English Church Architecture -
FELSHAM, St. Peter (TL 947 570) (August 2004)
(Bedrock: Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)
The approach to this church is dominated by the grand impression created by the N. porch, which is one of the same family to be encountered at neighbouring Bildeston, Hitcham and Preston St. Mary. As discussed there also, these are so similar as to be almost certainly by the same hand. (Cf. the photograph, left, with those under the other three entries.) In each case the principal façade is covered in narrow trefoil-cusped arches in flint flushwork, and these extend to the battlements and the sides of the angle buttresses, the leading edges of which have two-light blank arches carved in limestone below the first set-offs and canopied niches with little lierne vaults below the second. A third niche is set above the apex of the outer doorway. Felsham, however, provides the best evidence for dating these porches, for wills of 1470 and 1471 here leave money for the glazing of the side windows (no small expense at the time) and this date appears to be reinforced by the fact that Thomas Ffyssher, rector at Hitcham from 1466 to 1500, asked to be buried in the porch there, suggesting it was he who footed the bill for its construction. The side windows at Felsham, Bildeston and Hitcham (though not Preston St. Mary) are also nearly identical, and have two lights, segmental arches, and supermullioned drop tracery with two tiers of reticulation units separated by castellated transoms (see the photograph, right, showing the angle, west of the porch, between the porch and the N. aisle), while the outer doorway combines somewhat differently the same elements found at those other places, including hollow chamfered mouldings filled at intervals with fleurons or faces and crowns, lion label stops, and a square surround with carved spandrels featuring shields and stylized leaves. It is all very sumptuous and here, distinctly out of keeping with the rest of the building, which is otherwise quite modest.
This consists of a W. tower, nave, chancel and small S. porch, and is partly Decorated, partly Perpendicular in style, apart from the westernmost window in the nave S. wall, which has Y-tracery and is presumably of thirteenth century date. Otherwise the nave and chancel S. windows are Decorated and feature a mix of reticulated tracery, curvilinear tracery (in the easternmost window on each side of the nave), and cruciform lobing set vertically (in the westernmost window on the N. side of the nave). The chancel N. windows are Perpendicular and have ogee lights and supermullioned drop tracery beneath four-centred arches with straightened upper arcs. The nave battlements must also be Perpendicular and display flint flushwork arches both to north and south (pace Pevsner). The chancel E. window is Victorian. The tower, however, returns us to Decorated forms* and has diagonal buttresses, two-light bell-openings with reticulated tracery, a stair turret rising to the bell-stage, and an ungainly W. window (shown left) with three cinquefoil-cusped lights and an oversized, elongated quatrefoil in the head, formed by the intersection of ogees.
About the interior of the building there is little to say for almost everything here can be attributed to one of the dullest of Victorian restorations. This has left just three significant early features. The tower arch is tall and has an inner flat-chamfered order supported on semi-octagonal responds with capitals, and two continuous outer orders bearing respectively a sunk quadrant and a sunk flat chamfer. This cannot date much before 1350. The chancel arch is probably earlier than that and formed of two flat-chamfered orders above semi-octagonal responds. However, the font (illustrated right) is the best piece and essentially two in one, for the base (in a different stone) - with faces and beasts carved on its sides - was formerly the bowl of another font, while the present bowl is covered with different forms of blank arcading and is supported by flying angels beneath. It is the more urbane of the two, but the less lively.
* I have recently been informed by Dr. Simon Cotton, however, of a surviving bequest, dated 1423, leaving money to the building of the tower, suggesting this is another East Anglian example of the persistence of Decorated forms in Perpendicular times.