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CLARE, St. Peter & St. Paul  (TL 770 455),


(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk.)


Another large Perpendicular 'wool church' in one of Suffolk's ancient market towns.


The church consists of a W. tower, a six-bay aisled nave, and a three-bay chancel with two-bay side chapels, with the additions of a small N. porch, a much larger S. porch with an eastern extension as a third chapel, and two projecting rood stair turrets, one each at the northeast and southeast corners of the nave (as seen in the photograph above), to which the Victorians have further added a vestry to the north of the sanctuary. The masonry everywhere is composed of the usual Suffolk mix of flint, brick (including re-used Roman brick) and pebble rubble, with limestone dressings. The building history is complex, but the Perpendicular period predominates, with the work of this time giving the building something of the grandeur of a typical East Anglian 'wool church'.


The embattled, angle-buttressed W. tower comes first, however, and now looks rather small for the rest of the building.  This is thirteenth century in date  as far up as the bell-stage, which is also the height to which its large square stair turret with a lean-to roof, rises to the southeast. The lancets in the N. wall are original, as is the W. doorway, which carries keeled rolls and dog tooth moulding above two orders of colonnettes.


The N. porch dates from the early fourteenth century (Decorated period):  the outer doorway carries two hollow-chamfered mouldings above semicircular responds.  The S. porch is late fourteenth century work (early Perpendicular) but earlier than the reconstruction of the nave and the concomitant widening of the aisles, as proved conclusively by its truncated vault of sexpartite form within, reduced now to just a bay and a half bays wide between the inner and outer porch doorways, the former with leaf and figure carvings set around it at intervals in three deep hollow chamfers, and the latter bearing two very worn sunk quadrants above two orders of shafts.


However, of the building's late Perpendicular reconstruction, it is naturally the windows one first notices first.  These are of three main types, the most important of which features three stepped lights and supermullioned drop-tracery with split 'Y's, beneath a segmental-pointed arch (as exemplified by the S. chapel window,  left).  This is the style of the aisle, clerestory, chancel and chancel chapel windows, except for the chancel E. window only.  The S. porch chapel also has two windows with three lights and drop-tracery (one each to the south and east), but here there are transoms below the springing and the tracery is confined to the central lights.  The chancel E. window and the inserted tower W. window have five lights and are large, transomed and supermullioned, with outer lights subarcuated in pairs and central lights with supertransoms:  these appear to have been dated by the scholarship of Birkin Haward (Suffolk Medieval Church Arcades, Hitcham, Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 1993, p. 200) who noticed that a coat of arms displayed on a shield in the frieze below, is identical to one on the priest's house in the southwest corner of the churchyard, dated 1473  in the pargetting.  This is a date that will probably also fit the aisle, clerestory and chancel chapel windows, as well as the priest's door and doorway (shown below right) in the S. chapel S. wall, and so it seems likely that the reconstruction of the church took place around this time, which is a number of surviving wills appear to confirm.  The nave and chapel arcades are similar to those at Stoke-by-Clare, but larger, and so the date of these at one of those churches is likely to be the approximate date at the other.  (See the photograph of the N. arcade above right.)  Pevsner thought that the piers in both buildings were re-used late fourteenth century work, a theory repeated by James Bettley has subsequently also put his name to (The Buildings of England: Suffolk West, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2015, p. 189) but this theory was dismissed by Haward with a certain amount of scorn: 'One presumes that he considers the keeled quatrefoil pier plan to be only possible in the fourteenth century, and that the cap and base insertions in the existing structure were a local building feat' (ibid., p. 201).  In fact it seems more likely that these are the late fifteenth century work of the same capable but local mason, working in a degree of artistic isolation, who thus developed his own idiosyncratic designs, loosely based on earlier forms.  This appears to be shown, for example, by the over-large castellated capitals and the curious crocketed hood-moulds and embattled string course with carved fleurons above (absent at Stoke-by-Clare).  The arches themselves bear a hollow chamfer on the inner order and wave mouldings on the outer order.  The chancel arch is similar but taller, with three hollow chamfers. John Harvey recorded that the chancel was rebuilt for a second time in 1617, re-using much of the original masonry (The Perpendicular Style, London, Batsford, 1978, p. 205).  However, neither he nor Haward commented on the form of the rood stair turrets, with their crocketed conical roofs that project high above the nave.  They seem to presage the use of the same feature in the work of the great John Wastell (fl. 1485 - 1515), as seen at St. Peter & St. Paul's, Lavenham, Great St. Mary's in Cambridge, and St. Mary's, Saffron Walden in Essex, among other places, and since Wastell lived in Bury St. Edmunds for at least part of his life, it must be possible he got this idea from Clare, just fourteen miles to the southwest.  (John Wastell's building style is considered more fully under the entry for St. Andrew's, Isleham, in Cambridgeshire.)   


The church contains some interesting woodwork, including the S. door (actually a door within a door), which may be contemporary with the porch.  The S. porch chapel houses a Jacobean gallery pew (shown right), which was removed for repairs in 1883 and returned in 1914 but which still appears to be formed of mostly original timbers. Even more impressive, however, is the complete set of stalls in the chancel (some of which can be seen left), which are again considered largely Jacobean but which may incorporate some earlier panels. (One chair in the sanctuary bears the date 1569.)  There is a double set on each side to the east for the choir, and a single set each side to the west for the clergy, some of which have poppyheads.  The excellent communion rail with twisted balusters was attributed by Pevsner to the late seventeenth century (ibid., p. 190).  The door from the sanctuary to the N. vestry probably dates from 1617.