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English Church Architecture.


HADLEIGH, St. Mary  (TM 026 425),


(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk.)


A major Perpendicular church in one of Suffolk's most important market towns.

A good rule-of-thumb applicable to church guides is that the glossier and more expensive they are, the less worthwhile and interesting the information they contain, and this rule holds good even for the 2011 guide to the present building, by Roy Tricker, usually one of the best and most authoritative of authors.  Its shortcomings are especially unfortunate as the church's entry in the britishlistedbuildings website is so liberally provided with unsubstantiated and often wrong assertions, while James Bettley's and Nikolaus Pevsner's account of the church in the 'Suffolk West' volume of The Buildings of England (New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2015, pp. 272-274) deals at length its the furnishings but is scanty on the architecture itself.  It would appear that the best recourse for the visitor looking for a properly considered analysis of the building is to seek out the late Birkin Haward's Suffolk Medieval Church Arcades (Hitcham, The Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History), published in 1993.


In bald outline, St. Mary's  consists of a W. tower with a tall splay-footed spire, an aisled nave with a S. porch, a chancel with N. and S. chapels of equal length, and a two-storeyed N. vestry set at an oblique angle to the chancel N. wall.   (See the views of the church from the southeast, above left, the northwest, below left, and of the tower and spire from the northwest, below right.)   These parts brought together make this one of the largest churches in Suffolk -  some 163' (49.7m.) long by 64' (19.5m.) wide, and 135' (41.1m.) tall to the top of the spire, according to a combination of Haward and Pevsner's measurements.  The oldest part is the W. tower, whose three-light bell-openings with intersecting tracery suggest on purely stylistic grounds (not an infallible guide, of course) a date c.1260-90, before the cusping of lights and reticulation units became usual.   Angle buttresses, however, are not typical of this time (the majority of thirteenth century towers are diagonally-buttressed), so there is scope for uncertainty.  The W. doorway is composed of two orders carrying waves, there is a blank niche immediately below the ringing chamber (second stage) lit by windows with renewed Y-tracery, and above the bell-openings in the third stage there are pairs of sexfoils in circles.  The semi-polygonal stair turret rising at the west end of the S. wall, is a fifteenth century addition.  The spire was re-leaded in 1926 (Roy Tricker, St. Mary's Church, Hadleigh, 2011, p. 10).


Externally, the rest of the church appears more-or-less of one piece:  it is all-embattled, save only for the chancel clerestory, and the restored N. and S. aisle and chapel windows are all three-light, with supermullioned tracery of such standard (and dull) form that it is impossible to draw any inferences from them.  The chancel E. window is seven-light, with a strong mullion on either side of the central light, a transom roughly halfway up, and a latticed supertransom in the window head, extending across lights 2-6.  The renewed clerestory windows, however, set above the spandrels of the aisle arcades, still have reticulated tracery, a form usually associated with the Decorated style of c. 1300-50.  However, Bill Wilson has shown this design survived long afterwards in East Anglia (in the introduction to the two Norfolk volumes of The Buildings of England, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 1997), his last proven example, at Blofield, Norfolk, dating from 1427-38.  The nave clerestory windows at Hadleigh are paired and have a rather pinched look in comparison with the wider pattern above the chancel.


Two-storeyed mediaeval vestries always raise questions about their original use, the possibilities  including that as a sacristy, an armoury (rare but not unknown), and the dwelling of a chantry priest.  In the case of the N. vestry at Hadleigh (seen to the left [east] of the photograph above left), there seems to be no evidence of a chimney, which would suggest the third explanation, yet the majority of comparable examples in Suffolk do seem to have had this function, as, for example, at St. Nicholas's chapel, Gipping, St. Ethelbert's, Hessett, and All Saints', Hitcham.  The windows are two-light and segmental-arched, and there is a stair turret at the point where the vestry adjoins the N. chapel, to the east.  At the opposite end of the church, and on the opposite side, the S. porch appears originally to have been vaulted, suggesting an upper storey was initially intended although apparently never built.  (See the photograph above right.)  The porch is two bays deep and lit on either side by two unglazed, two-light windows, with double trefoil-cusped reticulated tracery.  Three niches, all on the same level, sit above the tall outer doorway, which carries two little hollow chamfers round the arch, above semi-quatrefoil shafts.



This much said, St. Mary's is nevertheless a more interesting building inside than out, as a result of questions that arise from the unusual nave arcades.  (See the interior view of the church, taken from the west, above centre, and the close-up of the third pier from the west of the S. arcade, above left.)    Here it was Haward's achievement to reverse the probable order of building construction proposed in the previous church guide, by arguing persuasively that the five-bay nave arcades predate the two-bay chancel arcades (together with the chancel arch in the same style), notwithstanding the latter's comparatively simple form.   The chancel arcades are composed of arches bearing a couple of narrow convex mouldings on the outer order and a hollow chamfer on the inner, springing from quatrefoil piers with separate capitals to each foil and hollows in the diagonals, a design nearly identical to that of the nave arcades at St. Lawrence's, Great Waldingfield and St. Peter's, Sudbury among other places in Suffolk, most of which are attributable to the mid fifteenth century.  (See the close-up of the central pier of the S. chapel arcade, above right.)  However, the nave arcades are unusual for here the two axes of the piers are treated very differently, ending in half-octagons east to west, with capitals at the springing, but sprouting like cauliflowers in complex bulging sections north to south, with mouldings that continue without intervening capitals around the arches above.  Haward knew of only one other church in East Anglia with a pier design that was comparable, at Swanton Morely in Norfolk - a building generally associated with Robert de Wodehirst (fl. 1351 - d. 1401) who, besides other prestigious projects, appears to have been in charge of the rebuilding of the presbytery clerestory at Norwich Cathedral and, subsequently, the  construction of the octagonal upper stage on the great W. tower at Ely (John Harvey, English Mediaeval Architects, Gloucester, Alan Sutton, 1984, p. 342).   Haward suggested a date for Swanton Morley church of c.1380, and if a similar date were to apply to the nave arcades at Hadleigh, it might account for the style of the clerestory windows and suggest, in Haward's view, that the nave aisle walls were rebuilt subsequently, a theory given credence not only from the very exceptional width of the aisles today - of 18' (5.5m.) and 20' (6.1m.) compared with 26' (7.9m.) for the nave - but also from the disaccord between their fenestration, in six bays of approximately 15' (4.6 m.) each, and the arrangement of the nave arcades, in five bays of around 18' (5.5 m.).  The implication would then be that the narrower, fourteenth century nave aisles were widened when the chancel chapels were added, a century or so later, and that the nave aisles were refenestrated to match the chapels, entirely without reference to the pre-existing nave arcades.


Furniture and fittings at Hadleigh are not especially rewarding, although the church guide makes much of them.  Features to notice include the largely renewed trefoil-cusped sedilia recessed in the S. wall of the sanctuary, formed of two bays at the lower level to the west and one slightly higher bay to the east, beyond which there is a double piscina.  Opposite, between the sanctuary and N. chapel, a rather severe sixteenth century(?) Easter sepulchre in grey stone is modestly decorated with shields on the tomb chest and a tessellation of cusped triangles on the soffit of the open arch.   Another tomb arch, this time apparently a Decorated survival from an earlier building, has been re-set in the S. wall of the S. aisle.  It is probably contemporary with the font - or rather, was, before the latter was re-cut:  carved with floral and leaf decoration around a pair of cinquefoil-arches on each of the eight faces of the bowl, and with winged angels around the cambered section beneath, it is of limited historic value now.  Rather more interesting are two items of woodwork - the traceried S. doors (inside the porch) and the panelled chancel roof (illustrated below), which appears to be the original one, constructed following the completion of the fifteenth century chancel chapels and arcades.  Finally, three small wall monuments in the N. aisle are characteristic of their seventeenth century dates and a later one in the N. chapel, commemorating Sarah Johnson (d. 1793), is by Charles Regnart of London (1759-1844), 'an extremely competent monumental mason... [whose] masterpiece is the altar-tomb at Farthinghoe, Northants, to George Rush, 1806'  (Rupert Gunnis, Dictionary of British Sculptors, 1660-1851, London, The Abbey Library, 1951, p. 317).