the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the church or chapel at Brundissch”, so Chantry Farmhouse may occupy instead the site of “the house built and provided for the aforesaid Chantry”  in which the chaplain was required to “reside continuously.... for as long as he shall hold [the office] ”.  Such dwellings could be very mean indeed by present day standards - sometimes no more than a little lean-to structure attached to the north wall of a chancel (see, for example, St. Peter's, Cockfield, St. Nicholas's, Gipping and All Saints', Hitcham) - but that is unlikely to have been the case here as the first man to be “inducted into the corporal possession of the foresaid Chantry” was Sir Gilbert Spryngman, who would presumably have expected better.  The endowment was, in any case, a rich one, for the letter from Richard II, dated “24 November in the eighth year of our reign [1385]”, gives Pyshale permission, for a fee of £30 to the exchequer (the equivalent of almost £14,000 today), to transfer to the foundation “two messuages, one hundred and eight-four acres of land [presumably arable], ten acres of meadow, ninety-three acres of pasture, thirty-six acres of wood, £4/10s rent [approximately £2,000 in the money of 2011], and a rent of one chicken and eighteen pullets and one pound of cumin, with their appurtenances, and three autumn works[?] at Tatyngton, Brundissch, Wilbeye, and Denington, and assign the same to a Warden or Chaplain of a certain Chantry at the altar of Blessed Mary in the church of St. Andrew [the former dedication of the church] at Brundissch to be founded by the foresaid John”.   It does not automatically follow, of course, that any of this income was spent on the reconstruction of the church building itself, but it shows a source of funds was available and it seems likely, if such a chantry were to be established, that a soundly-built church in good order would have been regarded as a necessary prerequisite.


As for the diagonally-buttressed S. porch, although a reasonably good piece of work considered in isolation, this is an incompetent fifteenth century addition to the building, as demonstrated by the blatant manner in which it bisects the westernmost nave window.  The outer doorway has an order of semicircular shafts with castellated capitals supporting a series of waves, and the spandrels contain two large carved flowers inside a label decorated with fleurons.  Around and above, there are three tiers of flushwork arches, an ogee-pointed niche, and more flushwork decorating the parapet. 


The plain octagonal font of uncertain date, stands in front of the blocked tower arch on its round stem, but the Royal Arms of George III above, is more impressive, having recently been restored and hung there.  The chancel roof with hammerbeams alternating with tie beams seems to have been entirely renewed and the nave roof has been ceiled, reputedly in the early nineteenth century.  In one respect at least, that is a pity, for one would dearly like to know whether what is obviously a fairly low-pitched roof above, is similar to those at Stowlangtoft and Parham, for example, which seem to suggest the master mason of these buildings had his own preferred master carpenter who generally worked with him.


Finally, other carpentry to notice briefly includes the five Georgian boxed pews on either side of the central aisle at the east end of the nave, and the fifteenth century benches with poppyheads further west.  The rather rough and ready pulpit is probably contemporary with the latter but the tester with carved frieze, pendants and backplate (left) is an attractive seventeenth century addition, quite obviously not intended for this position as  it is several sizes too big!