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English Church Architecture -

Suffolk.

 

SPROUGHTON, All Saints (TM 125 451)     (April 2011)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)

This is a relatively modest and substantially renewed building which Pevsner afforded just sixteen lines in The Buildings of England and Cautley, a mere six in Suffolk Churches and their Treasures.  However, in actual fact, there is much to ponder here and a fascinating study could be made of this church alone.  The notes below can only be a précis of the more salient points.

 

The church (shown above from the southeast) consists of a W. tower, nave and chancel, with aisles that continue alongside the chancel as a chapel to the south and an organ chamber adjoined to a vestry to the north.  Beginning from the west, the unbuttressed tower is Early English work of the late thirteenth century, which rises in three stages to "Y"-traceried bell-openings and (probably later) battlements, lit below by a restored three-light W. window with intersecting tracery.  The Victorian clerestory apart, the rest of the building is lit by renewed S. windows and restored N. windows which, nevertheless, almost certainly retain their mediaeval forms, as witnessed by the partly old N. windows and the "hotchpotchedness" of the combination of designs.  There are essentially two of these:  (i), a two-light form formed of Y-tracery with trefoil-cusped lights with pointed trefoils above and a dagger in the window apex (although one to the north differs significantly); and (ii), a three-light Perpendicular form with little linking subarcuations above the lights, six sub-lights immediately above - the inner four ogee-pointed and the outer pair two-centred, and three quatrefoils in the heads - the central one ogee-pointed at the top and bottom and the outer pair, at the bottom only.  These require consideration.  The late Birkin Haward in his generally very insightful monograph Suffolk Mediaeval Church Arcades  (Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 1993), listed this church as one that may have been erected in a single campaign, to which he applied a date of c. 1280.  Yet the tower and (as the church interior reveals) tower and chancel arches, could easily be earlier, while the two-light aisle windows and, still less, the arcades, seem scarcely to predate the turn of the next century.  This may suggest that an originally aisleless nave was reconstructed with aisles, some three or four decades later.  As for the inserted three-light Perpendicular windows (three renewed ones to the south and two partly old ones to the north), these raise other speculations, for they are virtually identical (hence the importance of their detailed description, given above) to windows at Nayland, Preston St. Mary, Rattlesden and Wortham, among other places, all of which can probably be dated by association with what appear to be their two-light counterparts at Stowlangtoft, which are known to have been constructed c. 1390-1400.  In their fourteenth century manifestation, they were almost certainly the work of the same hand, although attributing anything else to this mason with certainty, other than windows, except at Stowlangtoft, proves a real challenge.  These windows show one variation, only otherwise seen at Nayland and Rattlesden, in that two are segmentally arched (in the nave aisles, as illustrated by the N. aisle window, below left) instead of segmental-pointed (see the photograph of the re-set window in the organ chamber, below right).  (In other places, all these windows are segmental-pointed.)  The chancel E. window is Victorian but the S. doorway is commensurate with the two-light windows and has three rolls with fillets springing from two engaged shafts with fillets on its outer face, at odds with its segmental-pointed rere-arch, like that at Rattlesden, which suggests a remodelling.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The church interior is dominated by the three-bay nave arcades (see the interior view of the church, below, and the larger photograph of the N. arcade, below left), described by Birkin Haward as "of outstanding merit and the only examples of their kind in Suffolk".    "The piers are deeply moulded with four filleted shafts and four keeled shafts in the diagonals [separated by continuous hollows, and these support] deeply moulded capitals and arches" (Pevsner).  By contrast, the tower and chancel arches (which the British Listed Buildings web-site declares to have been reconstructed, although if they are, it must surely have been in the original form) are each composed, very simply, of two flat-chamfered orders.

 

 

East of the chancel arch, all at first looks Victorian.  The church's present furnishings and fittings prevent the arches at the ends of the nave aisles from being differentiated as true arches or former windows, although they are actually the latter.  (Woodwork obscures the surviving masonry beneath the level of the former sills.)  This implies the aisles once ended here and confirms the nineteenth century attribution of the S. chapel and N. organ chamber.  However, error arises if the N. vestry is included with these extensions, for a squint in the S. wall looking through to the sanctuary proves it to be mediaeval while the doorway into the organ chamber to the west, with a dripstone with nicely-carved head label stops on the W. side, shows it was once an external door although not for long, perhaps, to judge from their state of preservation.  That this is contemporary with the thirteenth century phase of the church's construction, appears to be confirmed by its "Y"-traceried E. window with little circle in the apex and by the solitary N. lancet.   As for the vestry's original function, both Cautley and the britishlistedbuildings web-site assume it to have been a chapel, but since it appears that a former redecoration of the vestry revealed smoke stains on the N. wall, it seems more likely to have been the case that, not withstanding its small size, it was actually once the dwelling of an acolyte priest or hermit, like other ancient vestries to the north of the chancel in East Anglia, of which examples may be found at Gipping, Hessett and Hitcham in this county, and at Toddington in Central Bedfordshire.  Immediately to the west, the partially-old N. window in the Victorian organ chamber (of c. 1390?) is almost certainly the former N. aisle E. window, re-set, while similarly, the two-light E. window to the S. chapel has probably come from the former S. aisle E. wall.  The nave roof, although restored, is of hammerbeam construction, with partly original angels still in place on alternate hammerbeams.

 

Finally, although furnishings in the church are of less interest than the architecture, a few items are worth notice. The font (illustrated below right) is Perpendicular but has probably been retooled:  the octagonal bowl is decorated by symbols of the Passion on the cardinal faces and of the Evangelists between, and stands on an octagonal stem with two blank cinquefoil-cusped arches on every side.  Monuments include a large theatrical sixteenth century one on the N. wall of the sanctuary, commemorating Elizabeth Bull (d. 1634) and featuring the deceased in effigy (although probably, at that date, not intended to represent an actual likeness) kneeling in prayer before a prayer desk, while a pair of angels at the sides hold back a pair of curtains.  A much simpler memorial engraved in slate on the chancel S. wall, dedicated to a former rector, Joseph Waite (d. 1670), has the Chi Rho symbol at the top, an hour-glass standing on skull in the centre, and a selective misquotation from Job, ch. 14, v. 14, below, which makes use of the fact that capital "J"s were once written as "I"s:  "...all the days of my appointed time will I waite, till my change come".