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English Church Architecture.

 

STUSTON, All Saints  (TM 734 778),

SUFFOLK. 

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk.)

 

One of 181 churches in England with round towers, of which all but five are in Cambridgeshire (with 2), Essex (with 6), Norfolk (with 126) or Suffolk (with 42).

 

 

Round church towers were almost invariably assumed by Pevsner to have a Saxon or Norman origin.  That is not necessarily the case, and the form is a function of geology rather than age, for the lack of the ready availability of good building stone to serve as quoins made this a cheap design option by avoiding the expense in the pre-railway age of bringing, usually by horse and cart or at best along the rivers by boat, heavy, bulk materials from afar.  The definitive book on this subject is, and is long likely to remain, the late Stephen Hart's The Round Church Towers of England  (Ipswich, Lucas Books, 2003), to which the notes on these buildings are inevitably, to a greater or lesser degree, indebted.

 

This is an attractively situated little church 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 with its tall octagonal bell-stage.  The notes available in the church take up the oft-repeated factoid that the circular stage is Saxon, but with walls over six feet thick (2 metres), that is quite clearly not the case, and nor is there any excuse for making such an 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, p. 107).  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 could find no evidence of former bell-openings here, the conclusion must be that the octagonal bell-stage is contemporary with the lower parts 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 this 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 committed 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, 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.

 

[Other churches with round towers featured on this web-site are Aldham and Bartlow in Cambridgeshire, Quidenham, Roydon, Rushall and Thorpe Abbotts in Norfolk, and Aldham, Brome, Hengrave, Higham, Little Bradley, Little Saxham, Rickinghall Inferior, Risby, Theberton, Wissett and Wortham in Suffolk.]