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English Church Architecture -



HENGRAVE, Church of Reconciliation (TL 824 686)     (July 2004)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Lower Chalk)


The church (shown left, from the southeast) is in the grounds of the hall and has had this unusual dedication since 1974 when an ecumenical retreat and conference centre was established here.  Previously it had been a private chapel and before that, for more than three centuries, a family mausoleum, ever since the parish of Hengrave was amalgamated with Flempton in 1589.  Externally it is the round tower that is probably the building's most important feature, but the little nave is also striking with its two very tall, transomed Perpendicular windows, untraceried and uncusped, added to which there is a N. aisle, a S. porch, a chancel and a N. chapel.


The tower has circular windows some 5' up (1.5 m.) to the south and west, and is now topped by battlements. Stephen Hart, writing in The Round Church Towers of England (Lucas Books, 2003), points out a number of subtle features of its construction, including (i) the stratification of the flintwork in bands about a foot (30 cm.) wide, each representing the height of masonry laid between pauses to allow the mortar to dry, and (ii) the difference between the round-headed bell-openings to the south, west and north, which are original, and the pointed openings to the northeast and southeast, which on close inspection can be seen to have been inserted.  On the basis of a number of these features, he dates the tower to Norman-Transitional times.     


The nave, aisle and porch are dated by an inscription over the S. door recording that Thomas Hengrave paid for their construction.  He died in 1419, after which another Sir Thomas partially remodelled the nave about a century later and then his widow added the N. chapel c. 1540.  The aisle has two windows to the north and one to the west, with three lights, segmental-pointed arches, supermullioned tracery and supertransoms above the central lights.  The porch is faced in knapped flint and has an outer doorway with a casement moulding decorated with carved crowns at intervals, a label rising from lion label stops, and intervening spandrels containing shields, that on the left bearing a single row of denticulations and that on the right, a unicorn (shown right).  These motifs are repeated on the spandrels of the inner doorway, though this is still more elaborate and, in addition to crowns in a sunk chamfer, also displays fleurons on the hood mould and label, both of which rise from label stops in the form of demi-angels. The chancel has a three-light E. window with intersecting tracery and two restored S. windows with Y-tracery, above which there is a carved parapet.  Thus this is essentially thirteenth century work. The N. chapel has one east and one north window, both three-light and four-centred, and here also untraceried and uncusped.


The interior layout of the church is unusual as the chancel and N. chapel are now filled with funerary monuments and only the nave and N. aisle are used for services, the benches being arranged in a semicircle.  The three-bay aisle arcade (shown left) springs from piers composed of four semi-octagonal shafts with little right-angled spurs between, and has angels holding shields carved at the arch apexes and more carving on the capitals, mostly of oak leaves and vines but also of encircling angels in the case of the eastern pier (illustrated below right).  This is a design that the late Birkin Haward compared with that of the nave arcades at Bildeston, Debenham and Wingfield, and which he attributed to master mason Hawes of Occold (fl. 1410-40). Above the arcade is a clerestory formed of six untraceried three-light windows, two per bay.  The chancel and tower arches have two hollow-chamfered mouldings, in the former case springing from semi-octagonal shafts and in the latter, dying into the responds.  The arch to the chapel from the aisle is four-centred and triple-flat-chamfered above responds in the style of the nave arcades. The monuments in this and the chancel commemorate chiefly members of the Kitson family and are large, heavy and ugly.  They include: (i) in the N. chapel, a tomb chest with an exceptionally heavy canopy carried on short Tuscan columns, bearing effigies of Margaret, Countess of Bath (d. 1561) and her third husband John Bouchier, Earl of Bath, she wearing a coronet and with a greyhound at her feet, while her first husband, Sir Thomas Kitson, lies on a shelf beneath;  (ii) a wall monument featuring the bust of Thomas Gage (d. 1742) and signed by Benjamin Palmer (fl. 1739-78), whose work is "not particularly distinguished" (Dictionary of British Sculptors: 1660-1851 by Rupert Gunnis, The Abbey Library, 1951);  (iii) a large wall monument to Thomas Darcy (d. 1614, aged 22), showing Thomas kneeling in prayer, a shield on his left arm, between black alabaster columns with Corinthian capitals supporting an open coffered arch; and (iv) in the chancel, a tomb chest with heavy canopy, bearing effigies of Sir Thomas Kitson (d. 1608) and his two wives, a stag and a unicorn at their feet.  Though doubtless grand and expensive in their day, this is, in truth, all dismal stuff, none of which appeals to modern sentiment.