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English Church Architecture -



COCKFIELD, St. Peter (TL 904 550)     (October 2001)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


This is quite a big and impressive church for a small village (shown left, from the southeast).  It consists of a W. tower with flushwork on the faces of its angle buttresses, an aisled nave with a S. porch, and a chancel with a mediaeval N. vestry, and is essentially the work of two architectural periods - the N. aisle, five-bay arcades, chancel and W. tower belonging essentially to Decorated times (although the tower was reconstructed from the old materials after a lightning strike in 1775), and the clerestory, S. aisle, S. porch and chancel S. windows to the Perpendicular period.  Inevitably, within this broad division, however, there is still plenty of scope for complications and uncertainties, such as that which arises over the vestry, partly because this has no unambiguously datable features but partly because confusion is sown by a will of 1486, in which a certain Thomas Forthe bequeathed money to pay for the stone to build a "vestibulum" on condition that the parishioners pay for "le tymbre".  Pevsner believed this related to the porch but the church guide considers the reference to be to the vestry, and while Pevsner's view sounds initially the more likely to be correct, it may be undermined by the fact that John Campe, rector at Cockfield from 1489 - 1525 (who paid for the painting of the chancel roof and for new windows in the S. aisle), asked to be buried in the porch, such an instruction in those days, relating to a specific part of a church, often indicating that the person concerned had paid for it.  Perhaps then, it is impossible to tell for sure the exact date of either the porch or the vestry, but the latter is in any case of interest for another reason for it contains a fireplace and chimney and clear indications that it once had an upper floor.  This suggests it was at one time a dwelling for an acolyte priest, as formerly existed, for example (also on the N. side of the chancel), at the Suffolk churches at Gipping, Hessett and Hitcham, the last of which was constructed c. 1475.


To describe St. Peter's more systematically, however, it is logical to begin with the parts in Decorated style. The N. aisle north and west windows, tower W. window and bell-openings, are all two-light with reticulated tracery, the north and west doorways each have two flat chamfers all the way round without intervening capitals, and the nave arcades and chancel arch consist of double-flat-chamfered arches springing from octagonal piers and responds with large moulded capitals, while the tower arch differs only in having four flat chamfers. The tower has heavy buttresses inside that cut into the nave arcades.  The chancel has a cinquefoil-cusped piscina in the S. wall that cannot be much later than c. 1315, for the trefoil-cusped secondary arch above is triangular - that is to say, not yet ogee pointed - while opposite in the N. wall, the three-bay Easter sepulchre has more of these, which must be an original feature even though the recess as a whole has been "grossly over-restored" (Pevsner).  In contrast, externally the buttress between the two S. windows (illustrated right) and the angle buttresses at the E. end, hold trefoil-cusped niches now with ogee points, as well as narrow shafts to the front and back of sides inclined inwards to increase the sense of perspective - a concept surprising at this date.   In addition, beneath the parapet there is a line of carved flowers and faces which, though small in relation to their height, are nevertheless intricately and skilfully carved.  The E. window has been restored but may retain tracery true to its original form.  The chancel S. windows and one N. window (west of the vestry) with supermullioned tracery, are obviously Perpendicular insertions, as is the four-light N. aisle E. window (shown left) with a supertransom above the two central half-lights.


The S. aisle windows are three-light and four-centred to the south and west, with cinquefoil-cusped intersecting tracery and transoms.  To either side of the easternmost bay, a crocketed pinnacle reaches up above the battlements to give it greater prominence (probably to indicate there was once a chapel here), and the curiously hybrid E. window combines intersecting tracery with drop tracery while also creating space for supermullions. Both the S. aisle and the S. porch battlements have carved blank tracery but the styles differ, implying, presumably, that there is at least some modest difference in date.  In fact, the porch (shown right) is the most elaborate part of the building, with its flint chequerwork basal frieze, two tiers of narrow trefoil-cusped flushwork arches to the south on the lower and upper stages, three canopied niches (the one above the doorway having an octfoil vault), and an outer doorway with two casement mouldings above semi-octagonal responds, decorated at intervals with carved shields and crowns in the inner order and with roses in the outer. The four-centred side windows are untraceried but transomed. There are prominent gargoyles at the S. corners, protruding from the side walls rather than the angles.  


Some woodwork must now be mentioned, beginning with the seventeenth century communion rail with twisted balusters and the contemporary hexagonal pulpit on a fifteenth century stem.  The choir seats in the chancel retain two old misericords on each side, all defaced.  The nave roof of king-post type still retains most of its original main beams, but the aisle roofs are more interesting, especially the lean-to N. aisle roof (viewed left, looking towards the west) of, presumably, early fourteenth century date, which is supported by arched braces towards the nave, springing from corbels in the N. arcade spandrels.  Similar corbels project from the south side of the S. arcade spandrels, but the S. aisle roof is Perpendicular and partly renewed even though it has kept its original and nicely carved principal rafters.  The boarded chancel roof is Victorian and has the same intersecting ribs and flat bosses to be seen on the chancel roofs at Hitcham and Rattlesden.  The designer is unknown (although the church at Rattlesden was restored first by Blomfield in 1883 and then by someone who might possibly have been Butterfield in 1893).


Finally, the church contains one monument of importance (shown in the thumbnail, right), reaching some 18 feet  (6 m.) high against the chancel N. wall and featuring a bust on a sarcophagus.  It commemorates James Harvey, who died of smallpox in 1723, aged 19, and has a pediment above, supported by columns at the front and pilasters at the back, all with Corinthian capitals.  It is signed by "N. Royce  de  Bury [St. Edmunds]", whose only known monument this is (Dictionary of British Sculptors: 1660-1851 by Rupert Gunnis, pub. The Abbey Library, 1951).