(« back to home page)

English Church Architecture -

Suffolk.

 

OCCOLD, St. Michael (TM 156 709)     (October 2008)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)

 

This area of Suffolk is notable for its many little churches in close proximity to each other, serving a region of diffuse rural settlement around scattered farms and greens.  St. Michael’s church is one of these, though Occold has a larger village centre than many neighbouring parishes.  Consisting of a W. tower, a nave with a S. porch, and a chancel with a N. vestry, it is predominantly Perpendicular in style, but it retains a number of earlier features that must be described first.

 

The oldest of these is the small round-headed window in the chancel N. wall (immediately west of the vestry) - perhaps the sole surviving remnant of an original, twelfth century church.  The N. and S. doorways to the nave (the latter, inside the porch), are formed of a single flat-chamfered order and probably thirteenth century in date, while a one-light cinquefoil-cusped S. window to the chancel (shown right) is clearly early fourteenth century work, as witnessed by the characteristic ballflower ornament on the hood-mould.  Pevsner thought this could be contemporary with two window splays inside the nave (one on each side), each with an order of narrow side shafts and an ogee-pointed niche in the E. jamb, and perhaps with the chancel arch also, which carries a wave moulding and springs from corbels with carved heads beneath, but no such guesses will be hazarded here.

 

The most important contribution to the church in Perpendicular style is the fifteenth century tower (illustrated above left, from the southeast), which rises in three stages to stepped battlements decorated with flushwork, with a semi-octagonal stair turret protruding to the southeast and rising about halfway up.  The worn W. doorway (left) is double-flat-chamfered, with fleurons at intervals on the outer chamfer and carved crowns on the inner, and a curious feature here (not evident in the photograph) is that both the jambs on the one hand, and the hood-mould and label on the other, appear to be constructed in different stones.  However, the renewed W. window above is more interesting, for with its three stepped ogee lights with supertransoms above and supermullioned tracery, it is almost identical to the aisle windows at Bildeston and very similar to other windows at Debenham, Thorndon and Wetheringsett save only that these also have a tier of stepped transoms some two to three feet below (60 to 90 cm.).  The possible significance of all this (as explained in greater detail under the entry for Bildeston) is dependent on whether at Bildeston and Debenham, these windows can be associated with the same phase of building operations that was responsible for their respective arcades, which the late Birkin Haward attributed to the master mason Hawes of Occold, who appears to have been active between 1410 and 1440, though their appearance here in this, his native village, suggests that they may.  (In fact, I have recently been informed by Dr. Simon Cotton that a bequest from William Osmond, dated 1426, leaving money "ad facturam novi campanile", can be found in a Norwich Consistory Court will.)  The nave and chancel windows have mostly supermullioned tracery, now largely renewed, but the easternmost S. window to the chancel is original in part, including its cinquefoil-cusped sublights.

 

Finally, the only item of furniture requiring mention here, is the large Jacobean pulpit (shown right), with the usual panelling in three tiers. It is most striking for its tester (not illustrated), which is exceptionally heavy and high.