English Church Architecture -
DENHAM, St. John the Baptist (TM 188 748) (April 2009)
(Bedrock: Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)
This is a humble little building of rather ramshackle appearance, standing alone on a rise, and perhaps its most notable feature in spring is its churchyard full of primroses, dotted with early purple orchids. (See the photograph at the foot of the page.) The building consists of a nave and chancel with a late sixteenth or seventeenth century S. porch and a N. vestry of 1873, a former W. tower and N. chapel having both been demolished, reputedly in the 1780s. The building is constructed of flint and pebble rubble and is heavily patched and buttressed in brick and part-rendered in concrete. The S. wall of the porch is constructed entirely of brick except for its central keystone. The bond is Flemish, indicating a date no earlier than c. 1650. (The earliest recorded use of Flemish bond in Britain is at the Dutch House in Kew, constructed in 1631.)
Pevsner, who devoted just ten lines to this church in the Suffolk volume of “The Buildings of England” (in the second edition revised by Enid Radcliffe, pub. Penguin, 1974), wrote tersely, “Dec. chancel, see the S. doorway, Perp nave”, but in fact, the chancel seems more likely to belong to the previous period (i.e. the Early English) on the basis of what little evidence there is, for the priest’s doorway in the S. wall (below left) is lancet-pointed and has a continuous roll around it, and the likelihood of a thirteenth century date seems to be reinforced by the altar tomb immediately west of the chancel arch, against the nave N. wall, enclosing an effigy of a woman wearing a wimple. The nave S. doorway inside the porch (below centre) bears a single flat chamfer, and the nave N. doorway, a hollow chamfer, while the blocked arch to the erstwhile N. chapel (right), which can still be examined internally, once bore a series of narrow mouldings on three orders of semi-octagonal shafts, all of which, when taken together, suggest a date unlikely to be later than c. 1400. Most of the other external features of the building are restored or renewed and not capable of having any trust placed in them. The nave and chancel windows are variously two and three-light, and either untraceried or supermullioned. A curious little opening with an air of dereliction in the S. wall, between two heavy brick buttresses at the junction of the nave and chancel, exposes the underside of the rood stair within.
Inside the church, the very wide chancel arch gives the church a greater feeling of space than seems possible outside, The arch is depressed, either by design or the weight of the centuries, and carries two flat chamfers that continue all the way around. Wooden furniture in the building does not amount to much and is mostly Victorian, but the nineteenth century choir stalls have fourteenth century poppyheads incorporated in their ends. (See the example illustrated above right.) The chancel has a collar beam roof while the nave roof is arch-braced to the ridge. Finally, there is also a mediaeval roof truss embedded in the wall above the chancel arch (on the W. side), beneath which hangs an indifferently-executed but nevertheless uncommon Royal Arms of Charles I.