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English Church Architecture -



MELLIS, St. Mary (TM 095 743)     (March 2007)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)


Mellis is a small village notable for its huge open grazing common, stretching for almost two miles towards Gislingham.  The church stands at the northeast end of the green where, since the collapse of the tower in 1730, it has consisted of just a chancel with a northeast vestry and a nave with a S. porch.  Remains of the tower walls have been left behind to buttress the W. wall of the nave, and since no attempt at all has been made to tidy these up, the church today has a broken appearance, notwithstanding the quality of the nave windows and the pretensions of the once two-storeyed porch (shown right).  The oldest external features of the building are in this porch, leading one to doubt initially the veracity of the evidence.  Its inner and outer doorways are Perpendicular, displaying a complex series of mouldings in the former case, including bowtells at the sides, and wave mouldings springing from moulded responds in the latter, above which a two-light supermullioned window formerly lit the upper storey.  However, the two-light, segmental-pointed side windows to the porch, are Decorated, with ungainly curvilinear tracery to the west and reticulated tracery to the east.  Conceivably they are contemporary with the chancel arch and the remains of the tower arch, as seen inside the building:  both these are triple-flat-chamfered, with the two inner orders springing from semi-octagonal responds.  This leaves the remaining Perpendicular work to describe, which means, first and foremost, the well-designed nave windows (three on each side), with their two-centred lights, supermullioned drop tracery, castellated transoms (above the main lights) and supertransoms, and order of engaged shafts inside.  (See the photographs left and below right, showing in turn a S. window viewed externally and the N. windows viewed internally.)  The chancel has one extant three-light S. window with simple supermullioned tracery but ogee-pointed lights, and two that are now blocked (one each to the north and south) which appear to have been similar.  The E. window has been renewed but below there is a tall frieze of trefoil-cusped flushwork arches, which continues along the E. wall of the vestry, showing this to be mediaeval also.  Where the nave widens out from the chancel to the north, a projecting semi-hexagonal turret  houses the rood stair.  This opens high up inside the church, well to the north of the restored fifteenth century rood screen and canopy, which cannot, therefore, show the original arrangement.  Another internal feature of the building is the series of recesses in the N. wall of the chancel, thought to have been intended to act as an Easter sepulchre: the large recess above, with its little traceried spandrels, provides a shelf on which to place the sacrament from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, while the five small niches below are thought to have been intended to symbolize the Five Wounds of Christ.


The porch and nave were restored by John Johnston (1808-79) in 1858-9, and the chancel, in 1897-8, when the Minton floor tiles were added both to the chancel and nave.