English Church Architecture -
LITTLE STONHAM, St. Mary (TM 111 602) (October 2008)
(Bedrock: Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)
Externally, this attractive building (shown left, from the southeast) - now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust - is largely Perpendicular in style, with the E. window to the chancel being the principal exception. It consists of a chancel, a nave with a S. porch and chapel in one, and a tall W. tower, and has stepped gables at the east end of both the chancel and nave.
The chancel is two bays long and lit by two, two-light S. windows with supermullioned tracery, little quatrefoils above, and fine head label stops, and between these windows is a priest’s door with a flying buttress over (shown below right), in a strange but picturesque arrangement that is probably not mediaeval (although see also St. Peter & St. Paul's church, Eye). Roy Tricker, writing in the church guide in 1992, considered the reticulated E. window to date from c. 1330, but he also reported that “the chancel underwent a very thorough restoration in 1886.... to the designs of the Ipswich architect Edward Fernley Bisshopp” and an examination of the stonework here, both outside and in, suggests this window is more likely to be Bisshopp’s work (at least in its present form) than anything earlier. (In fact, the same conclusion is also suggested by the unusual shape of the reticulation units, which have larger foils at top and bottom than they do at the sides, a form uncommon in mediaeval work.) The chancel has no north windows, but what is notable on this side of the church is that although there is no north aisle, the nave has a clerestory both here and to the south, formed of five pairs of large, untraceried, three-light windows with depressed arches, which, to the north, are completely unsynchronized with the three, two-light nave windows below. Of the latter, the two to the east are similar to the S. windows to the chancel, while the window to the west, like its counterpart in the nave S. wall opposite (to the west of the porch and chapel), has a quatrefoil above the lights. East of the porch on the S. side, the chapel window has supermullioned tracery with split “Y”s and a little quatrefoil in the apex, and the chapel E. window is three-light, with supermullions that give way below the window head to a row of three small quatrefoils. This work appears contemporary with the fifteenth century tower (see below). The porch is cross-gabled and diagonally-buttressed to both the southwest and southeast, notwithstanding the lean-to chapel adjoining to the east. Its outer doorway, set slightly east of centre, bears wave mouldings supported on semi-quatrefoil responds, but the inner doorway is finer, with a series of little waves and hollows and a hood-mould decorated with fleurons that rises from large head label stops. Its very low-pitched roof has castellated wall plates and carved arched braces supporting cambered tie beams.
The tower is a proud piece of work rising in three stages supported by diagonal buttresses, with flushwork decorating the basal frieze, the leading edges of the buttresses and, in particular, the stepped battlements, where it comprises two tiers divided by a string course, the lower formed of arches alternating with quatrefoils and other geometrical motifs, and the upper, of shields in squares beneath the embrasures and arches in the merlons, with the addition on three sides of a central crowned “M” for St. Mary. The tower is topped by pinnacles at the corners and the mid-points of the walls, and the bell-stage has two, two-light openings to the east, north and west, with quatrefoils above the lights and segmental-pointed arches, and to the south, a single three-light opening, which is all there is room for beside the wide semi-octagonal stair turret at the southeast angle which rises the full height of the tower. The W. doorway (illustrated left) retains its original traceried wooden door and carries a series of mouldings round the arch, including a sunk hollow chamfer containing carved fleurons at intervals. The spandrels are decorated with carved roses in quatrefoils and pairs of small mouchettes, there is a carved frieze of quatrefoils between the doorway and window above, and the latter has restored tracery similar to the chapel E. window.
Inside the church, the features that command attention first are probably the chapel and chancel arches, which Tricker - an authoritative writer with whom one disagrees at one’s peril - implies are fifteenth century work but which look like fourteenth (which would make them earlier than the chapel windows) and which are similar in design if not in scale, being formed of arches of two orders, bearing a hollow chamfer and a wave moulding, separated by a hollow and springing from wide semi-octagonal responds. (See the chapel arch, right.) Certainly, at the very least, these are not contemporary with the clerestory - which is fifteenth century work - for the chapel arch cuts into the line of the clerestory windows very slightly, which maintains a constant level nonetheless. However, be this as it may, the finest internal feature of the building is the double-hammerbeam nave roof (shown below), constructed in six bays, with carved figures supporting the wall posts and traceried spandrels beneath castellated hammerbeams, now, predictably, without angels. The especially intricate easternmost spandrel and hammerbeam to the south, was identified by Tricker as a seventeenth century replacement. (Note also that the five pairs of clerestory windows, correspond with the five eastern bays of this roof, leaving the western bay blank.) The chancel roof is only of restoration date but the panelling around the walls of the nave, the gallery above the nave W. end, and the wooden vestry beneath the gallery to the south, all appear to be Georgian. The font is another nice piece of mediaeval work, with an octagonal bowl carried on a stem supported by buttresses alternating with what are probably four lions (although one looks very like a monkey), and with carvings on the faces of the bowl, representing, in clockwise order from the south and omitting the damaged north face, an angel holding a shield, a Sacred Heart set inside a crown of thorns, a Crucifixion scene, an angel holding a heart (northwest), a rose (northeast), another angel holding a shield, and another crowned “M”.