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English Church Architecture -



HEPWORTH, St. Peter (TL 988 749)     (April 2007)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


The original building here (shown left, from the southeast)  was burnt down in 1898, leaving just the shell of the nave and chancel, the stump of the tower, and a few pieces of carpentry rescued from the conflagration by a group of courageous parishioners led by the clerk, the ironically-named Mr. Sparkes.  The tower, however, had already lost its upper stage before this disaster, probably in 1677, which is the date described in the iron tie bands near the clock on the west face (illustrated below right), when it appears that the former bell-stage was taken down as a precautionary measure and substituted by a low-pitched pyramidal roof with west-facing dormer and by the present bell-openings cut through the masonry below and formed on each side of a single round-arched opening turned in brick which, while doubtless perfectly functional, cannot be said to look anything other than makeshift.  Nevertheless, the tower’s unsatisfactory appearance today is due less to this than to the abrupt ending of the diagonal buttresses at the parapet, as if sawn off, with neither pinnacles nor set-offs to make the new arrangement appear intentional.  The parapet also has the effect of largely hiding the pyramidal roof at close quarters, which further adds to the tower’s broken appearance, and then there are, too, the additional thick iron tie  bands running  round its  lower  parts  and diagonal buttresses to the west, fastened here as another precaution in 1828, by a Mr. Bloomfield of Thelnetham.  The rebuilding of the nave, chancel and S. porch after the fire of 1898 was directed by Mr. J.S. Corder of Ipswich, an architect of whom there seems little to say.  Pevsner recorded him as being responsible in his home county, in addition to the work here, for only the Alliance Assurance building in Bury St. Edmunds (1891), an extension to the County Hall in Ipswich (1906) and "alas, the most prominent feature of [Swilland] church - an extraordinary Victorian contraption in lieu of a normal tower top and spire". However, in respect of the windows at Hepworth, at least Corder appears to have been true to the damaged mediaeval masonry he found here, retaining the form of the nicely-proportioned two-light nave windows with supermullioned drop tracery and split “Y”s, as well as of the chancel windows with their reticulated tracery.  (See the E. window, left.)  The little square lowside window in the chancel S. wall is original inside.


Inside the building, the tower arch is unmoulded, suggesting the remaining parts of the tower are thirteenth century in origin.  A recess west of the S. doorway seems to show where once a door to a stairway provided access to an upper storey of the porch.  The chancel arch has been reconstructed using some of the original stones, discoloured pink by the fire:  bearing two flat-chamfered orders, it is supported on semi-octagonal responds.  The nave and chancel roofs are by Corder and respectively of double-hammerbeam and barrel form, but the mediaeval woodwork rescued from the fire includes a wooden chest with the traditional three locks, the S. door (which the parishioners had the presence of mind to take off its hinges and remove even while the burning thatch from the nave roof was falling around them), and most especially, the pinnacled oak font cover, rising in six stages to a height of twelve foot six inches (3.8 m.).  “On the lowest floor [there is] panelling projecting in five little lobes like the oriel window of the Hengrave gatehouse or the windows of Henry VII’s Chapel.  They are meant to represent whole structures; for tiny men come out of doors as in.... German weatherboxes” (Pevsner).