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English Church Architecture -



GREAT BRICETT, St. Mary & St. Laurence (TM 039 507)   (June 2008)

(Bedrock:  Neogene, Red Crag Formation)


That this appears to be such a strange building today is due to the fact it was once part of a minor possession of the Augustinian Canons, who founded a priory here c. 1110, which subsequently passed from the protection of the Bishop of Norwich to that of the Bishop of Limoges in 1295 and was eventually suppressed as an alien priory by Henry V, a year before Agincourt, in 1414.  It is likely that only three or four monks lived here then and that in common with many similar houses, the priory was operating more as a grange whose function was to generate an income from agriculture and send the profits to France - a cause of no small national resentment given the state of Anglo-French relations at the time!


The extant building (shown above, from the south) is coincident with the former monks’ choir to the east and parochial nave to the west.  The cloister and associated domestic buildings lay north and west again, and their surviving fragments and foundations are  now incorporated in the adjoining house and buried beneath private grounds.


Architecturally, the church is mostly thirteenth century in style as shown by the windows with Y-tracery, no two of which are entirely alike.  The heavily patched S. wall of the nave features a renewed lancet with brick jambs and a window with Y-tracery to the west of the porch, a blocked single-light window with brick jambs immediately above the porch gable to the east, and three irregularly-spaced Y-traceried windows of differing sizes further east, followed by a tall lancet.   The chancel (monk’s choir), which projects slightly at an angle reconstructed in modern bricks, then follows with a very large Y-traceried window with a new round-arched head, a priest’s doorway, and finally a lancet set in a blocked arch that once led to a small south chapel.  Another such arch may be seen inside the building, in the N. wall opposite, where it once led to a similar N. chapel.  However, not obvious today, outside or in, is that there was formerly a second pair of arches further west, in line with the large Y-traceried chancel window, that led to a pair of little transepts here also.  It is likely that most or all of these chapels and transepts faced eastwards into apses, as the monks’ choir itself has been shown to have done.  Thus the building would probably have looked quite impressive in the fourteenth century, even though work on the W. tower - the intended and now blocked round arch to which can be seen inside the nave - seems never properly to have been begun.  The five-light E. window in Decorated style dates only from 1868:  beyond this there was once a presbytery.  The chancel is lit to the north by a Y-traceried window in the blocked arch from the sanctuary already discussed, and a three-light square-headed window to the west.  There are no N. windows to the nave.


However, the most important architectural features today are the Norman S. doorway inside the porch and the impressive square font, which is contemporary and perhaps the best of its age in Suffolk.  The S. doorway (shown below left) is decorated with two lines of chevron round the arch, with nailhead between, and there is a very worn, carved, leaf-like repeating motif on each of the voussoirs and of the quoins down the sides.  The jambs are decorated by side shafts to the first order and an illegible incised inscription running down the angle of the second.  The font is decorated with a variety of designs based on blank arches, including, to the west, one formed of intersecting round arches springing from circular piers with what appear to be volute capitals (as illustrated below centre).  This may suggest a mid to late twelfth century date for  a dated example of the employment of intersecting round arches can be seen on the W. front of St. Lawrence’s, Castle Rising (Norfolk), constructed after 1138. The N. side of the font features four trefoil-headed blank arches between columns, with leaf designs in the spandrels, and the S. side (illustrated below right) displays two similar but wider arches, with additional carving at the sides.


Finally, the carpentry requires brief mention, including the nave roof framed in five cants, with king posts of octagonal section supporting four-way braces to the collars and collar purlin.  The pulpit is very attractive although Pevsner considered it Victorian:  hexagonal in shape, it is decorated with detailed carving in small tiers, featuring cusped blank arches and roses.