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English Church Architecture -



EYE, St. Peter & St. Paul (TM 149 737)     (March 2009)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)


This is a large and stately town church with a magnificent Perpendicular W. tower and an almost equally impressive S. porch. The rest of the building, however, though not without interest, is commonplace by comparison.


To begin then, with the tower (seen left, from the northwest), this rises in four stages to a height of 101 feet (31 m.) and is notable for the prominent, clasping polygonal buttresses at the corners, which recede at each string course and terminate in short pinnacles above the stepped battlements, and for its exceptional display of flint flushwork, which entirely covers the buttresses, the W. wall from top to bottom, and the bell-stage on all sides. The four-light W. window, in a design which is imposing without being particularly inventive, displays supermullioned tracery between strong mullions, two tiers of reticulation units divided by what, effectively, is a latticed supertransom, a plain supertransom higher up across the two central lights, and a transom across all four lights, about a third of the way up from the sill to the springing.  The W. doorway has a carved niche on either side and a frieze of shields in blank quatrefoils above.  The second and third stages of the tower are both lit to the west by two-light windows, and the bell-stage is pierced by two, two-light, openings in each wall, with segmental-pointed arches.  There is a basal frieze around the tower composed of  blank sexfoils containing shields, and the north, east and south walls are faced in knapped flint. 


The unusual appearance of the S. porch today is due to the fact that at some time in the past, what must once have been the flint flushwork facing of its east and west walls, has had the flint replaced by orange brick.  The colour combination this produces is equally pleasing, however, and the S. front of the porch, in limestone ashlar, is especially fine (see the photograph, right), with its outer doorway of three orders springing from bowtells, set between two more, large clasping polygonal buttresses at the angles, rising in two receding tiers and decorated on all sides by blank arches, albeit apparently left incomplete above the parapet, where they have been topped in make-shift fashion with a few courses of brick and little octagonal roofs.  The upper storey is lit from the south by a two-light supermullioned window which rests on a frieze of quatrefoils set lozenge-wise, and the lower storey is lit to east and west by two-light square-headed windows.  The position of the porch stair is evident in the northwest angle, where it is lit at the top by a rectangular slit.  A basal frieze around the porch is carved in low relief and a further frieze of encircled quatrefoils sits on the apex of the doorway.    


The rest of the church consists of a five-bay aisled nave and a three-bay chancel with two-bay chapels, with the addition of a little vestry alongside the sanctuary to the east of the N. chapel.  Windows are everywhere Perpendicular, formed of three cinquefoil-cusped lights with strong mullions and supermullioned tracery, augmented above the central lights in the nave aisle and N. chapel windows (but not in the S. chapel windows) by castellated supertransoms.  Both the aisles and the chapels are topped by battlements, of which the former are decorated with flushwork and the latter are constructed in brick.  There is also a clerestory above both the nave and chancel, but which is more impressive over the chancel, where it consists of two, two-light windows in each bay, with supermullioned tracery and split "Y"s, separated by areas of flushwork.  It is seen to best effect from the south, above the aisleless sanctuary bay.  (See the photograph, right.)  Other attractive features at this end of the church are the flushwork decoration on the angle buttresses to the sanctuary, and the flying buttress over the priest's doorway in the S. chapel, like that to be seen in the chancel at Little Stonham.  (See the thumbnail, right.)  


Entrance to Eye church today is gained through the tower.  A fan vault beneath, has an open circle in the centre which once allowed the bells to be rung from ground level, and the door between the tower and nave is formed of two flat chamfered orders separated by a keeled roll supported on bowtells.  This door opens within a tower arch which is interrupted above by an original stone gallery.  The nave arcades are earlier and of simple Decorated form, formed of arches bearing a hollow chamfer on the inner order and a narrower flat chamfer on the outer order, springing from octagonal piers with characteristically prominent capitals. The nave clerestory windows, each with three lights and stepped transoms, are positioned above the arcade apices. (The photograph on the right, shows the N. arcade from the east.) The chapel arcades differ both from the nave arcades and each other, though their dates must be similar.  The S. chapel arcade (left) is formed of arches bearing three narrow, deep hollows, supported on a central quatrefoil pier and semi-quatrefoil responds with tall bases, with blank semicircles round the necks of the capitals, and fillets down the foils and little spurs between.  The slightly longer N. arcade (shown in the thumbnail, right) carries two hollow chamfers above a central quatrefoil pier and semi-quatrefoil responds on shorter bases, and has no spurs or fillets and capitals of simpler design.  It is impossible to sequence these arcades on the basis of these stylistic differences, which could be due to the involvement of different masons as much as to any differences in date, but it seems probable that the nave arcades come first.  The arches between the aisles and chapels spring from corbels and are double-flat-chamfered on the N. side and double-hollow-chamfered to the south.


Furnishings in the church can probably be considered to include the double-cusped ogee tomb recess in the N. aisle, which is also Decorated, but the most arresting item is the late fifteenth century rood screen with its partly original loft, which is "supported" in front (to the west) by arches rising from pendants.  (See the photograph at the foot of the page.)  According to David Jones and John Salmon, the authors of the church guide (1980), this is "the great glory" of the church, while the figures of assorted saints (of which the majority are female), painted on the dado "are of particular interest as most of them are quite perfect".  Pevsner, however, who visited the church in 1960 or '61, was altogether less impressed, describing the screen as in a poor state of repair and dismissing the painted figures in two words - "all bad".  Clearly considerable restoration has taken place since then, though the church guide records only the cleaning of the paintwork in 1960-65. The nave and chancel roofs were heavily restored in 1869 and now look largely of that date. 


Monuments in the church include two sixteenth century tomb chests and a couple of wall monuments worthy of mention, namely: (i) at the west end of the N. aisle, a tomb chest commemorating Nicholas Cutler (d. 1568), with a flat canopy above, bearing a frieze of encircled quatrefoils and supported - interestingly at such an early date -  on two Ionic columns;  (ii) on the N. wall of the S. chapel (beyond the arcade), a very similar monument, either by the same hand or a direct copy of the first by another sculptor, commemorating William Honyng (d. 1589);  (iii) on the S. wall of the sanctuary, an unsigned wall monument dedicated to one, John Brown, a naval surgeon who died in 1732, featuring "an excellent relief of the Good Samaritan" (Pevsner); and (iv), a simpler nineteenth century monument commemorating Sir Charles Cunningham (d. 1835), ascribed by Gunnis to John Evan Thomas (1810-73) (Dictionary of British Sculptors; 1660-1851, pub. The Abbey Library, 1951).  Born in Breconshire, where he had a substantial practice from 1857, Thomas appears to have been quite a capable artist, Gunnis going so far as to describe his relief of two angels on his monument to Rev. Thomas Watkins in Brecon Cathedral as "lovely", though another work, a statue to the second Lord Londonderry, exhibited in Westminster Hall in 1844, was characterized at the time by the Literary Gazette, in one of those turns of phrase in which the Victorians excelled, as "without intellect in the head and without dignity in the attitude".