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English Church Architecture -



GREAT WALDINGFIELD, St. Lawrence (TL 912 439)         (October 2002)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)


The church consists of a W. tower with a higher stair turret at the southeast angle (shown left), an aisled nave with N. and S. porches communicating with its westernmost bay, and a chancel with a shorter N. chapel and a vestry beyond.  It is Perpendicular in style except for the vestry E. window, which seems to be a re-used, early to mid fourteenth century survival, and for the nineteenth century chancel (discussed separately below).  Most of the other features of the building are consistent with a mid fifteenth century date, and although the Little Guide to Suffolk (revised edition by P.G.M. Dickinson, Methuen, 1957) quotes a tradition that the church was built by one John Appleton at the end of the fourteenth century, Birkin Haward's attempts to trace this man (Suffolk Mediaeval Church Arcades, The Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 1993) came up with just three successive generations of that name, who died in 1459, 1481 and 1483 respectively. 


To consider the church stylistically with these uncertainties in mind, therefore, the W. tower is diagonally buttressed and the two-light bell-openings have straightened reticulation units in their heads, which would indeed be consistent with a late fourteenth century date.  However,  the W. window has drop tracery, a transom and a supertransom, which certainly look later, the canopied niches on either side have little lierne vaults, and the W. doorway to the tower and inner and outer doorways to the S. porch (the last of which is illustrated in the first thumbnail, below left) have casement mouldings around them, decorated at intervals with carved figures and fleurons, comparable to those around the S. doorway at Long Melford, which can probably be dated to c. 1480, while in addition, Birkin Haward pointed out that two shields above the W. doorway at Great Waldingfield bear the arms of Sir Andrew Boteler (d. 1429) and his wife Catherine (d. 1460). Unfortunately, the four-bay nave arcades contribute little to this discussion for they are almost impossible to date closely (see the N. arcade, illustrated right), being formed of piers composed of four semicircular shafts separated by hollows, supporting arches bearing a hollow chamfer on the inner order and a complex, non-standard series of mouldings on the outer order.  (The chancel and tower arches are similar.)  The aisle windows and N. chapel N. window, though, have stepped lights and supermullioned tracery above (see the S. aisle E. window illustrated in the second thumbnail, below left), in conformity with a design seen also at Edwardstone, two miles (3 km.) to the southeast, and Clare, nine miles (14 km.) to the east, where the date is probably c. 1470.  On the balance of all this evidence, therefore, could this be the approximate date here, and could this John Appleton (assuming the Little Guide's attribution of this church can be trusted even if its dating cannot) have worked also on St. Mary's, Edwardstone, and SS. Peter & Paul's, Clare, albeit not necessarily in a leading capacity?


The aisle walls are built of flint, cobbles and tiles, but these materials have been used with much more ostentation in the chancel, in a characteristic piece of work by William Butterfield (1814 - 1900), in which he has produced exactly the sort of colour combination he delighted in, by bringing the tiles to very pronounced, regular courses (see the illustration of the masonry, below right) and by setting the walls off with a tiled roof that contrasts with the battlements elsewhere.  The five-light E. window (left) has trefoil-cusped outer lights subarcuated in pairs above trilobes and pointed quatrefoils, a cinquefoil-cusped central light, and a wheel of oddly squashed pointed quatrefoils and trilobes above that.  This is not entirely successful but as is often the way, Butterfield's best work is inside, where there is a good display of structural polychrome for a modest building, the main accent being on the seven feet (2.1 m.) high dado round the walls, panelled in coloured marbles.  An inscription in a recessed arch in the N. wall records how these were collected by two church members with a greater feeling for economy than old buildings, "from the ruins of heathen temples in Old Rome, A.D. 1867 -1869".  A sedilia in the S. wall is also decorated with coloured marbles (see the thumbnail, left) as is, more elaborately, the reredos (shown at the foot of the page), with panels filled with irregularly-shaped marble pieces of pale colours, set inside bands of squares and circles largely in grey.  Above the dado, the chancel walls are decorated at intervals with lines of tiles.


The church has few furnishings of note but an obvious exception is the communion rail, placed between the nave and chancel.  According to Pevsner, this came from the church of St. Michael Cornhill in the City of London and is probably by William Cleere, c. 1675, but he failed to say how it got here.