English Church Architecture -
ROUGHAM, St. Mary (TL 912 626) (August 2004)
(Bedrock: Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)
The church stands alone save for the rectory and school - apparently a result of the Black Death of 1349 which caused the original village settlement to be abandoned. It has a stately, diagonally-buttressed, Perpendicular W. tower (shown left, from the southwest), showing affinity with the tower at Great Barton, two and a half miles to the northwest, though the work there is dated by wills proved in 1440 and 1449, whereas here a series of wills survive from the years 1460, 1461, 1462, 1464 and 1472, raising questions about whether the same master mason could have been involved. Pace D.P. Mortlock, it could not have been William Layer - who owned property in Rougham still known as Layer's Farm - at least in any direct sense, for he had died in 1444, but it is possible that he had worked at Great Barton, of course, and, perhaps, at the same time, drawn up the original plan here. He certainly left 20 marks (£13-6s-8d) to the church in his will, though that might simply have reflected his dwelling in the parish or imply he was responsible for the construction of the clerestory, which was a suggestion made by the late Birkin Haward (Mediaeval Church Arcades, Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 1993). Besides, it was quite usual in the Middle Ages for masons to be given instructions to build a church "as good as" or "better than" a well-regarded neighbouring building, and if that was the case at Rougham, perhaps the instruction was the latter, for this tower outdoes Great Barton's while yet retaining the latter's unsettling arrangement of string courses aligned with the springing levels of the windows instead of their sills, which produces a curious unstructural appearance that leaves the main W. window straddling stages 1 & 2, instead of fitting into one or the other, and the smaller two-light window above (seemingly a re-set fourteenth century window to judge from its straightened reticulated tracery), dithering between stages 2 & 3. Yet this apart, the proportions of the tower are certainly impressive, as are the tall stepped battlements with two tiers of flint flushwork, the lower displaying a frieze of circular devices and the upper formed of the alternation of these below the embrasures with cusped arches in the merlons. An inscription on the S. front reads "Pray for ye sowle of John Tillot" and there are the initials "T" and "D" for Tillot and Drury, the names of the families who paid for the tower's erection.
The rest of the building consists of an aisled nave and chancel with an attractive S. porch, a N. vestry of 1856 by John Johnson of Bury St. Edmunds (who restored the church in that year), and a very large, embattled and largely windowless S. vestry/organ chamber of 1900, which looks more like a pele tower. The N. and S. chancel windows (beside the vestries), the aisle E. windows, and the solitary S. window to the S. vestry (re-set high up), are two-light with curvilinear tracery, while the chancel E. window provides a classic example of five-light reticulated tracery. This is all late Decorated work, as is the porch (shown right, in a view of the church from the southeast) with its three-light, unglazed, reticulated side windows, and S. doorway with a complex profile above semi-quatrefoil responds. Also contemporary are the four-bay nave arcades, formed of double-flat-chamfered arches supported on piers composed of four major and four minor shafts with capitals to the former. So is the chancel arch, which is similar but taller.
The three-light aisle and two-light clerestory windows are Perpendicular and untraceried in the S. aisle and clerestory but supermullioned in three slightly differing forms in the N. aisle, where the work is probably slightly earlier and dated by an inscription on the central buttress (illustrated below right), now extremely hard to discern. It is considered to record the date as 1514, however, while the inscriptions on the buttresses to left and right read, "We pray you to remember us that causyde ye yle to be made thus", followed by "Dns Johes Smyth ye Curator Isius Ecclesiae Wilms...", the rest being indecipherable. In view of this close ascription, these windows (shown below left) must be described in detail. They consist, from east to west, of (i) a window with supermullioned drop tracery beneath a four-centred arch and a small quatrefoil in the apex above the central light (seemingly another local design, which may be found, for example, in the towers at Fornham St. Martin and Great Barton), (ii) a window with standard supermullioned drop tracery beneath a three-centred arch, and (iii) a window like the first but with ogee-pointed lights. All the mullions split into “Y”s. The battlements above the nave and both aisles are probably contemporary with the S. aisle windows: they have openwork merlons featuring Tudor roses and shields in quatrefoils set in lozenges in squares.
Finally some of the church carpentry must be described, of which the nave roof is the most important. (See the photograph below.) This is a fine piece of work of single hammerbeam construction, reminiscent, on a reduced scale, of the roof above William Layer's nave at St. Mary's, Bury St. Edmunds, suggesting his favourite carpenter may have been engaged, which might, in turn, suggest that Layer had overseen the construction of the clerestory. The cornices are brattished and carved in two tiers, and there are moulded arched braces, castellated collar beams, and original figures still attached to the hammerbeams and wall posts, albeit all now headless and, in the case of the angels, wingless. The lean-to aisle roofs have narrower cornices against the aisle walls, more brattishing, and carved bosses where the purlins cross the principals. Also notable is the S. porch roof, which manages to be segmentally-arched in spite of its timber construction and which is dated 1632 on a wall post above the inner doorway. Some of he nave benches are mediaeval and have attractively bench ends and poppyheads but all the arm rests have been sawn off.