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English Church Architecture.

 

IXWORTH, St. Mary  (TL 932 704),

SUFFOLK. 

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk.)

 

One of several churches in Mid Suffolk and South Norfolk with related towers

notable for their similar decoration with flint flushwork devices.

 

Flint flushwork - the combination of knapped flint and pale stone to create a decorative wall facing - is an East Anglian building tradition that was firmly established by the late fourteenth century.  More often than not, the decoration is confined to repeating patterns such as chequerwork or rows of blank arches, but in some places it is more elaborate and might include, for example, the names of the donors or their armorial bearings.  One particular set of exemplars is to be found in a handful of churches in Mid Suffolk and South Norfolk with related towers whose construction may have been directed by the same master mason, which feature flint flushwork devices representing saints and specific dates in the Christian year.  A few of these are brought together on this web-site, for close comparison.  Readers looking for a more detailed examination of this subject should refer to Margaret Talbot's Mediaeval Flushwork of East Anglia and Its Symbolism, Cromer, Poppyland, 2004.   

 

The independently-gabled, Victorian organ chamber-cum-vestry aside, this church dates essentially from two periods - the early fourteenth century and the mid to late fifteenth.  The early fourteenth century (Decorated) work has been heavily restored, however, and is not of great interest.  It comprises the chancel in particular and, most probably, the basic masonry of the nave and aisle walls, including the double-flat-chamfered N. doorway with hood-mould supported on leaf-carved label stops, and the S. doorway inside the porch, which has a little niche with a gabled canopy above.  The three-light chancel E. window with curvilinear tracery may be wholly a nineteenth century design, but externally to the left, the blank cinquefoil-cusped ogee arch is old (albeit of unclear function), and the two, two-light curvilinear windows in the S. wall appear mediaeval internally, while the double piscina to the east, beneath cinquefoil-cusped arches, is certainly original and perhaps earlier than c. 1320 to judge by the absence of ogees.  Opposite, on the other side of the sanctuary, an unglazed two-light window with segmental-pointed arch and cinquefoil-cusped Y-tracery above a recessed round-arched monument to Richard Coddington, now looks through to the vestry.  The chancel arch is formed of two flat-chamfered orders supported on semi-octagonal responds, but it is the profile of the capitals that reveals the date most clearly.

 

However, the significant work at Ixworth belongs to the Perpendicular period, and is the more valuable for being closely dated, at least in the tower, first by a tile above the W. doorway, bearing the inscription 'Thome Vyal gaf to the stepil iiij£', dated 1472 by James Bettley and Nikolaus Pevsner (the 'Suffolk West' volume of The Buildings of England, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2015, p. 334), and second by a flushwork device on one of the tower buttresses, displaying the crown and arrows saltire of St. Edmund and the name of Robert Schot, Abbot of Bury St. Edmunds from 1470-3.  This is just one of sixty-six devices displayed on the tower’s buttresses and battlements (see the southwest buttress, illustrated left) and around its basal frieze.   Only Elmswell and Badwell Ash (both in Suffolk), in that order, have more of these devices, mostly displayed on the towers, while St. John the Baptist's, Elmswell,  is also closely dated to c. 1476.  Nor is this by any means the only affinity between them, for the towers at Badwell Ash, Elmswell and Ixworth, as well as at Garboldisham in Norfolk, are nearly identical, all four rising in four stages supported by diagonal buttresses that appear to have rather too many set-offs for their height, to stepped flushwork battlements (although at Ixworth there is also an additional flushwork frieze immediately below), lit by underwhelming three-light cinquefoil-cusped W. windows with intersecting tracery beneath depressed arches. This is a sufficiently idiosyncratic design to give good reason to believe the same mason was in charge in each, with the tower at Garboldisham - where construction is known to have begun in 1463 - probably being the prototype.  However, it is necessary to return to the subject of the flushwork devices at Ixworth for they are worthy of careful consideration, especially in the light of Margaret Talbot’s identification of some of them,  together with their symbolic meanings.  They include, beside the emblems of St. Edmund mentioned above, a crowned Sacred Monogram ('IHS'), a Mystic Rose representing St. Mary, an 'E' for St. Edward (2nd from the top of the buttress illustrated left), the Pommée Cross of St. Michael (3rd and 8th from the top of the buttress ilustrated left), the wheel of St. Catherine (6th from the top on the left), a 'T' for St. Thomas, the tools of the leather trade (Ixworth, apparently, was once home to about twenty working tanners), a chequerboard, and a variety of tracery patterns, as well as - perhaps most notably - on either side of the W. doorway, a crowned 'M' for St. Mary (also seen 4th from the top on the buttress shown left) and the Cup and Viper of St. John (like an intertwined 'S' and 'J') (also seen 1st and 5th from the top on the left), in an echo of the tradition of placing of statues of these saints at the foot of the Cross on rood screens (John 19, vs. 25-27).

 

As for whether the aisle arcades, nave windows and S. porch are contemporary with the tower, this is impossible to tell, although they could be.  The arcades are formed of arches bearing a complex series of mouldings arranged in two orders (see the N. arcade, right), supported on piers composed of four semicircular shafts separated by hollows.  The three-light segmental-pointed aisle windows (in bays 2 & 4 to the north and 2, 4 & 5 to the south, beginning from the west) have stepped lights and Perpendicular tracery with split 'Y's, and the two-light clerestory windows, also with split 'Y's, rest internally on string courses above the arcades and are divided bay from bay, by shafts rising to angels at the feet of the wall posts of the couple roof above.  The S. porch has renewed two-light side windows but the S. front is largely original, with an outer doorway bearing a complex series of mouldings above an order of semicircular shafts, set in a wall decorated with four tiers of flushwork arches and a chequerwork frieze below.  The flat arched-braced porch roof has castellated wall plates and carved corbel heads supporting the braces.

 

[Other related churches to consult on this web-site include Badwell Ash, Elmswell and Gipping in this county, and Garboldisham in Norfolk.]