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English Church Architecture -



GREAT BLAKENHAM, St. Mary (TM 118 509)     (July 2008)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


This is relatively modest building (shown left, from the southeast) alongside the B1113, but it is not one without interest or evidence of antiquity.  The oldest features are the S. doorway (illustrated below right), formed of a single unmoulded order, the remains of the N. doorway opposite, which at one stage clearly served as a window, and the little round-headed window immediately east of the S. porch, which all appear to be eleventh century work.  The unbuttressed tower rising in two stages, divided by a string course below the bell-stage only, looks as if it could be thirteenth century in origin (Early English), although in that case, the two-light W. window and bell-openings are early fourteenth century (Decorated) insertions.  Other work of apparent thirteenth century date includes, in particular, the group of three stepped lancets in the E. wall of the chancel (below left), together with a restored lancet in the N. wall of the sanctuary, a lancet in the S. wall of the chancel that now looks through to the vestry (and so can only be seen internally), and a third in the S. wall of the nave, while later mediaeval windows include a three-light Perpendicular one on either side of the nave, with drop tracery and stepped supertransoms beneath segmental-pointed arches. The church consists of a chancel with a N. organ chamber (of 1877) and S. vestry (of 1931), both of lean-to construction, a nave with a S. porch, and a W. tower, and is built of the usual local mix of flint and other fieldstones, with tiled roofs and limestone dressings.  The porch is half-timbered above a rendered, four foot (1.2 m.) wall, with open rectangular divisions between wooden mullions, arranged in two, four-light bays, and with a carved wooden panel depicting St. Mary, built into the exterior gable.  The tower is embattled and has a bell-stage rendered in concrete and a tower arch formed of two flat-chamfered orders that die into the jambs.


Inside the building, there are several features of interest, including the octagonal font, with a bowl decorated with a variety of tracery designs and what appears to be at least one, and possibly two, Sacred Hearts, standing on a stem with comparatively large angle buttresses, decorated, like the spaces between, with little blank arches.  There is no chancel arch, so demarcation between the nave and chancel relies on the position of the rood stair to the south, and on the fact that the chancel is a little narrower and has a different roof.


An examination of the church carpentry must begin with the nave roof (shown below left, from the east), which is framed in seven cants, with castellated wall plates and what are effectively, two tiers of collars in the apex.  The chancel roof is similar but framed at a slightly lower level, with a single tier of collars only.  Wooden furniture includes the attractive octagonal pulpit with tester (below right), which is Jacobean:  it is decorated with two and a half tiers of panelling, with lozenges on the first tier, round-headed arches on the second tier, and reeding on the half-tier above that, while the tester has acorn pendants at the angles.  The communion rail is formed of two and a half sections on each side with a pair of gates between, and has open tracery beneath that is clearly the re-used dado of a former screen.