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English Church Architecture -



FRESSINGFIELD, St. Peter & St. Paul (TM 261 775)       (April 2011)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)


This  is a large church with many interesting features and Pevsner's entry for it in The Buildings of England does it scant justice. It consists of a W. tower, an aisled nave with N. and  S. porches, and a chancel with N. chapel (see the photograph, left, taken from the southeast), and is essentially Decorated in the tower and chancel, early Perpendicular (late fourteenth century) in the nave and aisles, and later Perpendicular (mid fifteenth to early sixteenth century) in the porches, clerestory and N. chapel. The church is probably most notable for its mediaeval benches, which are so good one is often left wondering whether the work has been renewed.


First, then, the tower, which rises in four stages to (probably later) battlements above a bell-stage with openings with reticulated tracery to the east, south & west, and of non-standard form to the north.  The first two stages are supported by diagonal buttresses, the W. window has cinquefoil-cusped Y-tracery, and inside, a doorway communicates with the nave, rather than an open arch. The N. chapel (now organ chamber) has a re-set, restored three-light N. window with cusped intersecting tracery, that may have come from the chancel N. wall, and there is a similar window with cinquefoil-cusped Y-traceried further east in the north wall of the sanctuary.  The chancel interior has been heavily restored and is now the least rewarding part of the building.


The significance of the aisles and chancel lies chiefly in their kinship with a dozen or more other Suffolk churches, among them Brundish, Parham, Stowlangtoft, Wingfield and Rattlesden, of which the first four are dateable by various means to some time in the reign of Richard II (1377-99). Parts of these buildings (or all of it, in the case of Stowlangtoft) are clearly the work of the same master mason, whose stylistic signature can be seen especially in his windows. These consist, in their three-light form, of lights linked by little subarcuations, a row of six straight-sided sub-lights above - the inner four ogee-pointed and the outer pair, two-centred, and three quatrefoils in the head - the central one, ogee-pointed top and bottom and the outer pair, at the bottom only, and there are two of these windows at Fressingfield, in the E. walls of the S. aisle and N. chapel (the latter is shown, right), with the very slight deviation that the two central sub-lights are cinquefoiled instead of trefoiled.  The three windows in the N. aisle (two to the north and one to the west) and the two windows in the nave S. wall,  show a reduced form of this tracery, probably by someone else (cf., for example, two S. aisle windows at Badwell Ash).  However, the four-light, two-centred E. window to the chancel (see the thumbnail, left) is comparable to that at Rattlesden, except that the design there has been extended to five lights.  


A second feature, seen inside, diagnostic of the Stowlangtoft mason, concerns the detail of arch responds.  Fressingfield's three-bay nave arcades are formed, quite simply, of arches bearing one flat and one hollow chamfer, springing from plain octagonal piers with prominent, finely-moulded capitals. (The photograph, left, shows the N. arcade, viewed from the chancel.)  However, the responds at the ends, also have running up the sides, a narrow, second flat chamfer terminating in an incised trefoil, and this feature occurs also on the responds of the chancel arch, and at Brundish, Parham, Wingfield and Wortham(See the thumbnail, right, showing the N. respond of the chancel arch, viewed from the nave.)   The entrance for the rood stair may be seen in the S. aisle, and the exit immediately below the S. respond capital in the nave.      


The clerestory is faced with uncoursed knapped flint and formed on either side of six, two-light, four-centred windows (i.e. two per bay), with supermullioned tracery, split "Y"s, and flattened daggers in the apex.  Externally, the window arches are decorated with tumbled-in brick alternating with flint in the local Suffolk manner, and the eastern gable of the clerestory is surmounted by a Sanctus bell turret which is probably contemporary.  (There is also a three-light window with supermullioned tracery looking out above the chancel arch, over the chancel roof.)  The two-storeyed S. porch (below left) is an excellent piece of work, with a flushwork basal frieze and an elaborately decorated façade:  (i) the outer doorway has an order of shafts with castellated capitals, a surrounding hollow chamfer containing carved crowns at intervals, and a hood-mould and label decorated with carved roses and rising from king and queen label stops;  (ii) there are two tiers of flushwork arches either side of the doorway, while a third, above, is arrayed like battlements, with flushwork arches beneath the "merlons" and carved roses beneath the "embrasures";  (iii) above again, a tier of carved arches with crocketed ogee points, gives place in the centre to two canopied niches flanking a two-light window; and, finally, (iv) the whole composition is set off by a parapet with a carved frieze of blank quatrefoils.  Yet further embellishment may be found inside, where the lower storey has been provided with a tierceron vault (below right), with carved bosses at the intersections of the ribs and quarter-shaft springers in the corners of the porch, with carved capitals depicting the symbols of the Evangelists.  The stair turret for the upper storey is enclosed within the southwest corner of the S. aisle.  The single-storeyed N. porch seems to have had most of its details renewed. 













Church woodwork includes, most especially, the bench ends already mentioned, of which there are nine pairs each side of the central aisle (i.e. at opposite ends of nine benches)  Their poppyheads are conventional but the traceried sides are elaborate and distinct  (see the three examples, illustrated below), and some retain their original figure "arm rests", portraying an assortment of figures (saints?) and a variety of creatures, both real and imaginary.  In addition, the rear benches have elaborately carved backs, of which that to the north displays the emblems of the Passion.


Finally, another fine piece of work is the attractive hammerbeam nave roof with braced collars above (seen below from the east).  Almost inevitably, it has lost its angels, but the wall plates are nicely carved, all the principal timbers are moulded, and the spandrels between the hammerbeams and hammerposts are filled with openwork tracery.  The chancel roof is also essentially mediaeval, though rather heavily restored.