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English Church Architecture -



SOMERSHAM, St. Mary (TM 091 484)     (July 2012)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)

There is not a lot to be said about this little building (seen above from the southeast), which is the least interesting of a number of other small churches strung out in a line between Bildeston and Ipswich, where the earliest work dates from the thirteenth century, the towers are unbuttressed, and the dedication is almost invariably to St. Mary.  Like several of the others, St. Mary's, Somersham, consists of a rendered nave and chancel, demarcated in this case only by buttresses, a wooden S. porch, and a short W. tower constructed of flint and pebble rubble. The roofs are tiled.


Windows in the S. side of the building consist, in the nave, of a lancet to the west of the porch and a Y-traceried window to the east, and in the chancel, two renewed two-light windows with reticulated tracery beneath segmental-pointed arches.  The three-light E. window (illustrated right) has renewed reticulated tracery beneath an old hood-mould.    The N. side of the church is pierced by a cinquefoil-cusped lancet in the chancel and a Y-traceried window and a lancet in the nave, either side of a blocked doorway. Perhaps these could date from c. 1280.  The priest's doorway in the chancel N. wall is a Perpendicular insertion:  it has a four-centred arch bearing a casement moulding, containing at intervals what are now very worn carvings.


The tower is embattled and divided into two stages by a string course below the bell-stage.  The bell-openings are two-light to the east and west, with reticulated tracery beneath segmental-pointed arches, but formed of a single light to the north and south, with trefoil-cusping.  The renewed W. window has cinquefoil-cusped Y-tracery with a dagger in the head, commensurate with c. 1320.  A fossilized gable line on the E. wall shows the nave was once slightly steeper pitched. 


The porch (shown left, from the southeast) is probably the church's most interesting feature, with its outer arch formed of two heavy crucks.  Munro Cautley, writing in Suffolk Churches and their Treasures (Norman Adlard & Co., 1937), dated it to the late thirteenth century on page 52 and the fourteenth century on page 315, but the latter seems more likely and would concur with Cecil Hewitt's perhaps more authorative dating of the porch at Frating, Essex (Church Carpentry, Phillimore. 1982, pgs. 48-9).  However, Cautley did helpfully also draw attention to the tracery panels in the sides of the porch, which are carved on the inside only, suggesting they were originally applied to solid panels, as might have been found, for example, on a former rood screen.  The inner doorway is double-flat-chamfered.  


The interior of the church contains little of interest.  The triple-flat-chamfered tower arch is notable for its height in relation to its width, the continuous nave and chancel roof is ceiled but the ashlar pieces, wall plates and tie beams are exposed, and a Royal Arms of  Charles II hangs on the W. wall of the nave, to the left of the chancel arch.