( back to home page)

English Church Architecture -

Suffolk.

 

RINGSHALL, St. Katherine (TM 043 529)     (June 2008)

(Bedrock:  Neogene, Red Crag Formation)

 

This is a modest but attractive church (illustrated left, from the southeast), situated within a large churchyard in open countryside.  Consisting of just a chancel, a nave with S. porch, and an unbuttressed W. tower, it displays something in almost every style externally, but in origin the base of the tower at least is Norman, as witnessed by the tiny round-headed window in the first stage to the south.  The tower rises in four stages and its somewhat curious appearance is due in part to their irregular heights which are, very approximately, ten feet (3 m.) for the first stage, twenty feet (6 m.) for the second stage, nine feet (2.7 m.) for the third stage, and twelve feet (3.7 m.) for the bell-stage, which includes the parapet on top.  The shortness of the upper stages, together with with their successive recessing, makes them appear to be collapsing into or emerging from the stages below, like a series of Russian dolls. The W. window in the second stage has Y-tracery and the bell-openings are now modern lancets.  Other windows in the church include a lancet in the nave S. wall, which is externally renewed but mediaeval inside, a two-light Decorated window with curvilinear tracery in the E. wall of the chancel, and an assortment of windows to north and south, with restored or renewed supermullioned drop tracery, in some cases with split Ys  and daggers in the heads, beneath segmental-pointed arches.  The restored or rebuilt S. porch is constructed of wood above a two feet six inches high (75 cm.) stone wall.  The N. wall of the nave is supported by three lean-to brick buttresses, the central one of which is about twelve feet in width.

 

Inside the building, the tower arch is formed of three flat-chamfered orders that die into the jambs.   There is no chancel arch, the nave and chancel having been originally constructed as a single cell, albeit that they are demarcated externally by a very slight change in roof height.  The font comprises an Early English octagonal bowl, bevelled inwards towards the ground and displaying two blank lancets on each face, now standing on eight Victorian sandstone shafts.

 

 

However, the most interesting features of the building are the nave and chancel roofs, of king-post and false hammerbeam form respectively.  The nave roof (shown above, from the east) is two and a half bays long (with the half bay towards the tower) and framed in seven cants, with tie beams supported by arched braces, and king posts of octagonal section that are braced just two ways above, to the collar purlin only. Unusually, the tie beams go right through the walls and are conspicuously pegged outside. (See the photograph right, showing one of the beam ends pegged against the N. wall.)  The chancel roof (shown at the foot of the page, from the west) is constructed in three bays with false hammerbeams, which is to say that the arched braces rise from the backs of them to the collars instead of taking structural advantage of their projection.  The braces beneath the hammerbeams are solid and carved with roses in the spandrels.  The wall plates are moulded, and the wall posts, decorated with little octagonal shafts, and there are further (longitudinal) arched braces connecting these (shown below left), which also have carving in the spandrels.  Beneath the wall posts are the scars of corbels, regrettably since removed, which very probably took the form of carved angels.   This is all quite attractive still, though some restoration appears to have taken place.  A more perplexing uncertainty, however, concerns the very odd beams now abutting the E. wall, which look less like extended hammerbeams than an erstwhile tie beam cut away in the centre to provide just enough space for the window between.  It is an odd arrangement, strange enough to raise the possibility at least that it is indeed a tie beam, which was modified when the chancel was shortened, although there is nothing obvious about the chancel masonry outside that gives support to this hypothesis.  Yet there are two possible pieces of other corroborating evidence, of which the most notable is that the piscina is set, quite unusually, not in the chancel S. wall to the east but in the E. wall to the south, suggesting it has been displaced.  The lesser peculiarity is the small size of the two-light E. window where a three or more light window might normally be expected instead.  Could this have come from the N. or S. wall of the chancel further east and been re-set here when the chancel was reduced in length in the late sixteenth century or after...?  Of course, in the absence of archaeological evidence, this is all very speculative.  The initials R.B. (for Richard Borsall) on the chancel roof, apparently refer to the benefactor, not the carpenter.