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English Church Architecture -



PARHAM, St. Mary (TM 310 606)     (April 2011)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quarternary, Crag Group)



This is a very interesting building (shown above from the southeast) even though it is no longer an attractive one as four of the nave windows (all three to the south and one to the north) have lost their tracery (apparently since Pevsner's visit in 1961) and received instead just an ugly central mullion whose sole purpose can only be to prop up the arch.  Fortunately, the original tracery still survives in the easternmost N. window (illustrated right) and the W. window to the tower, which are similar, though not identical, to windows in more than a dozen other churches in the county, of which St. George’s, Stowlangtoft is probably the best example. Although aisleless and modest in size, St. George's is a handsome church, dateable from various pieces of evidence to the final decade of the fourteenth century, and significantly, a near date seems to be attributable to the church here at Parham, which is believed to have been the gift of William de Ufford, 2nd Earl of Suffolk, who died in 1382 and whose shield can be seen above the priest's N. doorway to the chancel and on the south face of the font.  (See the two thumbnails, below left.)  Thus St. Mary's may have been the prototype for the later church at Stowlangtoft, designed by the same mason with the benefit of further experience - a  possibility that at least stands up better to scrutiny than the judgement of most writers.  Pevsner, for example, described the nave windows as Perpendicular (he could hardly do other) but the tower itself as Decorated, largely on the strength of the enormous, eroded niche above the window to the west.  Yet compare the profile of the tower from the southeast with the profile of Stowlangtoft's tower from the same direction:  they are virtually identical. Mortlock (in The Guide to Suffolk Churches, revised edition The Lutterworth Press, 2009) and the British Listed Buildings web-site, on the other hand, accept the fact that the tower and nave were constructed together c. 1370, but consider the windows to be later additions.  Of course, in fairness these are the errors that anyone might make when trying to form judgements on stylistic evidence alone.


In fact, the windows at Parham differ in a three minor respects from the design at Stowlangtoft:  the central pair of ogee sub-lights are cinquefoil-cusped instead of trefoiled;  the eyelet contains an octfoil rather than a quatrefoil;  and the little linking element above and between the lights is an inverted "V", not an inverted "U".  The subtle changes made in the later work, can probably be said to produce a slightly better effect and were probably introduced for that reason, but lest they be thought to weaken the connection between the two churches, there are plenty of other remarkable similarities to notice:  the windows at both are two-light and segmental-pointed, formed of two-centred cinquefoiled lights and four straight-sided sub-lights, the inner pair, ogee-pointed and the outer pair, two-centred;  they are linked at both churches by a string course at the springing level of the lights and separated below by buttresses decorated with flushwork rectangles;  the diagonal buttresses of the tower are similarly embellished and, in both cases, have four set-offs; and both churches - except, in the case of Parham, for the chancel - are topped by plain parapets without battlements, giving rise to a slightly curious, truncated appearance to the tower.  That St. Mary's chancel is not part of this work is shown by the two windows either side, which, together with the similar N. window to the nave, immediately east of the porch, though also Perpendicular and of similar dimensions, have supermullioned tracery of conventional design.  This is presumably the work of a different time or hand (or both).  Different again - and surely fifteenth century by now - is the rather grand N. porch (shown right), with a flushwork basal frieze, battlements decorated with flushwork arches in the merlons and carved shields in octfoils beneath the embrasures, three tiers of flushwork arches on the N. front and diagonal buttresses, a canopied niche above the apex of the doorway, and a doorway bearing a series of complex mouldings springing from two engaged shafts.


Inside the church, the chancel and tower arches carry a series of rolls and hollows supported on semi-octagonal responds with deeply moulded capitals, but the most significant feature, for it can be seen in several of the churches with "Stowlangtoft-type" windows, are the narrow flat chamfers outside the responds (in this case, on the sides facing the nave only), running up to incised trefoiled arches, barely 2" square, just under the capitals.  (See the photograph, left, showing the chancel arch N. respond viewed from the nave.)  Yet another connection is provided by the segmental-pointed hood-moulds above the rere-arches to the nave doorways.(The hood-mould above the S. doorway here, and the arms of George II above that, are illustrated in the photograph below right.)  Unrelated features in the nave include an unmoulded arched recess on either side of the chancel arch, that once presumably held statues, and the rood stair in the N. wall of the nave, immediately to the west. The capitals of the chancel arch have been mutilated where formerly they held a rood loft.


Furnishings in the building include the octagonal font, already mentioned, with the Ufford arms to the south and various traceried patterns in the ordinal directions and to the west, both Decorated and  Perpendicular in design, which were all presumably still current at the time of the church's construction.  The nave roof is of very low-pitched couple construction, and in this respect again is very similar to Stowlangtoft, suggesting not only that they shared a mason but that he also brought with him his preferred master carpenter.  This supports an inference drawn by Birkin Haward, writing in 1993 (in Mediaeval Church Arcades, Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History).  The Parham roof seems to have been considerably restored but the point is still valid, especially as no weathering line of a former, more steeply-pitched roof is visible on the external E. wall.  Other woodwork includes the rather primitive Perpendicular rood screen, painted red and green and with small areas of gold leaf, consisting of an openwork dado with four sections each side, from which mullions rise to support minimal supermullioned tracery above cinquefoil-cusped ogee lights.  The communion rail with turned balusters is probably seventeenth century work.