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English Church Architecture -



DALHAM, St. Mary (TL 724 625)     (October 2004)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


Dalham is possibly the most attractive village in Suffolk’s Forest Heath District and the church (shown above from the southeast) is beautifully situated on a rise by the Hall, overlooking well-wooded rolling countryside.  Consisting of a W. tower, an aisled nave with a S. porch, and a chancel, it appears almost entirely Perpendicular externally but proves largely Decorated within.  The only evidence for the earlier period outside is the untraceried S. aisle E. window with trefoil-cusped lights, a S. window in the same aisle with reticulated tracery, and the reticulated bell-openings, but except for these and the Y-traceried N. vestry window, the fifteenth century stylistic unity of the building seems complete, with greater coherence being provided by its being everywhere embattled.  However, even here things are not exactly what they seem, for the tower was largely reconstructed in 1625, to which a huge inscription inside, above the arch to the nave, bears witness: "To the Honor of God, this Steepl was reedified in the Yeere of our Lord God 1625 by Sr. Martin Stuteville Knight, Patron of this Church [and] Thomas Warner, Doctor of Divinity, Rector of the Same. The Inhabitants and Land Houlders of the Towne of Dalham assisted by the religious bounty of divers Barronetts, Knights, Ladyes, Gentlemen, Gentlewoemen, and Other of the Patrons' Frends, whose offering at his request yelded cleerlie to this worke [£]124/1s/4d, the whole charge amounting to [£]400."   (See the photograph at the foot of the page, on the left.) The tower is diagonally buttressed and has a three-light supermullioned W. window, transomed at the springing, and a northeast projection for the stair turret, from the top of which a door leads out on to the nave roof.  Most striking, however, are the flushwork patterns on the leading edges of the buttresses and the mottos round the parapet, reading "Reverence My Sanctuary"  [E. side], "Anno Domini 1625"  [N. side], "Deo Trin Uni Sacrum"  [W. side], and "Keepe My Sabbaths"  [S. side], while another notable feature of the church exterior is the partially demolished N. chapel, now "roofless and eye-less" in the words of Walter de la Mare, but with walls still largely intact, adjoining the surviving mediaeval vestry to the west.  (See below right.)  The Perpendicular windows of the building are perfectly well designed but require little comment:  all have supermullioned drop tracery but the most interesting, the chancel E. window, seems completely renewed.


Inside the church the perspective is rather different and it now becomes clear this is not principally a Perpendicular building at all but a Decorated one with additions and alterations.  The three-bay S. arcade is formed of double-flat-chamfered arches supported on octagonal piers with distinctive early fourteenth century capitals, and although the N. arcade is later, it has been built to match, leaving only its slightly reduced dimensions to give it away.  However, the tower arch survives from late Decorated times, with its semi-octagonal responds with the larger capitals, and three orders to the arch itself, of which two carry wave mouldings and the third, a hollow.  The chancel arch is ambiguous and both Pevsner and Mortlock avoided referring to it directly (it bears a complex series of narrow mouldings above slighter responds with prominent capitals), but the piscina in the chancel S. wall is certainly Decorated.


The church contains no woodwork of importance but there are two monuments to mention, one on the chancel S. wall, dedicated to Thomas Stuteville (d. 1571) and his wife Anne, who together had fifteen children, featuring a tablet between fluted columns above a ledge representing a carved tomb chest, and another on the N. wall commemorating Sir Martin Stuteville (d .1631) and his two wives, with frontal busts in oval medallions between black columns with Corinthian capitals, supporting an entablature with a semicircular raised centre.  Finally the church also displays the remains of wall paintings above the chancel arch and N. arcade, which are about as well-preserved as such paintings usually are!