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English Church Architecture -



PAKENHAM, St. Mary (TL 930 671)     (March 2004)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


Unfortunately this church (shown left, from the southwest) is less interesting than it appears at first sight for it promises much on approach due to its cruciform plan and large crossing tower which turns octagonal at the bell stage above the nave, chancel and transept roofs.  The building fares less well on closer examination because so much of it proves to be only nineteenth century work and poor quality at that.  This leaves, besides the tower bell-stage, which is Decorated apart from the battlements, two Norman doorways and the Norman chancel arch (that is, the tower E. arch), some thirteenth century windows, and a few that are Perpendicular, including chiefly the fine one to the west. 


First, then, the Norman work. The doorways on the S. and W. sides of the nave are round-arched and surrounded by thick rolls supported on an order of shafts with scalloped capitals.  Inside the building, the chancel arch (shown below right) is very wide and has shafts with scalloped capitals and imposts with chamfered under-edges decorated with saltires.  It seems that the nave arch (i.e. the tower W. arch) was once similar and that the S. transept arch was Early English, though not so the corresponding arch to the north as the N. transept remained unbuilt until 1849, the year in which the nave arch and entire S. transept were also reconstructed by S.S. Teulon (1812-73).  Of his church of St. Stephen's, Hampstead, a contemporary critic commented that "the tower surpasses in ugliness even the worst native French examples" and of his church at Huntley in Gloucestershire, B.F.L. Clarke observed that it contained "many... expensive and unbeautiful things" (Church Builders of the  Nineteenth Century, David & Charles, 1969).  Nor, indeed, do Teulon's additions and alterations have any more grace or proportion here, although in fairness, his choice of the First Pointed style was probably influenced by the Early English work elsewhere in the building, of which there remain two lancets in the chancel S. wall and one in the N. wall, which are scarcely better proportioned than those by Teulon.  Somewhat more attractive are the two original, two-light windows with plate tracery, one on each side of the nave, with quatrefoils above.  The tower bell-openings are reticulated and the nave W. window (illustrated right) - which is, perhaps, the church’s only attractive feature - is two-centred and five-light, with supermullioned drop tracery displaying subarcuation of the outer lights over quatrefoils, two tiers of reticulation units above lights 2 to 4, separated by supertransoms, a quatrefoil in the oculus, and cinquefoil-cusping of all sub-lights.  The N. porch is Victorian again and dated 1838 by an inscription in its W. wall, probably indicating that it is not by Teulon (although Mortlock says it is). This leaves just the furnishings of the building to be considered, of which still less need be said.  Most significant is the attractive octagonal font with the symbols of the Evangelists carved on four of the faces and seated monks at the corners of the stem, but the communion rails with twisted balusters are also nice and probably date from the late seventeenth century.