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English Church Architecture -



REDGRAVE, St. Mary (TM 057 782)     (August 2006)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


Consisting of a W. tower, an aisled nave with a S. porch, and a chancel, this large church (shown left, from the southeast) stands alone down a lane, almost a mile from the village.  Its origins appear to lie in Decorated times, perhaps around 1340, and the chancel windows are all of this period.  These comprise:  in the N. and S. walls, a pair to the west with tall cinquefoil-cusped lights and curvilinear tracery, and a pair to the east with tracery formed of two elongated double-cusped quatrefoils and a dagger above;  and in the E. wall, a seven-light window with complicated tracery based on two intersecting asymmetric ogees, rising from the five lights on the left and five lights on the right respectively (i.e. with the three central lights common to both), the points of which curve round to the window apex to form a wheel of asymmetric daggers.  (See the photograph below left.  The constraints of the churchyard make the oblique angle of viewing unavoidable.)   Also Decorated are several of the aisle windows (although the majority are now Perpendicular, with strong mullions and quatrefoils in the apices beneath depressed arches) and probably the attractive S. doorway (inside the porch), with two orders of shafts terminating in finely-carved leaf capitals, and an arch of complex profile, the carved decoration of which includes a delicate frieze of lions’ heads alternating with flowers.  (See the photograph below right.) To this early fourteenth century building, the well-proportioned clerestory is a Perpendicular addition, formed of two pairs of two-light supermullioned windows per bay, situated over the arcade spandrels.  The present tower is Georgian and constructed in Flemish-bonded grey brick, apparently fired from Woolpit clay.  It rises in four recessed stages to round-arched bell-openings, and was built to encase a Tudor original that was weathering badly, “c. 1800” according to Pevsner, or “perhaps [in] the late 1760’s” according to the church guide.  The second may be nearer the mark if graffiti gouged in the S. wall (hard to discern) include the date 1784.


Inside the church, the five-bay arcades are composed of arches of two orders bearing wave mouldings, springing from piers of quatrefoil section, with minor shafts with fillets between the foils.  The chancel arch is similar but taller.  The heavily restored nave roof is constructed with false hammerbeams alternating with tie beams supporting queen posts.  However, the most important internal architectural feature of the building is the three-bay Perpendicular sedilia recessed in the chancel S. wall, with little lierne vaults beneath highly elaborate canopies consisting of a kind of fenestrated superstructure decorated with three-light blank windows.  The piscina to the east has a cinquefoil-cusped, crocketed ogee arch.


Finally, something must be said of the monuments in the church, most of which are too early to be listed by Gunnis, although they were described in detail by Pevsner.  Perhaps the most important is the altar tomb in the N. aisle, commemorating Nicholas Bacon and his wife, by Nicholas Stone.  According to Pevsner, “It was made in 1616, the architectural parts by Bernard Janssen, but no doubt to Stone’s design.”   A monument on the N. side of the sanctuary which does fall within Gunnis’s terms of reference, was encased in scaffolding at the time of this visit, but commemorates Sir John Holt, Lord Chief Justice of England, who died in March 1710 and not 1709 as inscribed on his tomb.  It is the work of Thomas Green of Camberwell (c. 1659 - c. 1730), “one of the outstanding statuaries of the first quarter of the eighteenth century... His monument at Redgrave, ... with its seated figure flanked by Justice and Truth, is superb” (Dictionary of British Sculptors: 1660-1851, The Abbey Library, 1951).