English Church Architecture -
GOSBECK, St. Mary (TM 151 557) (October 2008)
(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)
Gosbeck is a pleasant rural parish of sparse and dispersed settlement, and the church (shown left, from the southeast) is set back from the lane with just one house to keep it company. It is one of a number of churches in the immediate area with the unusual feature of a mediaeval southwest tower that serves also as a porch, other examples of which can be found at Barham, Mickfield, Stonham Aspal, Thorndon and Witnesham, while St. Mary’s, Coddenham, barely a mile and a half away, has a tower to the northwest. All these can be assigned to the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, which seems unlikely to be a coincidence, and so the inference must be that there was either a team of masons working locally around that time, who particularly favoured this arrangement, or - at the very least – that the parishioners of these villages consciously set out to emulate one another in the matter of church building, perhaps in response to an especially well regarded prototype. Indeed, the southwest tower is by far the most imposing part of St. Mary's, Gosbeck. It rises in two stages, supported by diagonal buttresses at the southeast and southwest angles, and has a tall S. doorway between, carrying a series of mostly wave mouldings around it, and displaying above, a cinquefoil-cusped ogee niche with crocketed pinnacles at the sides and shields in the spandrels. These are essentially Perpendicular details, but the bell-openings are reticulated, suggesting - insofar as they may be trusted, for it is evident that fairly heavy restoration has taken place throughout the church - a date of origin for the tower, in line with the other examples listed above, even though the stepped battlements must be another subsequent addition, with their flushwork arches and pinnacles at the corners and mid-points of the walls. The tower has a large rectangular stair turret at the north end of the W. wall, in the angle between the tower and nave.
As to the rest of the building, this clearly has Romanesque origins, but any attempt to achieve greater precision can only really be a matter of reasoned guesswork. Both the nave and chancel are very short but the nave is considerably the wider of the two, and its southeast and northeast angles features quoins laid as long-and-short work which, if original, would generally be considered to suggest a Saxon origin. (The southeast angle is illustrated, right.) However, the round-arched, completely unmoulded N. doorway to the nave, in dressed stone (shown below left), and the tall round-headed window high up further east, seem almost certain to be Norman, and assuming they are contemporary with the walls in which they are set, it thus seems more likely that the nave is Anglo-Norman and late eleventh century, although still of a date when Saxon workmen were being employed.
Other windows to the church include: (i) a three-light window with reticulated tracery in the W. wall of the nave; (ii) a single two-light window in the east end of the nave N. wall, with renewed supermullioned tracery; (iii) a cinquefoil-cusped Y-traceried window with the appearance of c. 1300, apparently re-set in the E. wall of the Victorian N. vestry; (iv) a three-light Victorian window in the E. wall of the chancel; and (v) a three-light, four-centred Perpendicular window in the S. wall of the nave, with supermullioned tracery, split “Y”s, and a broad dagger in the head.
To all this, the church interior adds really rather little. The porch inner doorway is comparatively small and carries a series of wave mouldings around. The nave is somewhat oddly arranged, being divided by a screen (dated 1879) immediately east of the doorway, which forms a baptistry to the west, and leads the visitor through a curtain draped across its central division, into the nave proper to the east. The nave and chancel roofs are of hammerbeam construction, but seemingly not old. There is no chancel arch and the chancel is only demarcated by the raising of the floor one step, while the sanctuary is raised one more. Just two other features need particularizing, the first, the odd five-sided pulpit, that has almost certainly been made from sections of a former, more conventional Jacobean original, and the second, a small piece of wooden panelling attached to the chancel N. wall, probably once part of the dado of a rood screen.