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English Church Architecture.

 

GIPPING, Chapel of St. Nicholas  (TM 072 636),

SUFFOLK. 

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group.)

 

One of several churches closely related churches in Mid Suffolk and South Norfolk

 with elaborate flint flushwork.

 

Flint flushwork - the combination of knapped flint and pale stone to create a decorative wall facing - is an East Anglian building tradition that was firmly established by the late fourteenth century.  More often than not, the decoration is confined to repeating patterns such as chequerwork or rows of blank arches, but in some places it is more elaborate and might include, for example, the names of the donors or their armorial bearings.  One particular set of exemplars is to be found in a handful of churches in Mid Suffolk and South Norfolk with related towers whose construction may have been directed by the same master mason, which feature flint flushwork devices representing saints and specific dates in the Christian year.  St. Nicholas's Chapel, Gipping, is towerless, but has a number of features that suggest it may be connected to this group.   

 

 

 

Gipping is a tiny hamlet about three miles northeast of Stowmarket, with a population of barely seventy. The church, which since 1743 has been a free chapel administered by trustees, stands in a beautiful secluded spot, opposite a pink-washed farmhouse and beside a pond that once belonged to the manor house (now demolished).  Marred only by the concrete-rendered W. tower of later but uncertain date, this is an otherwise exceptional little building and one which shows the decorative possibilities of  flint flushwork  to perfection.  It was built c. 1475 at the expense of Sir James Tyrell, about twelve years after the tower at Garboldisham (Norfolk), perhaps three years after the tower at Ixworth, and a year or two before the tower at Elmswell, all of which are located within six to fifteen miles to the northwest.  The chapel, without the tower, consists of a nave and chancel with a curious N. extension that now serves as a vestry but which was probably once the chaplain's dwelling.  There is a fireplace in the N. wall, cleverly hidden from the outside by a transomed, counterfeit bay window with flushwork 'panes', coats of arms above, and three flushwork panels beneath, displaying emblems of the Tyrell and Arundel families, that are reminiscent of the flushwork devices on the buttresses and along the basal friezes of the towers at Elmswell, Ixworth, Badwell Ash and Garboldisham, but a more compelling feature tending to link this chapel with those churches is the way in which the large windows over the N. and S. doorways copy on a greater scale the bell-openings at Elmswell, both of which are formed of four-lights with the lights divided into two pairs by a narrow, intervening panel reaching up to the apex of the arch head, and which feature, in the case of the larger example here at Gipping, three tiers of narrow flushwork arches and little wheels of mouchettes in the spandrels. 

 

In fact, both the north and south walls of the nave here at Gipping are identical.  The nave is three bays long and the chancel, two, the bays being divided by buttresses with two set-offs and flushwork panelling on their faces.   The doorways beneath the elaborate central windows have simple flushwork arches on either side and the masonry has everywhere been arranged in a rough form of chequerwork, using knapped flint on the one hand and a mixture of large fieldstones and small blocks of limestone on the other.  This is seen to especially good effect to the east, around the five-light, transomed chancel window.  The angles of the E. wall are supported by polygonal clasping buttresses, which reduce in width in stages and are also covered in flushwork panelling.  Their primary purpose is clearly decorative rather than functional.  (See the photograph at the foot of the page.)

 

With so many large windows filled with clear glass (except for some re-set fragments in the chancel), 'the interior is as translucent as a glasshouse' (James Bettley and Nikolaus Pevsner, the 'Suffolk West' volume of The Buildings of England, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2015, p. 248).  To this the high, slight chancel arch, dying into imposts and fully as wide as the nave itself, the pale-cream-painted eighteenth century stalls east of the doorways, and the high but low-pitched nave and chancel roofs, all add their contribution.  The  benches  west of the doorways  date from the fifteenth century, the more elaborate ones to the north (illustrated left) having possibly been transferred here from the Tyrell Chapel in Stowmarket church.  There is no rood screen, yet one must have existed earlier, for the rood stair can still be seen to the south.  Other woodwork to notice includes the fifteenth century roofs with leaf mouldings on the wall plates, and the pulpit, choir stalls and communion rail, which are all of eighteenth century date.

 

[Other related churches to consult on this web-site include Badwell Ash, Gipping and Ixworth in this county, and Garboldisham in Norfolk.]