(« back to home page)

English Church Architecture -

Suffolk.

 

STOKE-BY-NAYLAND, St. Mary (TL 986 363) October 2004)

(Bedrock: Neogene, Red Crag Formation)

This is a large, impressive and largely Perpendicular church which at the time of this visit (in 2004) was setting a standard in welcoming visitors, with doors flung wide and even the toilet clearly signposted. There is a lot to see here and it is necessary to consider the building systematically in some detail, but it consists in plan of a W. tower, an aisled nave with N. and S. porches, a chancel with shorter N. and S. chapels, and a second N. chapel, known as St. Edmund's Chapel, adjoining the nave N. aisle beside its easternmost bay. Of these, the tower (shown left, from the southeast) is most striking and so probably best considered first, but it is known to be almost the last to be built, for it is dated by bequests to the years between 1439 and 1462. Constructed of flint and pebble rubble with limestone dressings and an increasing proportion of brick in its upper stages, it is surmounted by short corner pinnacles and battlements covered with blank quatrefoils at a height of 120 feet (37 metres), and was discussed in connection with a number of issues by John Harvey in his seminal book, The Perpendicular Style (Batsford, 1978). In particular, he drew attention to what he called the tower's "turreted design" - although this is rather a misnomer as it only has a true stair turret at the southeast angle, the other corner projections being more accurately described as large polygonal clasping buttresses. Nevertheless, leaving aside precise definitions, this is a design that Harvey traced back to work at Lincoln Cathedral executed by Richard of Stow in 1306-11, and he found examples at parochial level occurring first at Mere and St. Peter's, Marlborough, in the diocese of Salisbury, and then at St. Lawrence's, Reading (c. 1440-58) and Wimborne (c. 1448-64), both in the same diocese, and in East Anglia, first at Stoke, then Bungay (c. 1441-74), Wymondham (c. 1445-78), Laxfield (c. 1460-60), Redenhall (c. 1460 onwards) and Eye (c. 1470-88). At Stoke, however, this form is modified by the further addition of diagonal buttresses - each richly decorated with a continuous column of canopied niches on its leading edge - which, when seen in silhouette against the sky, give the tower a "winged", almost bat-like appearance. It rises in four stages to bell-openings with stepped supertransoms, and has a grand W. doorway bearing a casement moulding filled with the carved faces of lions, and to the left and right of the encompassing crocketed ogee, the arms of the Howard and Tendring families and pinnacles supporting a griffin and a lion. (See the photograph, right) The wooden door itself is original and a good piece of work (though not as good as the church S. doors described below), and the W. window in the second stage is four-light and transomed with alternate tracery - which is another design that may have arrived here from the West Country. The third stage windows have cusped Y-tracery and flattened arches and were also discussed by Harvey, who considered such windows to have been very much a part of the mid-fifteenth century Court style, after Reginald Ely's extensive use of them for his Cloister Court at Queen's College, Cambridge, c. 1448. The tower arch within the church is relatively narrow but tall and has an order of semicircular shafts below the springing, and a recessed chamfer, wide casement and wide wave moulding above - elements that are all commonplace but of such well-judged proportions here to allow John Constable (admittedly a partisan) to describe the arch as "the crowning beauty" of the church interior, and the tower as a whole as having "a sacred dignity of character... which from its commanding height seems to impress on the surrounding countryside".

 

So much, then, for the tower. An examination of the rest of the church should begin with St. Edmund's Chapel, built at the expense of John de Peyton, who died in 1318 and was buried there with his wives. It shows the church that existed then, extended this far north, but the position of the other walls and thus the pre-Perpendicular building's overall dimensions, is, perhaps, rather less clear. This is true even though the "real" N. chapel contains a thirteenth century piscina, and although both Pevsner and Francis Englebert (writing in the church guide in 1963 and perhaps influenced by Pevsner) ascribed both the S. porch and N. aisle W. window (shown left) to the Decorated period. The piscina, however, is almost certainly re-set, and the evidence of the porch and aisle W. window is not necessarily decisive. The two-light porch windows do have reticulated tracery, it is true, but the majority of the stonework is now Victorian, the main lights are cinquefoil-cusped, and the little old masonry that does remain seems more suggestive of conservative work done in Perpendicular times than of the true Decorated style. There is similar scope for uncertainty in the case of the N. aisle W. window, for this features cruciform lobing set vertically, a design that seems to have continued in use at least into early Perpendicular times. (See the discussion of the feature under the entry for Stansfield.)

 

Fortunately, whatever one concludes about that, the remaining parts of the aisles, chancel and chapels are almost all in unambiguous Perpendicular style - and probably also early fifteenth century in date where they have not been renewed in the nineteenth. From the latter century come the clerestory and all the remaining aisle windows with their undistinguished supermullioned tracery, as an engraving of the church by James Seales, made some time between 1806 and 1832, makes clear. In those days, the aisle windows had both transoms and supertransoms, which they lack now, but the windows to St. Edmund's Chapel with their stepped, castellated supertransoms, still seem to be old, as may be also the chapel E. windows with supertransoms above the central lights. As for the former aisle windows, perhaps these lived up rather better to the splendour of the church’s interior, which their replacements singularly fail to do. The six-bay nave arcades (see the N. arcade, right) and similar chancel arch, in particular, are work of a different order, for their proportions and subtle decoration are both finely judged. They consist of arches bearing roll mouldings and a casement, springing from piers formed of four major and four minor shafts, the former with wide fillets and all with tall bases and capitals decorated with little carvings of flowers, figures and beasts. Unfortunately the latter are too high to examine closely from the ground but it is evident that their details are delicate and meticulous. The two-bay chancel arcades are composed of a central pier formed of four semicircular shafts separated by keeled rolls, responds each consisting of a single semicircular shaft, and arches bearing a wide hollow and a wave moulding which continues down the piers and responds without intervening capitals. The arches from the aisles to the chapels are simple and composed of two flat-chamfered orders only, but the early fourteenth century arch from the N. aisle to St. Edmund's Chapel carries a hollow chamfer above narrow semicircular shafts with castellated capitals, and has two rolls running all the way round that.

 

This leaves just the N. porch to describe of the main fabric of the building (see the thumbnail, left), which is constructed in Tudor brick. Its most attractive feature is its trefoil-cusped corbel table in moulded bricks, but it also displays stepped battlements both on the gable end and immediately above the doorway, diagonal buttresses, and three-light round-headed windows with simple tracery at the sides.

 

The church contains a number of items of interest though not much carpentry of note. The outstanding exceptions are the pair of S. doors, which are original and as fine as any in Suffolk, being simply cross-battened at the back but most elaborately carved on the front, with birds, insects and figures in canopied niches, forming an intricate Tree of Jesse.  (See the thumbnail, right, showing some of this detail.)

 

Another item not to be missed is the attractive font (shown in a general view, below left), made more significant by being dated to the east by the badge of Edward IV (reigned 1461-70 & 1471-83) (shown below right). It is approached up steps and has an octagonal bowl with angels on the under-edges and carved panels at the sides, featuring the symbols of the four Evangelists on the cardinal faces and unidentified but very sharply drawn figures on the diagonals between. The bowl is canted out above an octagonal stem that is decorated all the way round by blank canopied niches separated by semicircular shafts. The arms of the Howard and Tendring families can be seen to the west.

 

Finally, two monuments must be mentioned, in consequence more of their size than of any particular merit. They commemorate Sir Francis Mannock (d. 1634), once Lord of the Manor of Giffords in this parish, and Lady Anne Windsor (d. 1615), and can be found in the N. and S. chapels respectively. Sir Francis's monument features his armour-clad effigy lying on a pink alabaster tomb chest beneath a semicircular pediment, and Lady Anne's shows her dressed in a mantle and lying between the kneeling figures of her son (at her feet) and two daughters (at her head). The female figures had their hands broken off in 1643 by Cromwell's commissioners, who also destroyed other monuments and brasses.