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English Church Architecture -



BUXHALL, St. Mary (TM 003 577)     (June 2008)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)


This church (shown left, from the southeast), consisting in plan of just a chancel, a nave with a S. porch, and a substantial diagonally-buttressed W. tower rising in four stages, is constructed essentially in Decorated style, albeit that its precise date is open to interpretation.  Windows, including the tower bell-openings, are mostly two-light and reticulated, but the cinquefoil-cusping of the lights and the tall slender proportions of many of them, which seem designed above all to emphasize verticality, appear to anticipate or respond to the coming Perpendicular, and the employment of the sunk quadrant moulding around the chancel arch, inside, seems also to suggest a late date, and possibly one after the Black Death of 1349-50, which might then conceivably accord with Pevsner’s note recording that money was left for the tower in 1392, presumably implying it was unfinished even then.  Firmly dated sunk quadrant mouldings in East Anglian parochial work seem hard to find much before c. 1350, one of the earliest closely attributed examples of its use the writer has discovered being in the chancel arch at Fenstanton, Cambridgeshire, of 1345-52.  (See also Appendix 2.)  It is also the dominant moulding around the arcades of St. Gregory’s, Sudbury, commissioned in 1375, around the time he became Archbishop of Canterbury, by Simon Teobald, who was clearly a man familiar with the latest court style. Perhaps a date c. 1360-70 might, therefore, be postulated here, although that does inevitably beg the question of whether the local economy and population could have supported such a significant construction project so soon after the ravages of the worst outbreak of plague in recorded English history.  Yet not all communities were equally affected, of course, nor all stone masons killed by the disease, and Bill Wilson, writing in the introduction to his 1997 edition of the Norfolk volumes of The Buildings of England (pub. Yale University Press) lays great emphasis on the overlap between the Decorated and Perpendicular styles in that county in particular, as well as in the wider region more generally.


Externally, St. Mary’s church is everywhere embattled (in brick and flint respectively around the eaves of the tiled nave and chancel roofs), and the porch is decorated by chequerwork on the battlements and by a cinquefoil-cusped niche in the gable above the outer doorway, now containing a statue of St. Mary, placed there as recently as 1984.  The outer porch doorway carries three flat chamfers above semi-octagonal responds.  The porch windows are segmental-pointed above pairs of ogee lights with mouchettes filling the spandrels.  The tower has a stair turret projecting at the east end of the S. wall, which rises through the first two stages.  The three-light W. window has renewed supermullioned tracery.  The five-light chancel E. window has curvilinear tracery of the usual kind, drawn on a fairly large (perhaps slightly over-large) scale.


Inside the building, the tower arch carries an inner flat chamfer above semicircular shafts and four continuous hollow chamfers outside that. The chancel arch bears two sunk quadrants above tall semi-quatrefoil responds with little keels between the foils.  The chancel S. wall has a two-bay piscina with ogee-pointed arches and openwork tracery beneath crocketed gables (illustrated above right), recessed into its eastern extremity, followed westwards by a broken arch, only the springings of which now remain but which clearly once ran across the front of the easternmost S. window with lowered sill, to form a sedilia.  The very low-pitched chancel roof with arched-braced tie beams is dated 1656 on one of the beams;  the nave was re-roofed in 1923.


The church contains no furnishings of particular interest except for the font (shown left), which is a full-blooded Decorated piece made of two stones, a dark brown coloured one for the bowl and an off-white coloured one for the stem.  The octagonal bowl has a castellated rim and cinquefoil-cusped arches recessed into each face, with crocked gables above and mouchettes and encircled quatrefoils in the spandrels.