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English Church Architecture -



OUSDEN, St. Peter (TL 736 597)     (October 2004)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


The main interest of this building lies in its plan, which is axial.  It consists of a massive central tower, an aisleless nave with a S. transept, communicating not with the tower but with the easternmost nave bay, a chancel and a S. porch.  All the important work dates from the late twelfth century, as shown by a number of water leaf capitals and by the N. doorway, which is pointed rather than round.  However, the building otherwise remains essentially Norman in character rather than Norman-Transitional.


Externally, the appearance of the church is solid and telling, even though its grandeur all derives from the heavy central tower (shown left, from the north), in the teeth  of  jumbled  features  and  a  poor  little chancel with ugly pebble-dashed walls.  Windows do not really deserve particularizing here:  they are Victorian and commonplace in most parts of the building, and only the very small Norman windows in the tower (including the bell-openings) and the eastern part of the nave S. wall, are clearly original.  The broad N. porch was constructed as recently as 1909, but the inner doorway is interesting:  the E. jamb displays a shaft with a water leaf capital while the W. jamb has an Early English colonnette, and the arch above is still more curious, being pointed and carrying a carved moulding like a line of double cones. This  is  probably work  of  c. 1190,  to  which  the western colonnette has been added later.  The S. doorway has been partially blocked but the head remains (shown right), with an arch turned in re-used Roman brick, a tympanum covered in carved lozenges, and a diapered lintel .


The internal work has survived much better and is altogether of a higher order.  Both the original E. and W. tower arches remain (shown left, from the west), as well as the Norman arch from the nave to the transept.  Unfortunately, the latter has been rather incompetently plastered, but all three are of striking proportions - not high, but about a metre thick and well constructed, with shafts with waterleaf capitals attached to the western faces of the E. and W. arches, as well as ashlar quoins and, unusually for the period and most striking of all if it is indeed an original feature, the use of knapped flints under the soffits - a most effective conceit.  The view from the nave looking east, is rather tunnel-like but very satisfying, helped by good light from clear glass.  Of course, for a congregation trying to participate in a service conducted in the chancel, it is likely to be less satisfactory.


A few furnishings remain to be mentioned.  The fourteenth century font is unusual:  the central shaft is tall and slender, and surrounded by eight circular shafts which splay outwards to support the bowl. The plain pulpit is Georgian and typical of its period.  Finally, the low seventeenth century communion rails, though considered a century older than those at nearby Cowlinge, are actually remarkably similar.