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English Church Architecture.


GRUNDISBURGH, St, Mary  (TM 223 511),


(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Red Crag Formation.)


One of several churches in Mid Suffolk and South Norfolk

 with related flint flushwork devices.




Flint flushwork - the combination of knapped flint and pale stone to create a decorative wall facing - is an East Anglian building tradition that was firmly established by the late fourteenth century.  More often than not, the decoration is confined to repeating patterns such as chequerwork or rows of blank arches, but in some places it is more elaborate and might include, for example, the names of the donors or their armorial bearings.  One particular set of exemplars is to be found in a handful of churches in Mid Suffolk and South Norfolk with related towers whose construction may have been directed by the same master mason, which feature flint flushwork devices representing saints and specific dates in the Christian year.  A few of these are brought together on this web-site, for close comparison.  Readers looking for a more detailed examination of this subject should refer to Margaret Talbot's Mediaeval Flushwork of East Anglia and Its Symbolism, Cromer, Poppyland, 2004.   


St. Mary's, Grundisburgh, consists of a three-bay chancel with a two-bay S. chapel, a three-bay nave and S. aisle, and an eighteenth century, tower-cum-porch to the southeast.  The earliest feature is the lancet-pointed piscina with dog-tooth decoration in the S. wall of the sanctuary, which is a thirteenth century survival, yet the next oldest, positively identifiable work comprises the Decorated S. aisle windows with reticulated tracery, commensurate with c. 1320-50 (as illustrated above).  After that, all else is Perpendicular, save only for the tower, although at least three phases of construction are involved, of which the first is represented by the two, two-light windows in the N. wall of the chancel and the similar window in the S. wall (not visible in the photograph), lighting the sanctuary east of the chapel.  These share their design with windows at Wingfield, Parham and Stowlangtoft, close dated to c.1375, c.1382, and  c.1392 respectively, and which are distinguishable, in particular, by little inverted subarcuations linking the main lights, although the similarities between them go further than that and extend to other aspects of the tracery and to the association of these windows with a form of semi-octagonal arch respond, found here at St. Mary's on either side of the chancel arch and at the ends of the aisle arcade, which have little flat chamfers running up the outer edges, terminating in small incised trefoiled arches, barely two inches square.  (See the page on Parham, for example, for an illustrated description of this.)  Thus the chancel arch and aisle arcade are almost certainly late fourteenth century work, not respectively late thirteenth and early fourteenth century as both Pevsner and Mortlock claim (James Bettley and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk East, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2015, pp. 260-262, and  D.P. Mortlock, The Guide to Suffolk Churches, Cambridge, The Lutterworth Press, 2009, pp. 213-215). 




However, the best work here dates from the early fifteenth century and consists of the nave clerestory, which is lit to the south by nine three-light windows with stepped castellated transoms just below the heads of the lights, and faced in knapped flint decorated with a frieze above the springing level, featuring flushwork devices and crowned letters, like those found on the tower buttresses at Badwell Ash, Elmswell, Ixworth, and elsewhere.   These have been identified from left to right as the crown and arrows of St. Edmund, the arms of the Tuddenham family, who paid for the work c. 1418, a letter 'T' (presumably for 'Tuddenham'), a vase with lilies representing the Virgin Mary, six crowned letters spelling the word 'AVE MARIA' ('Hail Mary Queen'), and finally the letter 'A' followed by the Sacred Monogram (Margaret Talbot, Medieval Flushwork of East Anglia, Cromer, Poppyhead, 2004, pp. 34 & 70).  (See the photograph above right.)   The excellent double-hammerbeam nave roof within (below left), which is presumably contemporary, was considered 'one of the most beautiful in Suffolk' by Pevsner, and is replete with moulded cornice, purlins, ridge beam, principal rafters and collar beams, angels on the lower hammerbeams and at the bases of the wall posts, and pendant posts hanging from the upper hammerbeams.  The clerestory windows lighting the roof from the north are much humbler than their southern counterparts.                                                                                           



The S. chapel is an early sixteenth century addition.  Standing taller than the aisle, surmounted by battlements with carved devices in the merlons, it is lit by two large, three-light S. windows with cinquefoil-cusped ogee lights (as illustrated below right), but the really unusual feature here is the priest's doorway set in the wide buttress between the bays.  A canopied niche with a lierne vault in the upright section of the buttress, above the lower off-set, contains a modern statue of the Madonna and Child.  Inside the church, the chapel communicates with the chancel through a two-bay arcade composed of four-centred arches carrying a complex series of mouldings supported on a quatrefoil piers with fillets, separated by tiny spurs, and two semi-quatrefoil responds.






That brings this description at last to the southwest tower, dated by an inscription over the S. door, which reads:  'This Steeple Was Built/ The Bells Set in Order/ And Fixt. At The Charge/ of ROBERT THINGE Gent./ Lately Deceased A.D./ 1731-1732'.  (Pevsner gave the date, incorrectly, as 1751-52, and the British Listed Buildings web-site, as seems so often the case, automatically follows him.)  Constructed of bright orange-red brick in Flemish bond, it is nevertheless an object lesson in Palladian classical austerity, which was then the height of fashion.  Doors, windows and bell-openings are all restricted to the simplest of round arches with just a plain white keystone at the apex, while the clasping buttresses have only the most understated of mouldings and the parapet is decorated (if such a term is appropriate) only by two barely noticeably sunk panels on each side.



Furnishing in the church include the wall painting of St. Christopher on the nave N . wall, the screens between the aisle & chapel and nave & chancel, and the octagonal font, now standing in the east end of the aisle.  The chancel screen is composed of two, two-light bays either side of a double-cusped, ogee-pointed opening, with tracery that combines supermullions with falchions and cruciform lobing.  This suggests a date transitional between the Decorated and Perpendicular styles, c. 1350, and Mortlock agrees, although H. Munro Cautley called it 'late fourteenth century' (Suffolk Churches and their Treasures, Ipswich, Norman Adlard & Co. Ltd., 3rd edition, 1954, p. 266.)  The font (below right) displays lions alternating with angels holding shields around the eight faces of the bowl, and lion supporters separated by buttresses around the stem, but the stand beneath, with blank quatrefoil decoration, is the work of Edward Charles Hakewill (1816-72), who restored the church in the last year of his life and was also responsible for the huge W. window to the nave, with geometrical tracery. 




[Other related churches to consult on this web-site include Badwell Ash, Elmswell, Gipping and Ixworth in this county, and Fincham and Garboldisham in Norfolk.]