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English Church Architecture -



NAYLAND, St. James (TL 975 343)     (March 2011)

(Bedrock:  Palaeocene, Thanet Sand Formation)




St. James's, Nayland, like St. Mary’s, Bures, 4½ miles (7 km.) to the west, is another predominantly Perpendicular church with earlier tower, in another large but attractive village of timber-framed cottages, situated along the middle reaches of the Stour. Unfortunately, however, the church only shows to advantage from the northeast as it is squashed  between houses, in consequence of which its relative grandeur is more apparent inside.  Its constituent parts are best considered in approximate age order.  (See the photograph of the church from the northeast, right.)


First, there is the pre-Perpendicular work, which may begin with the late thirteenth century N. aisle W. window, with three-lights and intersecting tracery.  One might expect this to date some of the church's basic masonry also, yet the only other features of the building that look that old are the Y-traceried tower bell-openings and the W. doorway, approached up five steps, comprised of two flat-chamfered orders. However, Pevsner attributed the tower to the fourteenth century and certainly the second stage windows to the west and south, formed of single, ogee-arched lights, are Decorated in style. Perhaps, as it is such modest stuff, it does not matter much, but the chancel E. window is more ambitious and indisputably fourteenth century in form for, although restored, it displays fully developed curvilinear tracery spread above five lights.  Taken together with the tower this appears to demonstrate a church of similar length stood on this site by c. 1350 at the latest. 


The N. aisle of the N. wall seems likely to come next, for the adjoining brick porch has a terminus ante quem of 1441 to judge by a will cited by Pevsner.  The four aisle N. windows  - one west of the porch and three to the east (see the photograph below) -  assume a three-light development of tracery at Stowlangtoft, dated c. 1390 - 1400, which can also be seen at Preston St. Mary and Rattlesden:  these have two-centred, cinquefoiled lights linked by little subarcuations, four ogee-pointed sub-lights above, sandwiched by two, two-centred outer ones, and three quatrefoils in the window head, the only difference being that here the two quatrefoils have an additional small “V” in the tracery and that the window arches themselves are segmental rather than segmental-pointed.  The porch has a two-light supermullioned E. window and a casement moulding around the outer doorway, above which it would appear from the changed nature of the brickwork, the battlements are an addition.



Indeed, the remainder of the nave, S. aisle and western parts of the chancel, seem all to have been reconstructed towards the end of the fifteenth century.   The  nave and chancel aisles are six bays in length, allowing room for the sanctuary to project a further bay and a half. The newly adopted plan left nave and chancel undivided (i.e. there is no chancel arch), though it is clear from the way the internal furnishings are set out, that the chancel is considered to begin from the easternmost arcade piers, a point marked externally to the north by a change in window tracery, and south, by an octagonal rood stair turret with a pyramidal roof (illustrated right).  Rather less clear is how ever communicated with the  rood loft, for while the stair opens at an appropriate height in the aisle,  there is no screen here now, and if the loft extended directly across the building - that is, first across the very wide S. aisle, then the nave and N. aisle - it would have been of  exceptional length.   Another puzzle in the S. aisle is why it was only provided with four windows for five bays.  The N. aisle also has four windows but these are correctly placed (i.e., with one window per bay) as the second bay from the west is occupied by the doorway.  The three-light S. aisle windows have minimal tracery, but castellated supertransoms are squashed in above the central lights and the window arches are surrounded by casements beneath hood-moulds which rise from head label stops. The larger S. aisle E. window has supermullioned drop tracery with a castellated transom above all three of its lights.   The finely-proportioned arcades spring from lozenge-shaped piers with attached semicircular shafts in the cardinal directions and wider ones to the east and west, all provided with capitals, separated in the ordinal directions by two waves and a hollow that continue uninterupted around the arches.  (See the S. arcade. left.) This is a design that led Birkin Haward (Mediaeval Church Arcades, Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 1993) to speculate that this might be the early work of the Bury master, John Wastell (fl. 1480-1515), for as he pointed out, although the interior is plain compared the majority of Wastell's naves elsewhere (for example, Saffron Walden, Essex and Great St. Mary's, Cambridge), there are close parallels with his work at what has become St. Edmundsbury Cathedral.  (For a more detailed consideration of John Wastell's work and style, see the entry for Isleham, Cambridgeshire).  Whether this is so or not, it is surely the case that the arcades and S. aisle postdate the N. aisle windows and N. porch, which presumably were retained through a major phase of reconstruction.


The southwest porch abutting the tower to the south (see below right), is an addition in any event.  Running transversely, it gives access to the S. aisle from the west, an arrangement made necessary by the proximity of the church to the churchyard's southern boundary, preventing the erection of a conventional S. porch.  This is conspicuously the noblest part of the church, seen  outside, in spite of being diminished by the unambitious tower behind. Constructed c. 1525, Haward believed it to be due to the beneficence of the sixth Lord Scrope (d. 1492), who was lord of the manor, although it has traditionally been considered the gift of William Abel (d. 1525), of whom Haward could find no trace.  It has a grand W. front, distinguished by canopied niches above and to either side of the doorway, and by two tiers of trefoil-cusped blank arcading above the label, the upper tier of which adorns the battlements.  There are crocketed pinnacles at the angles and a tierceron vault inside.  The inner doorway has a four-centred arch with a complex profile, set within a square surround displaying Tudor flowers, spandrels filled with leaf motifs, and head label stops.


The church contains few furnishings of note but one exception is an altar painting of the Last Supper by John Constable (1776 -1837), who is most appropriately represented here.  Constable was born in East Bergholt, just six miles (9½ km.) to the east, and although he lived in London throughout his working life, it was to the Stour valley that he turned for his inspiration.  This painting was done in 1810, before Constable was famous, in response to what was doubtless a very welcome commission from his aunt.