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English Church Architecture.


LITTLE BRADLEY, All Saints  (TL 686 521),


(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk.)


One of 181 churches in England with round towers, of which all but five are in Cambridgeshire (with 2), Essex (with 6), Norfolk (with 126) or Suffolk (with 42).


Round church towers were almost invariably assumed by Pevsner to have a Saxon or Norman origin.  That is not necessarily the case, and the form is a function of geology rather than age, for the lack of the ready availability of good building stone to serve as quoins made this a cheap design option by avoiding the expense in the pre-railway age of bringing, usually by horse and cart or at best along the rivers by boat, heavy, bulk materials from afar.  The definitive book on this subject is, and is long likely to remain, the late Stephen Hart's The Round Church Towers of England  (Ipswich, Lucas Books, 2003), to which the notes on these buildings are inevitably, to a greater or lesser degree, indebted.


The W. tower of this little church is circular up as far as the string-course below the bell-stage, and Pevsner described that part of the structure as “doubtless Anglo-Saxon”, an attribution that appears to have been well and truly discredited by Stephen Hart (The Round Church Towers of England, pp. 105-107) who carried out a thorough examination of the masonry and (in particular) the fifteenth century oak door-frame subsequently set in the blocked chancel arch, which seems once to have held an  external door during a period when the church was presumably towerless, and concluded that the round stage of the present tower is, itself, almost certainly fifteenth century, and of the same approximate date as the Perpendicular octagonal bell-stage on top.  This provides a most salutary lesson against automatically assigning round church towers to Norman or Saxon times, although to spare Pevsner some of his embarrassment, it is obviously implicit in this explanation that the tower occupies the position of an earlier Norman one, for the round-headed tower arch belongs to that period, as witnessed by its single, unmoulded order, resting on imposts with chamfered under-edges. This must also be the time of the S. doorway to the nave, the arch between the nave and the chancel (illustrated right), which is similar to the tower arch albeit on a larger scale, and the chancel itself, which appears, however, to have been erected in two distinct stages, to form what can almost be considered to be a choir and a sanctuary, for the walls of the latter are thinner and not in perfect alignment with the walls of the former.  Nevertheless, the dates of these two phases of construction cannot have been very far apart and the church is likely to have been complete within its existing plan by c. 1100.  The chancel has two small Norman windows to the north, one of which is blocked and now visible only externally, but otherwise the church windows are Perpendicular insertions, most of which have been renewed and none of which hold any particular interest, although the bell-openings of this time in the cardinal faces of the bell-stage are nicely proportioned, with cinquefoil-cusped Y-tracery beneath four-centred arches.


[Other churches with round towers featured on this web-site are Bartlow and Snailwell in Cambridgeshire, Quidenham, Roydon, Rushall, Shimpling and Thorpe Abbotts in Norfolk, and Aldham, Brome, Hengrave, Higham, Little Saxham, Rickinghall Inferior, Risby, Stuston, Theberton, Wissett and Wortham in Suffolk.]