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English Church Architecture -



ELMSETT, St. Peter (TM 059 472)     (September 2012)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)










Pevsner's nine lines on this interesting church in The Buildings of England must comprise one of the most inadequate entries in the entire Suffolk volume and in one  important respect (the age of the main fabric), they are also simply wrong.  The nave S. wall alone provides a better architectural summary, for here in a row is a little blocked Norman window, probably dating from the twelfth century, a Y-traceried window from the second half of the thirteenth century, and a two-light Decorated window with cinquefoil-cusped lights commensurate with c. 1340-50. (See the photograph of the church from the southeast, above left, and the nave S. windows, above  right.)  Thus the nave, at least, is Norman in its basic masonry, and the majority of the building's features derive variously from the following two centuries.  The church is formed of a chancel, a nave with S. porch, and a W. tower, and is constructed of rendered flint and chalk rubble beneath roofs of red tile.


The chancel is lit by two renewed S. windows with reticulated tracery, a restored E. window with flowing tracery and, to the north, two Y-traceried windows on either side of a third with a straightened reticulation unit in the head - a very compendium of late thirteeenth and fourteenth century window tracery design.  The N. wall of the nave boasts another Y-traceried window, a second blocked Norman window, and two more windows with straightened reticulated tracery (commensurate with the late fourteenth century) on either side of the N. doorway.  The tower rises in three stages, supported by diagonal buttresses for the lower two, to lancet bell-openings and superimposed shallow battlements;  it is lit to the west by two further lancets, a small one below and a large one above, and retains a fossilized gable line on the E. wall, above the present nave roof, that probably looks back to the time when the roof was thatched.  The porch has been heavily restored but retains its outer, possibly thirteenth century, wooden cruck arch, but more important than this is the ancient inner door (illustrated left), which, as the church guide points out, is almost certainly a survivor from the original building and older than the doorway in which it now hangs.   Round-headed and formed of four vertical planks, with its Norman iron-work still attached, it was described by Dr. Oliver Rackham as having "the earliest tongue and groove boards known to me, re-used in the Early English doorway, which it does not fit" (quoted from the church guide).      


Inside the building, other matters come to the fore.  The nave is approached down three steps, the unmoulded chancel arch (such as it is) simply dies into the walls, and there is  a gallery over the W. end of the nave, behind which the lower stage of the tower is now partitioned off to form a vestry.  The nave walls are strikingly battered, giving an impression of a building splaying outwards under the weight of the roof.  The church guide describes this method of construction as a "design ... used in flint and rubble construction [to provide] stability", but it is not a technique that is frequently encountered, at least not to anywhere near this extent.  The nave roof is ceiled, though the ashlar pieces remain exposed above the wall plates.  The especially fine pulpit (right) may be late Elizabethan rather than Stuart:  the blank perspective arches on the second tier of panelling are not of standard Jacobean type and the bare-breasted mermaids(?) carved in the tier above, are reminiscent of the more prominent full-bosomed caryatids on the late sixteenth century pulpit at Orton Waterville (Peterborough).  The font is presumably Norman:  it consists of a big square bowl supported on five circular shafts and a large square base.  Other features in the nave include a Royal Arms of George II over (as opposed to above) the N. door, and the remains of the rood stair in the nave S. wall, immediately west of the chancel arch.


The most significant woodwork in the chancel is the "Laudian" communion rail (below left), which surrounds the altar on three sides and may or may not date precisely from archiepiscopacy of William Laud, between 1633 and his execution in 1645.  The sill of the easternmost window in the S. wall is dropped to act as a sedilia and an angle piscina (illustrated below right) built into the eastern splay, opens in little trefoiled arches, north into the sanctuary and northwest towards the main body of the chancel, on either side of an octagonal support.














Finally, the church contains one significant monument (shown below), commemorating Edward Sherland (d. 1609), featuring an effigy of he deceased kneeling at a prayer desk, set within an architectural surround, surmounted by two obelisks and an achievement above.  The inscription reads:


"Tombes have noe use, unlesse it bee to
The due respecte which friende to friende
    doth owe:
Tis not a mausolem, monument
Or hireling epitaph that can prevent
The flux of fame: a painted sepulchre
Is but a rotten trustlesse treasurer,
And a faire gate built to oblivion.
But he whose life, whose everie action,
Like well wrought stones, and pyramides,
His monumente to honor and respecte,
As this man's did:  hee needes noe other
Yet hath but due, having both tombe and