English Church Architecture -
PRESTON ST. MARY, St. Mary (TL 946 503) (October 2002)
(Bedrock: Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)
This is an attractive church on the edge of a small, pleasant village. A great spotted woodpecker was drumming on a tree behind whilst these notes were being taken.
The diagonally-buttressed W. tower was reconstructed in 1868 using some of the original materials but the rest of the church is old and consists of a chancel, a short aisled nave, and a N. porch (left), of which the last is the grandest piece of work and another in the series to be seen also at Bildeston, Felsham and Hitcham, notwithstanding the minor differences in the side windows and the fact that this is the only porch among the four with flint flushwork covering the sides as well as the front. However, the principal façade is almost identical to the others, for it has the same stepped flushwork battlements, the same central niche with lierne vault, and the same angle buttresses with flushwork sides and further niches on the leading edges. The outer doorway is of similarly close design with its carved spandrels, crocketed pinnacles at the sides, and carved fleurons set at intervals around an arch springing from castellated capitals on semicircular shafts with fillets. All this can probably be dated to c. 1470 by association with circumstantial evidence at Felsham and Hitcham (see the relevant entries). Yet so rich a display seems positively incongruous here, especially when it becomes apparent how much narrower was the original N. doorway, which is now off-centre inside. The rest of the building is not without interest, however, for the Perpendicular aisle windows (admittedly mostly renewed) follow another local fashion, seen, in particular, at Rattlesden and Stowlangtoft. (See the N. aisle E. window, right.) It is sufficiently non-standard to suggest that all these windows are attributable to the same master mason and, if that is the case, then it can presumably be dated by the work at Stowlangtoft, known to have been executed around 1390. The chancel is Decorated and has one original two-light S. window with curvilinear tracery to prove it, even though the others are now Victorian.
Internally, the three-bay aisle arcades are formed of arches of two orders bearing a series of wave mouldings, rising from piers composed of four major and four very minor shafts, all with fillets but with capitals to the major shafts only. (The N. arcade is illustrated left.) The two-light clerestory windows with supermullioned tracery are situated above the arch spandrels (i.e. there are four pairs - a pair at either end and a pair above each pier). The chancel arch carries two flat chamfers above semi-octagonal responds, the easternmost S. window to the chancel has a low internal sill which acts as a sedilia, and east of this there is a trefoil-cusped, ogee-pointed piscina, with arches opening from it, north to the sanctuary and west to the window splay.
Finally a few furnishings must also to be mentioned, the oldest of which is the square Norman bowl of the font, now standing on modern supports, carved on its E. face with narrow intersecting round arches with scalloped capitals (illustrated right), and with a variety of designs on the other three. Then in the N. aisle there hangs a royal arms to Elizabeth I (shown below), fancifully created by the antiquarian Robert Reyce (1555 - 1638), a devoted Elizabethan who appreciated the more tolerant religious climate that her reign brought. A second and similar board, of probably similar date, is inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Finally, the Victorianized chancel interior has been furnished with an attractive reredos in mosaic and tile, commemorating the Rev. William Heard Shelford (d. 1854), formerly rector of this parish, and his wife, Emily Frost (d. 1889). The artist is unknown.