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English Church Architecture -



BURES, St. Mary (TL 907 340)     (October 2001)

(Bedrock:  Palaeocene, Thanet Sand Formation)


This church sits beside the Stour and the Essex/Suffolk border in the large but attractive village of Bures - or Bures St. Mary as it is sometimes called, to distinguish it from Bures Hamlet on the Essex side of the river.  The church itself is big and architecturally significant, notwithstanding its fairly modest and probably thirteenth century tower, consisting otherwise of an aisled nave with N. and S. porches, and a chancel with chapels and N. vestry, all chiefly in Perpendicular style, albeit of a variety of dates.  The grandest work is the S. chapel, founded in 1514 by Sir William Waldegrave (d. 1527), while some of the older parts of the building are due to the beneficence of his ancestor, Sir Richard Waldegrave (d. 1410), the first speaker of the House of Commons.  The church guide quotes an earlier tradition that Sir Richard was largely responsible for the W. tower (shown left, from the south), though if so, it is hard to see quite what he might have done to it unless it was to pay for its partial reconstruction using most of the old stonework. Those would have included the lancets in the W. and S. walls of the first stage and the pairs of lancets (one above the other) in the same walls of the second.  They would probably have also included the rather later, two-light bell-openings with what looks rather like an early form of reticulated tracery, though perhaps not the angle buttresses, which an early fifteenth century date might fit rather better.  However, Pevsner appears to have been of the view that the whole tower was of "late C13 to early C14" date, and that could also be right, in which case Sir Richard's contribution might have been limited to paying for essential repairs.  Certainly the tower arch seems to be another Early English survival with its flat chamfered orders dying into jambs without responds.  (The curious tomb recess set externally against the N. wall is as difficult to date as to assign a purpose.)  Sir Richard Waldegrave does, however, seem to have paid for the construction of the N. chapel (now organ chamber) and vestry, and possibly for the fabric of the aisles, although the arcades are earlier and the present windows, later.  The nave arcades are three bays long, formed of double-flat-chamfered arches above octagonal piers and, at the ends, semicircular responds.  Here Pevsner and the church guide are in agreement that this is early fourteenth century work, although a late thirteenth century date would probably also fit the details were it not, perhaps, for the arch widths.  In fact the S. arcade appears to have been partially reconstructed in 1864 after the building was affected by subsidence, making the central arch even wider than it was before and the western arch correspondingly narrower.  The aisle windows, which date from the fifteenth century at the earliest, are three-light and four-centred to the north and south, with castellated transoms, ogee-arched lights and supermullioned drop tracery, while the W. windows have two lights.  The clerestory, formed of three-light untraceried windows placed above the arch apices, is possibly contemporary:  the former, more steeply-pitched nave gable line is visible against the tower E. wall.  The wooden N. porch with collar-braced roof returns us to the fourteenth century but was so thoroughly restored in 1873 that one now has to look twice to check it is not wholly Victorian.  For this reason, the S. porch (shown right) is more rewarding today, being built of Tudor brick and flint, with stepped battlements and an outer doorway formed of four orders shaped in moulded brick inside a square surround.


The most prestigious part of the building, however, is the tall, embattled S. chapel of two bays (illustrated left), with four-light supermullioned windows to the south, the outer lights with secondary subarcuation and the inner, with two tiers of reticulation units separated by a castellated supertransom.  Between these windows there is a wide buttress with a small priest's doorway sunk in the centre, bearing a casement moulding with Tudor flowers set at intervals.  (Cf. the S. doorways at St. Peter & St. Paul's, Alpheton, and Holy Trinity, Long Melford.)  Inside, this chapel communicates with the chancel through a two-bay arcade formed of arches of two orders bearing a sunk quadrant on the outer and a casement on the inner, springing from piers and responds with attached semicircular shafts with fillets, which stand on tall ogee-form base mouldings.  The doorway between the chancel and the N. vestry has two casement mouldings around it, decorated with flower and leaf motifs, while to the east there is a large open arch with a tomb chest beneath, displaying blank shields inside cusped octfoils with square surrounds.  This is thought to commemorate Sir Richard Waldegrave - even though it is unnamed and appears to have been reconstructed c. 1550 - by virtue of the fact that it is situated exactly where Sir Richard specified his tomb should go in his will, and because he appears to have been the church's principle benefactor.  That said, the large detached monument in the S. chapel commemorates not the Sir William who founded it, but his descendant and namesake, who died in 1613, together with his wife Elizabeth, who died in 1581, doubtless worn out after bearing the ten children depicted in effigy on the chest.  Of the tomb of the earlier Sir William there is now no trace, although the S. chapel itself is a finer monument than any marble slab.


A few other features of the church must be listed briefly.  These include the nice octagonal font (see the thumbnail, right) with angels holding shields on the sides of the bowl and the signs of the Evangelists on the diagonal faces of the stem, and a few items of woodwork, namely an effigy of a knight in the N. aisle (probably fourteenth century and carved in oak according to Pevsner or sweet chestnut according to the church guide), the Perpendicular S. door, and the aisle roofs.  The flat nave roof, however, is of 1864 again and does its carpenter no credit.  Rather wisely he has chosen to remain anonymous.