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English Church Architecture -



IXWORTH, St. Mary (TL 932 704)     (July 2007)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


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 (shown left), 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 (shown right, from the southeast), first by a tile above the W. doorway, bearing the inscription “Thome Vyal gaf to the stepil iiij£”, dated 1472 by Pevsner, 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, and thus the church is one of the most important among a group of more than two dozen scattered across Suffolk and southern Norfolk which, with the exception of Garboldisham in Norfolk, are described and illustrated in Mediaeval Flushwork of East Anglia by Margaret Talbot (Poppyland, 2004).  Of the other churches that she lists, only Northwold (Norfolk), Elmswell and Badwell Ash (both in Suffolk), in that order, have a greater number of these devices, mostly displayed on the towers, while of those three, the tower at Elmswell is also closely datable 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, 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 reason to believe the same mason was involved in each, with the tower at Garboldisham - where construction is known to have begun in 1463 - being probably his 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, the wheel of St. Catherine (6th from the top, left), an “E” for St. Edward (2nd from the top), the Pommée Cross of St. Michael (3rd and 8th from the top), 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 - most notably of all - on either side of the W. doorway, a crowned “M” for St. Mary (and also 4th from the top on the buttress illustrated left) and the Cup and Viper of St. John (like an intertwined “S” and “J”) (and also 1st and 5th from the top, 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).


Whether the aisle arcades, nave windows and S. porch are exactly contemporary with the tower, is impossible to tell, although they could be.  The arcades are formed of 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 strong mullions, stepped lights, supermullioned tracery and split “Y”s.  The two-light supermullioned clerestory windows, also with split “Y”s, rest on string courses above the arcades and are divided into their respective bays 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 (shown left).  The flat arched-braced porch roof has castellated wall plates and carved corbel heads supporting the braces.


Finally, the wooden furniture in the church is almost entirely Victorian except for the dado of the former rood screen.  The font is unusually tall but not particularly special otherwise:  it consists of a plain octagonal bowl supported on a stem decorated by cinquefoil-cusped blank arches bearing shields and separated by shafts, standing on a scalloped octagonal base.  The church contains a number of monuments but none listed by Gunnis, and it will suffice to mention just one here, namely that referred to above, commemorating Richard Coddington (d. 1567), which bears the legend, “Here lies buried the [body] of Richard Coddington Esquire, the first Temporal Lord of this Manor of Ixworth after the Suppression of the Abbey, which he had of our Sovereign Lord King Henry VIII in Exchange for the Manor of Coddington, now called Nonsuch, in the County of Surrey...”.  Nonsuch was transformed by the king thereafter, into nothing less than a palace, with five hundred and sixteen workmen known to have been employed in its construction in September 1538, and it is probably fair to assume that the exchange Coddington made, was not his idea or preference!