COTTON, St. Andrew (TM 070 669),
(Bedrock: Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group.)
A moderately large church with a proud clerestory
and double-hammerbeam roof of 1471.
This is a proud and attractive building, of interest in most of its parts, which consist of the W. tower, an aisled nave with a S. porch, and a chancel. Exclusively Decorated and Perpendicular in style, the nave W. window (sic) appears to come first, from c. 1340 - a date with which the W. tower may or may not be contemporary. Unusually, the bell-openings, though only two-light, have curvilinear tracery, but a much greater surprise is in store when the visitor walks round the church to the west, for it turns out that the bell ringers are entirely exposed to the elements in this direction, through a tall open arch (shown below right) bearing a sunk quadrant moulding and affording a view of the three-light nave W. window with its curvilinear tracery and the absence of any door beneath (an inconvenience it shares with neighbouring Wetheringsett)! The tower rises in two stages, supported by heavy angle buttresses below and decorated with three trefoil-cusped niches set over the arch. This must inevitably raise doubts about its age: has the tower been the subject of some Perpendicular remodelling, or is it entirely late fourteenth/ early fifteenth century in date and the form of the bell-openings, spurious? The aisle windows pose similar questions (see the photograph below left), with alternate ones copying the chancel windows at Westhorpe, which is to say they are two-light with reticulated drop tracery beneath segmental-pointed arches (except for the east windows, which have three lights and two tiers of reticulation units), suggesting this is conservative work in Decorated style, undertaken in early Perpendicular times, very probably by the same mason. Similar too are the chancel N. & S. windows and the windows in the porch. The intermediate aisle windows have cinquefoil-cusped, two-centred lights, with cusped, rounded triangles above, beneath segmental-pointed arches, and the chancel E. window (now externally restored) works this design to greater heights through the use of four such triangles beneath a huge reticulation unit resembling a triple-cusped quatrefoil. The E. wall has crocketed pinnacles at the angles, with gabled sides and niches facing east. The S. porch has simpler crocketed pinnacles at the S. angles, an outer doorway carrying a series of mouldings rising from semicircular responds with carved capitals, and on either side, flushwork panelling in two tiers, while more flushwork devices (mainly shields in stars) decorate the gable and parapet. Perhaps this is late fourteenth century or early fifteenth century work also. It is certainly earlier than the clerestory, which is a wonderful addition of the late fifteenth century, formed of nine pairs of segmental-pointed windows (that is, two in each of the five bays apart from the westernmost) with ogee lights, supermullioned tracery, flint and brick tumbled in round the arches, and flushwork panels between, above the springing level of the lights. The windowless western half-bay is faced with flushwork arches.
Entering the church, the porch inner doorway is composed of four orders, the outer three of which rise from semicircular shafts with carved leaf capitals. The second order and hood-mould feature bands of intricately-carved vine, and the innermost order is decorated with a narrow band of little fleurons.
The nave and chancel interiors are plain but light and airy for the glass is almost wholly clear. The five-bay arcades are composed of arches of two orders bearing waves, springing from quatrefoil piers with little square spurs between, a form offering modest confirmation of the period proposed above for this work (specifically, perhaps around 1360). Somewhat alarmingly, when the church was visited, the N. arcade (shown right, viewed from the east) was leaning outwards by as much as 10º, and the chancel arch in similar style, had spread correspondingly.
In respect of carpentry, the S. doors are probably original and thus the oldest surviving woodwork in the church, but the nave roof (shown left) is the most important, being formed of the alternation of braced collar and double hammerbeam trusses, and enriched with carved wall plates, crested purlins at the ⅓ and ⅔ positions, traceried spandrels, crested collar beams, and carved angels (some of which are renewed) on the upper tier of hammerbeams, making it a most worthy companion to the handsome clerestory. (The lower tier of hammerbeams end in bosses.) It is probably dated, together with the clerestory, by a bequest of 1471. The communion rail has turned balusters and is of a type that is generally termed 'Jacobean', although by no means all such work can date exclusively from the reign of James I (1603-25). North of the chancel arch, the pulpit is contemporary at least in this loose sense: it has attractively carved panels, not quite of standard form, but featuring semicircular arches with leaf motifs above. The reader’s desk opposite, with matching carved motifs, is formed of open partitions to the north and the west, formed of round arches supported by turned balusters above a carved dado.