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English Church Architecture.

 

RINGSHALL, St. Catherine  (TM 043 529),

SUFFOLK. 

(Bedrock:  Neogene, Red Crag Formation.)

 

A modest church, most interesting for its roofs.

 

This is a modest but attractive church, situated in a large churchyard in open countryside.  Consisting of just a chancel, a nave with a S. porch, and an unbuttressed W. tower, it displays some feature in almost every style externally, but the tower at least is Norman in origin, as witnessed by the tiny round-headed window in the first stage to the south.  It rises in four irregular stages and the  shortness of the upper stages, together with their successive recessing, makes it appear as if it is folding into itself, 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 within, 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 'Y's 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 (75 cm.) stone base.  The nave N. wall  is supported by three lean-to brick buttresses, of which the one in the centre 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 originally been constructed as a single cell, albeit that they are now demarcated externally by a very slight change in roof height.  The earlier, much moresteeply pitched roof-line is fossilised in the tower E. wall (as shown in the photograph, left).   The font comprises an Early English octagonal bowl, bevelled inwards towards the floor 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 below, viewed from the east) is two and a half bays long (with the half bay towards the west) and framed in seven cants, with tie beams supported by arched braces, and king posts of octagonal section that are braced above to the collar purlin only. Unusually, the tie beams go right through the walls and are conspicuously pegged outside. (See the photograph at the foot of the page on the left, showing one of the beam ends pegged against the N. wall.

 

The chancel roof (shown below, viewed from the west) is constructed in three bays with false hammerbeams - which is to say that the arched braces rise from the backs of the hammerbeams to the collars instead of taking structural advantage of their projection.  The braces beneath are solid and carved with roses in the spandrels, the wall plates are moulded, the wall posts are decorated with little octagonal shafts, and there are further (longitudinal) arched braces connecting these (shown at the foot of the page on the right), 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 looks like an erstwhile tie beam cut away in the centre to provide just enough space for the window between.  It is an odd arrangement which seems to tell of a modification 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, while 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 (notes in the church).