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English Church Architecture -

Suffolk.

 

HITCHAM, All Saints (TL 984 511)     (October 2002)

(Bedrock:  Neogene, Red Crag Formation)

This is a substantial building (seen above from the southeast), built of the flint and pebble rubble and comprising a W. tower, aisled nave with S. porch, and chancel.  The oldest work is inside, where the five-bay nave arcades consist of double-flat-chamfered arches springing from tall octagonal piers, the chancel arch is similar but taller, and the tower arch is triple-flat-chamfered above very heavy semi-octagonal responds with large capitals. Pevsner described all this as Decorated and in the absence of any contemporary windows or mouldings of indisputable provenance, so it might be, but the nave arcades and chancel arch would equally well fit the late thirteenth century.

 

Outside, apart from the N. doorway, everything is Perpendicular or later.  The tower is embattled and angle-buttressed, with flint chequerwork on the leading edges of the buttresses and a stair turret at the southeast angle rising up to the bell-stage.  The bell-openings are three-light and cinquefoil-cusped, and have mullions continuing to the window head but no supermullions, instead of which there are inverted mouchettes above the outer lights only.  The W. window, which is also three-light, has supermullioned tracery, and the W. doorway has a cinquefoil-cusped niche on either side, with crocketed ogee arches.

 

The aisle windows are three-light with supermullioned drop tracery, this time with stepped ogee-pointed lights and castellated supertransoms above the central lights (as seen above).  (One to the north has the central light stepped down rather than up.)  The S. aisle E. window is different, however, and belongs instead to one of the two branches of the Suffolk family of church windows with small subarcuations linking the main lights, as seen, for example, at Badwell Ash, eleven miles to the north.  A second window with a subarcuation linking the lights can be found in the chancel N. wall, west of the two-storey mediaeval vestry.  A better comparison here is with windows at Rattlesden, and Stowlangtoft.  This is a sufficiently distinctive form to suggest they are all attributable to the same mason and if so, they may also be dateable by the work at Stowlangtoft, which was constructed in a single building phase c. 1380 - 1400.  The vestry has an internal fireplace and may once have served as a chaplain's dwelling.  (Cf., for example, the similar  vestries in the same position  at St. Nicholas's chapel, Gipping and St. Ethelbert's, Hessett in this county, St. George's, Toddington in Central Bedfordshire, and All Saints', Ripley in North Yorkshire.) The chancel was rebuilt on the south and east sides at the instigation of Canon Grant, who was rector from 1861, and now has windows tastelessly overdone.  In contrast, the S. porch is a very noble piece of work.  (See the photographs above and  below left, the latter showing the detail around the outer doorway W. spandrel.)  It is faced in narrow trefoiled, flushwork arches to the south, and topped by stepped battlements and angle buttresses, the latter of which have two-light blank arches decorating their front edges below the first set-offs and canopied niches below the second.  A third niche at the same height, sits on the string course above the porch outer doorway.  It all produces a design almost identical to that to be seen on the N. front of the N. porches at Preston St. Mary and Felsham, and the S. front of the S. porch at Bildeston, while the side windows of the last two of these porches are also the same as those to be found here.  It thus seems safe to conclude that all four porches are the work of the same man and they further illustrate the often encountered practice in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, whereby a group of neighbouring churches, perhaps each borne of a desire not to be outdone, all suddenly introduce the same feature at approximately the same time.  Here there are two clues to the date of the work, of which the first is bequests of 1470 and 1471 for the glazing of the porch at Felsham, and the other being the fact that the rector here at Hitcham from 1466 - 1500, a certain Thomas Ffyssher, asked to be buried in the porch, implying he had paid for it.  The porch retains its original couple roof with nicely carved wall plates, and the inner doorway is surrounded has two casement mouldings, the outer decorated with carved shields at intervals and the inner, with crowns, in accordance with yet another local fashion.  The doorway is set in a square surround with roses in the spandrels and label stops formed of a lion on the left and what may once have been an angel on the right.  The wooden door has been partially reconstructed but retains its mediaeval tracery.

 

Inside the church again, the roofs are worthy of examination.  The nave roof (illustrated at the foot of the page) was described by Pevsner as "alternating between double-hammerbeams and arched braces masquerading as hammerbeams".  It has the monograms "JR" and "CR" carved on it, indicating work done during the reigns of James I (1603-25) and Charles I (1625-49), though whether the roof was constructed at that time or, as has been suggested, merely repaired and remodelled after a fire, is difficult to tell:  the pineapple pendants are Jacobean or Carolean but could well be additions.  Certainly the fine lean-to aisle roofs must be older (see the S. aisle roof, right), with their carved wall plates, central purlins and principal rafters, and attractive bosses where the purlins and rafters intersect, mostly in the form of flowers but with a couple depicting faces.  Also attractive is the boarded chancel roof of ogee section (created by panelling over an original roof of single hammerbeam form), with castellated purlins and shallow bosses where the ribs cross.  Logically, it should date from the partial reconstruction that took place here after 1861.  It is, however, identical to the chancel roof at St. Nicholas's, Rattlesden, where the church was restored in 1883 by Blomfield and then again, in the case of the chancel, more drastically in 1893 by someone unknown (but possibly Butterfield).  In addition, there are close similarities between both these roofs and the chancel roof at Cockfield, where the work was probably carried out in 1879.  Whoever was responsible for any one of these was probably responsible for all three.

 

Finally, the church contains two other items of carpentry that need to be mentioned.  The pulpit (left), of "wine-glass" type, is Georgian, but although it appears to match, the tester above is actually another addition by Canon Grant.  Immediately east, the dado is all that remains of the former Perpendicular rood screen, and even this has had the heads scratched out of the figures painted on the panels. They depict angels holding the Instruments of the Passion, but are all now very dull with age and almost impossible to discern.