English Church Architecture -
GIPPING, Chapel of St. Nicholas (TM 072 636) (June 2003)
(Bedrock: Neogene to Quaternary, Crag 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, who was knighted by Edward IV in 1482 around the time of his marriage to Anne Arundell, and subsequently beheaded for alleged treason by Henry VII in 1502. The chapel consists, without the tower, of a nave and chancel with a curious N. extension (shown right) that now serves as a vestry but which was probably once the chaplain's dwelling. This was an unusual but not unknown arrangement at this date - for example, St. George's, Toddington in Bedfordshire has a three-storey chantry chapel and priest's apartment in exactly this position. (Cf. also All Saints', Ripley, North Yorkshire and the other Suffolk examples at St. Ethelbert's, Hessett, All Saints, Hitcham and, perhaps, St. Peter's, Cockfield.) Although today these seem small for such a rôle, they probably provided very good accommodation judged by the standards of their day. Here at Gipping, for example, 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 flushwork panels beneath, with emblems of the Tyrell and Arundell families), and a four-light E. window that would have obviously been glazed at a time when the domestic use of glass was still the preserve of the rich.
The north and south walls of the nave present a rich display. (See the photograph of the N. front at the top of the page.) 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. Between these, there are three-light transomed windows with supermullioned tracery in the chancel and the east and west bays of the nave, and elaborate four-light ones above doorways in the central nave bays. The form of these last is reminiscent of the bell-openings at St. Edmund's, Southwold, where, in work ascribed to the first decade of the fifteenth century, the middle lights are separated by flushwork buttresses, a feature that has evolved here into purely decorative flushwork panels (and see also the bell-openings of the church at Elmswell, where the work is dated c. 1463), to which flushwork roundels have been added in the spandrels at the top. The doorways 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 view of the chapel from the east 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" (Pevsner). 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.