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English Church Architecture -



GRUNDISBURGH, St. Mary (TM 223 511)     (May 2014)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Red Crag Formation)





St. Mary's consists of a nave and chancel with a S. aisle, S. chapel and southeast tower which also serves as a porch.  Most architectural styles from the thirteenth century onwards, are represented here.  The earliest features appear to include the piscina in the chancel S. wall, with a lancet-pointed arch decorated with dogtooth, and the  barely discernible painting in red and blue on the nave N. wall, featuring St. Christopher carrying Christ across the river, so presumably the chancel and nave walls are largely contemporary.  However, the chancel arch almost certainly is not, for reasons explained below, which leaves the next oldest work dateable by visual inspection to be the Decorated S. aisle of c. 1320-50, lit by two S. windows with two-light reticulated tracery beneath arches that are almost triangular (as illustrated above in the photograph of the church from the south).  The aisle is embattled and the three-bay aisle arcade within (shown below left, from the northwest) is composed of arches bearing two wide flat chamfers above octagonal piers with capitals formed of a series of prominent finely-cut astragals that are particularly characteristic.



The Perpendicular style is represented by at least three phases of work, namely:  (i)  three late fourteenth century windows in the chancel, probably of the reign of King Richard II (1377-99);  (ii) the fifteenth century nave clerestory, dated by Margaret Talbot to c.1418 (Medieval Flushwork of East Anglia, Poppyland, 2004);  and (iii) the sixteenth century chapel, ascribed by D.P. Mortlock to the beneficence of Thomas Wale, salt merchant, c. 1527 (The Guide to Suffolk Churches, revised edition, The Lutterworth Press, 2009).  The two-light, late fourteenth century chancel windows comprise two in the N. wall and one to the south, lighting the sanctuary east of the chapel.  They display the same design as the closely dated windows at Parham, Stowlangtoft and Wingfield among other places, which are probably all attributable to the same master mason or firm and are typified, in particular, by little inverted subarcuations linking the main lights, although, in fact, the similarities between them go much further and extend to the detailed shapes of, and differences between, the individual reticulation units forming the tracery.  At Parham, Stowlangtoft and Wingfield, these windows can be dated c. 1382, c. 1392 and c. 1375 respectively, and at Stowlangtoft, Wingfield, Brundish and Fressingfield, they can also be associated with a form of semi-octagonal arch respond, found either beside the chancel arch or at the ends of the aisle arcades, which have little flat chamfers running up the outer edges, terminating in small incised trefoiled arches, barely two inches square - exactly like those that found on the chancel arch responds here.  This, then, is almost certainly late fourteenth century work, not  late thirteenth century as Pevsner and Mortlock claim.  




The S. side of the clerestory is a proud piece of work, faced in knapped flint, pierced by five, three-light windows with stepped castellated transoms just below the heads of the lights, and decorated with a frieze at the same level, featuring flushwork devices and crowned letters that 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 panels with crowns above the letters "AVE MARIA", and finally the letter "A" followed by the Sacred Monogram (Margaret Talbot).  (See the photograph above right.)   The excellent double-hammerbeam nave roof (below left) is presumably contemporary, as are probably the much simpler clerestory windows in the nave N. wall.  The roof is "one of the most beautiful in Suffolk" (Pevsner), 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 S. chapel stands taller than the aisle and is surmounted by battlements with carved devices in the merlons.  The two large, three-light S. windows with cinquefoil-cusped ogee lights, are divided by strong mullions beneath segmental-pointed arches (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 set-off, contains a modern statue of the Madonna and Child.  Inside the church, the chapel communicates with the chancel through a two-bay arcade formed of four-centred arches carrying a complex series of mouldings above quatrefoil piers with fillets, separated by tiny spurs.






The southwest tower is dated by an inscription above 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 gives 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, already mentioned, 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 the 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, Norman Adlard & Co. Ltd., 3rd edition, 1954.)  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.