English Church Architecture -
STUSTON, All Saints (TM 734 778) (April 2009)
(Bedrock: Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)
This is an attractively situated little church (shown left, from the southeast), in a rural position notwithstanding its proximity to the A140 and A143 roads. The interest of this building, however, lies almost entirely in the round W. tower, which is one of forty-two in Suffolk, albeit that this is one of several where the bell-stage turns octagonal. The notes available in the church take up the oft-repeated dictum that the circular stage is Saxon, as if round towers can only be of this period, but - as is evident internally - with walls over six feet thick (2 metres), that it quite definitely is not, and nor is there any excuse for making such an unfounded assertion, for Sir Alfred Clapham was pointing out as long ago as 1930 that Anglo-Saxon walling is almost invariably between a mere two and a half and three feet in thickness, a figure ”seldom exceeded even in the major churches, [which] forms a very distinctive feature of pre-Conquest work” (English Romanesque Architecture: Before the Conquest, Oxford University Press”, 1930). Thus Pevsner described the circular stage as “Norman”, and the octagonal belfry with two-light bell-openings with reticulated tracery in the cardinal sides, not unreasonably, as “Decorated” (in the second edition of the Suffolk volume of The Buildings of England, Penguin, 1974). But that will not do either, for neither the lancet window, low down to the west, nor the massive tower arch opening into the nave - which is pointed and bears a narrow flat chamfer – give any indication of being later insertions or additions, suggesting the date of the round section of the tower is c. 1210 at the earliest, and since Stephen Hart, in his meticulously researched little book The Round Towers of England (Lucas Books, 2003), could find no evidence of former bell-openings here, the inference must be that the octagonal bell-stage is contemporary and that the whole tower was constructed in the first half of the fourteenth century, making the tower one of about twenty in Norfolk and Suffolk where that is the case.
The rest of the church - consisting of a nave and chancel, with a S. porch, N. transept and N. vestry - can be quickly described, for it is chiefly the work of Thomas Jekyll (1827-81), who perpetrated his solecisms here in 1861-2, as announced by an inscription in the transept W. wall. The chancel, transept and vestry are now entirely his (although the transept was built on the foundations of a mediaeval oratory), while the nave is substantially restored. Window traceries are indifferent at best but especially unattractive in the chancel S. wall, while the interior is dominated by the use in the chancel and transept arches (the second of which is shown right), and in the splays of the windows, of pink, black and yellow bricks. Pevsner found this “truly terrible” and while that is possibly overstating the case, it is certainly the sort of work that gets structural polychromy a bad name. The remains of the former rood stair can be seen in the nave N. wall, just west of the chancel arch.
Finally, the church contains no old woodwork but one monument must be mentioned (illustrated left), now re-set against the chancel N. wall. This commemorates Sir John Castleton (d. 1727) and his wife, and features busts of the couple beneath three roundels containing portraits of their children in shallow relief, all set below a broken pediment, with an achievement above.