English Church Architecture -
LACKFORD, St. Lawrence (TL 797 703) (October 2005)
(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Lower Chalk)
When this much restored building was examined in October 2005, workmen were clearing the churchyard following the complete re-roofing of the nave, yet this was not immediately obvious inside the building as the new roof has had the entire suite of mediaeval timbers (of collar beam construction, framed in five cants) attached to its underside, creating a wholly unstructural façade that is both an excellent example of modern conservation methods and a salutary reminder of just how careful the church visitor must be before taking any ancient feature at face value.
St. Lawrence’s consists of a W. tower, a nave with a S. porch, a very short chancel with a very small N. vestry, and a three-bay N. aisle that continues eastwards as a one-bay N. chapel to the nave after the intervention of a short wall piece. (The division between the aisle and chapel falls in line with the drainpipe in the photograph of the S. front of the church, above.) Externally, the aisle, chapel and vestry are Victorian and First Pointed in style, but the rest of the building seems largely either Early English/Decorated transitional work of c. 1300, or constructed in a more fully fledged Decorated style characteristic of a few decades later. The unbuttressed tower belongs to this second phase, post-dating the arrival of the ogee arch c. 1320, as demonstrated by its segmental-pointed W. window with reticulated tracery: it rises in three stages to renewed bell-openings and later stepped battlements of rendered brick, ascribed by Pevsner to the sixteenth century, with a projecting stair turret at the southeast angle. In contrast, the chancel S. wall is pierced by a lancet (still partly original) and the nave, by a renewed window with Y-tracery. The S. porch outer doorway is double-flat-chamfered above narrow semi-octagonal responds and the inner doorway is hollow-chamfered. The chancel E. window is a Perpendicular insertion with supermullioned tracery, strong mullions and split “Y”s beneath a three-centred arch, and there is an untraceried, four-centred window of possibly similar date in the S. wall of the nave.
However, it is the church interior which is most instructive. Here, rather surprisingly, the three-bay N. arcade (shown above, from the east) proves to be essentially mediaeval, albeit restored (cf. the unaltered stone bases), and to consist of double-flat-chamfered arches springing from quatrefoil piers, while a fourth and separate arch beyond (in the immediate foreground), in similar style though with an extra order of shafts to the south, opens from the chapel to the nave and, east again, a large trefoil-cusped squint looks through to the chancel. All this could be contemporary with the tower, yet the chancel itself is of the crudest construction and has an arch to the nave bearing only the narrowest of chamfers above jambs without responds and internal walls covered with the most muddled arrangements of blank arches around its assorted features which - even allowing for the alterations of the centuries - is clearly the outcome, above all else, of incompetent design. Thus the S. wall (shown below) holds a sedilia of two unequal, hollow-chamfered bays separated by a circular shaft, with an oddly-placed corbel head beneath to the west and a simple trefoil-cusped piscina to the east, but what is most striking is that none of the elements really fit their allotted spaces. Nor is the N. wall any better, for here the priest’s doorway (which now leads to the vestry) is so narrow as to admit only the most emaciated of incumbents, while to right and left are two further blank arches of quite different dimensions, the latter springing from another inconveniently-placed corbel head. It seems likely that all this was done a few decades before the decision was taken to add the aisle and chapel, by which time, mercifully, a different mason had been engaged.