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English Church Architecture -



GREAT ASHFIELD, All Saints (TL 995 678)     (August 2006)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)


Unfortunately the approach to this church is dominated by the ugly chancel, probably of late nineteenth or early twentieth century date, which is built in a cheap and nasty First Pointed style. However, although the mediaeval fabric of the rest of the building is of no great importance, the church rewards the visitor first, for its vernacular S. porch (left), and second, for its wooden furnishings, which are likely to necessitate a brief expedition in search of the church key.


To consider first the mediaeval masonry, this features in approximate age order, one original lancet in the chancel N. wall, the thirteenth century S. doorway to the nave (inside the porch), a surviving Decorated two-light window in the western end of the chancel S. wall, the contemporary and humble W. tower with shingled spike, and an early Perpendicular N. aisle which extends east for one bay beside the chancel, where it serves as a vestry.  Of these, the nave S. doorway has one order of colonnettes at the sides and a keeled roll around the arch, the tower has a two-light W. window with curvilinear tracery, a cusped lancet above, and a W. doorway that was obviously inserted in Perpendicular times, and the aisle has two-light, square-headed windows and, inside, a four-bay arcade to the nave, perhaps of mid fourteenth century date, composed of double-flat-chamfered arches supported on semi-octagonal responds at the ends and piers formed of four semi-octagonal shafts in between.


None of this is particularly distinguished but the porch, though admittedly somewhat rustic, is another matter entirely - a delightful, richly-coloured composition in local materials, with deep red brick contrasted with glossy black, knapped flint.  The S. front (illustrated) features five tiers of trefoil-cusped flushwork arches, more arches on the diagonal buttresses, and still more on the stepped battlements. The outer doorway is painstakingly constructed entirely in moulded brick, with semicircular "shafts" at the sides, a square surround, and a trefoil-cusped niche above the apex, and the side windows in the same material are two-light, trefoil-cusped and square-headed.


The woodwork inside the building is most easily listed.

1.   The square Jacobean pulpit (right) is much the best piece and notable for its large size, unusual shape, bulbous legs and, not least, for having its date of construction picked out in gold leaf on the tester - "1619".  The blank arches that decorate the upper tier of panelling are of standard Jacobean form but it is helpful to have the dating of this confirmed occasionally from one area to the next.

2.   There is more of this panelling behind the altar, where there are arches on the upper tier and at the sides of the lower tier.

3.   Rather later is the communion rail (shown at the foot of the page) with twisted balusters, which was assigned by Pevsner  to c. 1700.

4.   Less good but much earlier are some of the nave benches, with leaf poppyheads and beasts and figures on the arm rests.  They compare in style - though not in quality - with those at Woolpit, three and a half miles (5 km.) to the south.

5.   Finally the arched braced nave roof and the N. aisle roof require brief mention.  They retain some mediaeval timbers and the former has wall plates carved into little rectangular divisions in a modest attempt at ornamentation.