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English Church Architecture -

Suffolk.

 

STOKE-BY-CLARE, St. John the Baptist (TL 770 455) (October 2001)

(Bedrock: Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)

This is a large but not especially interesting building (shown left, from the northeast), although its poorly-lit interior makes it the wrong church to visit on a day in late October with rain in the air. It consists in plan of a W. tower, a five-bay aisled nave with N. and S. porches with stepped battlements, a two-bay aisled chancel, and a S. transept which projects one bay south of the nave S. aisle. However, the most notable point is that the tower is now off-centre to the south, suggesting that when the aisles were added to the original aisleless building, the former nave S. wall was retained as the S. wall of the new S. aisle, and the new nave and N. aisle were constructed to the north. The date of the early church is thus now shown by the lower stages of the tower, which the W. window with Y-tracery proves to be the thirteenth century. The new work is Perpendicular and probably a couple of centuries later. Indeed, the nave arcades are so similar to those at SS. Peter & Paul's church, Clare, where the date may be c. 1473, that the master mason seems likely to have been the same and the date here to be broadly comparable. The arches bear two hollow chamfers and spring from keeled quatrefoil piers with castellated capitals which Pevsner considered "probably re-used", a theory on which Birkin Haward poured barely disguised scorn (Suffolk Mediaeval Church Arcades, Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History", 1993). (See the nave N. arcade, illustrated right.) The church windows are all three-light and segmentally-arched, with very squashed cinquefoil-cusped intersecting tracery in their heads, which is an uncommon design and not a conspicuously successful one. The W. tower is angle buttressed and now divided into three stages. Externally against the E. wall, a very clear, former weathercourse can be seen, showing the roof line of the earlier, aisleless nave.

 

The building contains a few interesting features apart from the arcades but nothing of great moment. First, of wall paintings there is an unusual "Last Judgement" on the E. wall of the N. chapel (now the organ chamber), dating from the reign of Mary I (reigned 1553-8). The position of the organ makes this difficult to see, however, and impossible to photograph. Then of carpentry, there are some good pews in the chancel, most of which retain their poppyheads. They could be contemporary with the excellent pulpit (illustrated in the thumbnail, left), dated 1498 by a gift of money and considered by Pevsner to be the best of its period in Suffolk. It is also one of a number reputed to be the smallest in England, being a mere twenty inches in diameter. Finally, the S. transept is actually a chapel to members of the Elwes family and contains an unremarkable monument to Admiral Sir William Rowley, dated 1813, by the once famous John Bacon the Younger (1777-1859), whose reputation began to decline in his own lifetime.