( back to home page)

English Church Architecture -



LITTLE WHELNETHAM, St. Mary Magdalen (TL 888 600)   

(October 2001)     (Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)


The building consists of a chancel, a nave with a S. porch, and an unbuttressed  W. tower, and is notable externally for its most unusual nave windows (two on each side) and for its brick porch.  However, at least some of its basic fabric is considerably older than these features and goes back to Norman times, for inside the chancel, a crude, round-arched piscina survives, recessed in the S. wall.


The nave windows are Perpendicular, albeit of a most singular kind.  (See the example, left.)  Each has four trefoil-cusped lights beneath a castellated transom just below the springing level.  Above, the reticulation units contain strangely asymmetrical, uncusped arches, of which the central two are subarcuated over a quatrefoil in the eyelet, and the design as a whole has an attractive, home-spun appearance, even if it does look slightly less than fully competent.  Other windows in the building have been mostly restored but include two with cinquefoil-cusped Y-tracery in the N. and S. walls of the chancel, and two with a form of curvilinear tracery, one in the chancel E. wall and one in the tower W. wall, both with ugly, over-large mouchettes.  These appear to copy the original form, however, which was presumably of Decorated vintage.


The S. porch (shown right) is constructed of English-bonded Tudor brick and has a four-centred outer doorway bearing two flat chamfers formed in moulded bricks. In similar style, a plain niche for a statuette occupies the space beneath the crow-stepped gable.


Inside the church there is quite a lot of ancient woodwork -  in particular, fifteen, fifteenth century benches with poppyheads (six of the ten to the north and all nine to the south).  There is no pulpit, but a spectacular if slightly pagan-looking eagle lectern serves in its stead.  It is Flemish and of seventeenth century date, and was brought to Little Whelnetham in the nineteenth century.  Three detached wooden steps enable the reader (or preacher) to reach the book rest.  The rood screen retains only its dado and even this consists of the old tracery re-backed with new boards.  The aisle roof is mediaeval and a strange, hybrid affair:  every second or third pair of principal rafters is supported by a pair of hammerbeams.