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English Church Architecture.


HENLEY, St. Peter  (TM 158 514),


(Bedrock:  Quaternary, Thanet Formation and Lambeth Group (undifferentiated).)


A small village church with a tower of c. 1505,  a nave now probably dating chiefly from c. 1535, and a large N. vestry (formerly a school) of 1837/8.


This little church, comprising a chancel, a nave with a S. porch, and a W. tower, with a large attached vestry to the north that was formerly the village school (shown at the foot of the page), is more rewarding outside than in, where the most important work is Perpendicular or later.  The oldest feature is Norman, however, in essence at least, and comprises the S. doorway (inside the porch), with an arch bearing chevron, although a later age has altered its shape from circular to pointed.  It seems likely therefore that some of the basic masonry of the nave is also of the twelfth century, though there is no other obvious evidence to witness the fact.


The chancel in its present form looks like thirteenth century work.  It is lit from the north by two uncusped lancets, and from the south by a cinquefoil-cusped lancet and a cinquefoil-cusped Y-traceried window, most likely to date from around 1300.  Inside, a piscina in the sanctuary S. wall is also cinquefoil-cusped.  The E. window is Victorian but may copy the original:  it is presumably part of the major restoration of 1895.


The attractive tower rises in two stages supported by diagonal buttresses decorated with two tiers of crocketed flushwork arches beneath each of the two lower off-sets.  The W. doorway boasts carved spandrels featuring shields and crossed keys, while a frieze of lozenges above makes way for an inscription in the centre, which Pevsner deciphered as commemorating Thomas Seckford (d. 1505), and who presumably paid for the tower’s construction (James Bettley & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk East, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2015, p. 280). Thus stylistic features here can probably be considered typical of the local Perpendicular at the turn of the sixteenth century.  The three-light W. window has been restored but features supermullioned tracery with strong mullions and a little quatrefoil in the oculus beneath a segmental-pointed arch, and the bell-openings consist of two cinquefoil-cusped lights with an encircled quatrefoil above.


The nave windows now include two with supermullioned tracery to the north - the easternmost, two-light, uncusped, segmental-pointed and set lower in the wall, and the westernmost, three-light, with strong mullions and ogee-pointed, cinquefoil-cusped lights.  However, perhaps the finest of the church’s features is the three-light S. window, with terracotta mullions and friezes above and below, like those of windows at Barham and Barking churches, which Pevsner identified as the work of Italian artisans employed c. 1532-5 at Layer Marney in Essex and, around the same time, at Old Shrubland Hall about a mile and a half west of here.  Presumably this window was either made for this church at that time, or moved here when Old Shrubland Hall was demolished in the nineteenth century, but while the latter hypothesis seems in some respects more likely, there is no obvious evidence of disturbance in the surrounding masonry.  (The photographs below show the whole window, first below left, the right hand (east) jamb in close-up, first below right, and the sill in close-up, second below.)




The interior adds little to this examination of the building as almost everything inside has been restored.  There is a gallery above the W. end of the nave, of possible eighteenth century origin.  There is no chancel arch and the chancel windows are set in splays with eyebrow mouldings, showing slight differences north to south.    


Finally, the admirable Gothic vestry deserves a paragraph of its own.  Built to serve as a village school in the first year of Queen Victoria’s reign, it was remodelled as a vestry three years after her death and joined to the church nave by a short passageway from the north.  This happens to be the position where many twentieth century parish rooms are adjoined to their churches, yet not many of those can compete with this vestry in attractiveness of design.   Its success is due to its cruciform plan, formed of two  intersecting sections (as it were), gabled east/west and north/south, and to a skilful use of contrasting materials, namely knapped flints and yellow bricks.    There is also a small N. porch and a chimney to the east. and the detail everywhere has the same rural charm.