English Church Architecture -



BURY ST. EDMUNDS CATHEDRAL (TL 856 641)     (April 2004)

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2: Description

After this fairly lengthy background discussion, the cathedral itself will be described briefly, with no attempt being made to give an exhaustive account of the work by Dykes Bower and Hugh Mathew which - though of consistently good quality - falls outside the usual scope of notes usually confined to church architecture up to 1901.


Wastell's aisled nave (shown at the top of the page, from the south) is nine bays long and embattled.  Clerestory windows - of which there are two per bay, placed above the arcade spandrels - are two-light and four-centred, with cusped Y-tracery, while the N. and S. aisle windows are three-light, two-centred and transomed, with strong mullions, supermullioned tracery, and two tiers of reticulation units above the central lights.  West windows to the building all have transoms and latticed supertransoms, together with five lights in the aisles, of which the outer lights are subarcuated in pairs, and seven lights in the nave (shown left), of which the outer lights are subarcuated in threes.  In fact, this end of the building has actually been renewed but is probably faithful to the original.  Inside, the aisle arcades are very tall (see the N. arcade, illustrated right) and formed of arches bearing a series of narrow mouldings arranged in two orders, springing from piers of lozenge section with semicircular shafts in the cardinal positions, separated by casements at the diagonals.  Thus it can be seen that of the nine features listed  under the entry for Isleham in Cambridgeshire, as seemingly characteristic of John Wastell's parochial work, only  numbers 1 & 6 are present here.  This might suggest that funds for the project were limited, at least to the extent of precluding purely decorative detail.  However, another common feature of Wastell's work which could have been seen here before Sir George Gilbert Scott's roof was constructed, is known from an old drawing to have been a very low-pitched tie-beam roof, comparable to the roofs that still survive above Wastell's naves at Great St. Mary's, Cambridge, St. Peter & St. Paul's, Lavenham, and St. Mary's, Saffron Walden (in Essex), suggesting, in Birkin Haward's view ("Suffolk Mediaeval Church Arcades", pub. Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 1993), either that Wastell designed these roofs himself as part of his overall scheme for his churches, or else that he had his own preferred master carpenter who generally worked with him.


For the new work on the cathedral, Dykes Bower adopted a mixture of Perpendicular and what might be called neo-Decorated forms, of which the latter is evident in the tall clerestory windows above the choir chapels. Nothing derogatory is implied by this description, however, for while not, perhaps, quite mediaeval in its precise detail, the design is light and assured besides being enhanced by the excellent surrounding flushwork formed of crocketed arches between the windows, diapering above, and a repeating pattern in the merlons of the battlements, while yet more flushwork decorates the chapel battlements below and the entire upper stage of the transepts.  Here, however, the scheme is more subdued, while the S. transept S. window is a faithful copy of the aisle windows and the two smaller but still three-light windows above, have conventional supermullioned tracery, these elements creating together a rich yet restrained impression that is careful not to detract attention from the tower rising behind (shown left, from the southwest). As modified by Hugh Mathew, this has angle buttresses applied to clasping buttresses terminating in crocketed pinnacles, two very tall, two-light bell-openings per wall set in crocketed ogee arches, and pairs of square shafts between and to either side of the bell-openings, set diagonally and rising to crocketed finials above stepped battlements decorated with yet more flushwork.  Internally, the choir arcades are four bays long (allowing the sanctuary to project one further bay the east) and copy Wastell's nave arcades in form, with dimensions appropriately reduced. The crossing arches are of complex section, but the dominant elements are the hollows around the arches and the semicircular shafts attached to the responds.


Finally a few words must be added on furnishings and monuments in the cathedral, which will be largely restricted to pre-twentieth century work.  On this basis, the only woodwork of note is Scott's nave roof and the still mediaeval roofs of the aisles.  The former  (shown in the thumbnail left) is of single hammerbeam construction and has been most attractively painted in a project that itself took from 1948-82 to carry out.  Scott also designed the pulpit and font, but notwithstanding the latter's twentieth century soaring cover (by F.E. Howard, who also designed the font cover at Southwold), one's attention at this end of the building is drawn chiefly by the monuments against the W. wall, most notably the fine one commemorating James Reynolds M.P. (d. 1738, aged 53).  Be-robed and be-wigged, he sits frontally beneath a broken pediment with putti on either side.  Surprisingly for its size and date, the work is unsigned.

 (Flushwork decoration around Dykes Bower's clerestory above the choir S. chapel.)