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English Church Architecture -



RATTLESDEN, St. Nicholas (TL 978 591)     (August 2004)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)



This is quite a big, impressive building (seen above, from the southeast) which, in different ways, seems to have a greater than usual number of affinities with other local churches.  Consisting of a W. tower with a shingled broach spire, a five-bay aisled nave with a S. porch, and a chancel, it is constructed of flint and pebble rubble with dressings of Clipsham or Casterton stone from the Middle Jurassic Series wherever the work dates from the 1883 restoration of 1883, carried out to the designs of Sir Arthur Blomfield (1829-99).  (See the church guide by Roy Tricker.)  Blomfield's contribution includes the pinnacles at the corners of the aisles and a considerable proportion of the stonework of the windows.  However, the church belongs essentially to early Decorated and Perpendicular times and there is still important work remaining from each.  The former is responsible for the tower, the aisle arcades and the S. doorway inside  the porch (illustrated left), the last of which has two orders of shafts with fillets integral with the jambs and the three rolls with fillets round the arch, which still clearly owe a debt to early English forms. The circular window above contains a wheel of bifoils, similar to the chancel N. windows Stanningfield.  The tower, which rises in three stages supported by clasping buttresses, has probably been remodelled by Blomfield, who also added the spire.  The tower arch bears three hollow chamfers which die into the jambs, the chancel arch has two of these springing from heavy semi-octagonal responds, and the excellent nave arcades have double-hollow-chamfered arches rising from octagonal piers, with hollowed sides and incised cinquefoil-cusped arches immediately below the capitals (see the N. arcade pier, right) in the manner seen at Lakenheath, Norton and Walsham-le-Willows, where the mason was probably the same.


Turning next to the Perpendicular work and beginning with the chancel, this has a  two-storeyed mediaeval N. vestry, which the church guide describes as a sacristy and which Pevsner ignores, reminiscent of similar additions at Cockfield and Hitcham, where they were probably once dwellings for acolyte priests.  Further west, a window into the chancel copies those to the south, which are three-light with inverted daggers above the outer lights and two tiers of reticulation units separated by supertransoms above the central lights, like the chancel windows at Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire, dated by Dr. John Harvey to 1396 - 1411  (The Perpendicular Style, Batsford, 1978).  (See also, for example, the nave windows at Tostock.)  The five-light, two-centred E. window (left) displays  intersecting subarcuation of the lights in threes, through reticulation, and two tiers of supertransoms above lights 2 and 4.  Around all these chancel windows there is the voussoir-like arrangement of brick alternating with flint, so often found locally. The aisle windows (shown in the photograph of the church from the southeast, below right) are of the same non-standard form to be seen at Norton and Stowlangtoft, at the second of which they can be ascribed to c. 1390.   The design is sufficiently distinctive to imply they may all be the work of the same mason, which obviously provides valuable evidence of their date.  The battlements, which are probably later, are decorated with carved blank tracery that continues around the porch, and a partly-projecting stair turret between the easternmost S. aisle bays, gives access to a rood loft (see below).  The clerestory is composed of three-light supermullioned windows with stepped lights, strong mullions, and supermullions splitting into "Y"s.  The masonry around them is faced with knapped flints and the battlements are decorated in flushwork reminiscent of Long Melford (that is, with pairs of blank arches on the embrasures and shields in blank octfoils in the merlons), where the work is dated 1481.  The two-light side windows to the porch have supermullioned tracery with split "Y"s, the S. front is decorated with four tiers of blank arches, and there is a canopied niche above the outer doorway, with shafts with capitals decorated with fleurons, set in a square surround with spandrels filled with blank quatrefoils and daggers. Inside the porch, an earlier roof-line is fossilized above the inner doorway and the wheel window described above.


The church contains some notable woodwork, of which by far the most striking is that of the elaborate and attractive parclose and rood screens with interconnecting lofts (seen below left).  They were designed by G.H. Fellowes Prynne and only date from 1916 but they show how the mediaeval screens might once have been arranged, with access to the rood loft via the stair turret in the S. aisle wall, then the parclose loft round two sides of the S. chapel (west and north), and the wooden stair and stone steps rising from this to pass through an opening in the south side of the chancel arch.  Older furnishings include the seventeenth century hexagonal pulpit with two tiers of panelling, the communion rails with turned balusters of similar or early eighteenth century date, and the double hammerbeam nave roof, now almost entirely by Blomfield.  The boarded chancel roof of ogee section, has been created by panelling over another of single hammerbeam construction.  With its castellated purlins and shallow carved bosses, it is similar in its present form to the chancel roof at Cockfield and almost identical to the chancel roof at Hitcham.


Finally, a note must be added on the ornate octagonal font.  (See the thumbnail, right.)  Its deep bowl has a castellated rim and faces lavishly carved with crocketed cinquefoiled ogees between crocketed pinnacles rising from carved heads at the angles, while the stem features a very small, two-bay. blank ogee-pointed arcade on every side.  The date of the work could be a couple of decades later than that of the aisle arcades but stylistically, the gap is wider.