English Church Architecture -
HERRINGSWELL, St. Ethelbert (TL 718 700) (October 2004)
(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Lower Chalk)
The village of Herringswell is situated down a cul-de-sac about a mile from the Cambridgeshire border. The church was partly destroyed by fire in 1869 and then rebuilt by Sir Arthur Blomfield (1829-99), a careful restorer but an architect whose own churches, in spite of his considerable reputation, are often dull and lifeless. Fortunately the part of the building of most interest here, namely the tower, was largely undamaged in the conflagration and Blomfield consequently left it alone - although, surprisingly, Pevsner did not seem to realize this in his hurried progress across the county in or around 1960, when he blamed Blomfield for botching it. In fact, the tower appears to have been raised within the pre-existing nave in the early fourteenth century, to stand on a strengthened nave wall to the west and on two tall octagonal piers to the southeast and northeast, from which double-flat-chamfered arches cross to east, north and south, converting the western end of the nave into flanking aisles, across which two half arches reach diagonally to the nave walls to serve as flying buttresses. (These arches are shown in the photographs above left and above right, looking southwest and northwest respectively.) This is an arrangement that, pace Pevsner, provides the church with a very successful internal perspective, although it must be admitted the tower is much less satisfactory outside, with its two heavy buttresses at the northwest and southwest corners, the latter containing the stair, and another buttress in the very centre of the W. wall. To each side of this, there is a trefoil-cusped niche, perhaps of thirteenth century date. The basic fabric of the nave is probably still older.
The nave and tower apart, the rest of the church consists of a chancel, a S. transept (shown below, with a chancel S. window on the right) and a S. porch. The nave has a N. window with supermullioned drop tracery but all other windows are of one of two types, the first Decorated and seemingly where Blomfield was able to re-use much of the mediaeval stonework, and the second, an ugly form of First Pointed, where he was not. (However, some of the external stonework could now date from the twentieth century, and there is still internal evidence, in the windows in First Pointed style too, of a little old stonework pressed into service, most notably in the side shafts with circular capitals to the nave’s easternmost N. window.) The reconstructed Decorated windows include one in the transept S. wall (illustrated) with three lights, intersecting ogees, and a squashed quatrefoil in the head, as in the W. window in the tower at Felsham. This is a rather ungainly design due to the excessive elongation of the quatrefoil but its proportions are positively modest compared with the chancel E. window, with its three over-large lights where four or five are really needed, and its two huge, stretched octfoils above. The chancel side windows include one each side with reticulated tracery and one to the south with two mouchettes and a quatrefoil above two trefoil-cusped lights, of which that on the left is provided with a transom.
Inside the building, except for the tower, there is little of interest unless one admires the considerable display of stained glass to be found here by Christopher Whall and his pupils, dated c. 1902-8. Whall is associated with the later stages of the Arts & Craft Movement but these dismal, fussy designs are a world away from the work of artists such as Morris and Burne-Jones. It all depends on one's tastes, of course, and Mortlock, for one, makes much of this glass (The Guide to Suffolk Churches, The Lutterworth Press, 2009). However, it can hardly be denied that it is heavy stuff, and in indifferent October weather it casts the church interior into a deep, unrelenting gloom.