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English Church Architecture -



GLEMSFORD, St. Mary (TL 834 484)     (April 2004)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


The church appears rather bare inside and Pevsner and Enid Radcliffe only afforded it fifteen lines in the second edition of the Suffolk volume of The Buildings of England (Penguin, 1974).  Yet there is quite a lot of interest here, and in one thing especially the building is uncommonly rich, and that is flint flushwork. The S. aisle, S. porch and S. chapel are all entirely faced with this and the effect is very grand, the product of what must have been years of back-breaking labour.  The porch (shown left) - the S. front of which also boasts three now-broken canopied niches that once had lierne vaults - is particularly fine.  So is the trefoil-cusped flushwork arcading beneath the aisle and chapel S. windows, while beneath this in turn is a basal frieze of shields in quatrefoils, carved in limestone (shown below right).  The S. windows themselves, which are untraceried but tall and transomed in the aisle, and supermullioned and transomed in the chapel, are separated by buttresses terminating in crocketed pinnacles, while the S. chapel E. window has five lights with more flushwork around it. Finally, there is also a flushwork frieze around the base of the N. chapel, the walls of which are otherwise rendered. The date of all this work appears to be the late fifteenth century:  the S. chapel was built at the expense of John Golding, a local clothier, c. 1497, and the N. chapel at the expense of John Mundy and his family, reputedly c. 1525, although as can  be seen inside, there is good reason to believe that the true date of the latter was much closer to that of the former.  The diagonally buttressed, embattled W. tower, by contrast, can be seen to be essentially Decorated, even though it has been heavily restored.  This is shown, for example, by its large three-light bell-openings, which have reticulated tracery.


The Decorated period is probably also represented internally by the three-bay nave arcades, which are early fourteenth century work at the latest and could even still be thirteenth century in date.  These consist of double-flat-chamfered arches supported on octagonal piers. However, the two-bay arcades between the chancel and its chapels are part of the late fifteenth century additions to the building, showing that the chapels were first added at this time.  The piers, which are almost identical north to south apart from slight variations in the bases and capitals, are almost exact copies of the nave arcade piers at St. Mary's, Cavendish, which Birkin Haward (Mediaeval Church Arcades, Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 1993) attributed to John Melford of Sudbury (fl. 1460 - 1509), whose work can probably also be seen at Boxford, Lavenham and Long Melford Melford was the one-time apprentice of Reginald Ely (d. 1471), whose moulds he appears to have inherited.  He himself died in 1509, and so it is likely that the N. chapel besides the S. chapel, was largely complete by then.  The piers are lozenge-shaped, with single attached semicircular shafts to north and south separated by casement mouldings from groups of three narrow bowtells towards the openings. Towards the chapels (though not the chancel) these shafts extend up between the arcade spandrels, to terminate in corbels that appear to support the wall posts of the roofs.  Of these, the N. chapel roof is original and of couple construction, with carved beams.  Similarly, the lean-to N. aisle roof  is also old, but that is almost the only other noteworthy piece of carpentry to be found in the building apart from the Jacobean pulpit with the usual round-headed blank arches on the panels, while of the church’s other features, only the font requires particularizing, with its carved octagonal bowl bearing the symbols of the Evangelists (illustrated left).