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English Church Architecture -



SUDBURY, St. Gregory (TL 871 415)     (April 2004)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


This is one of Sudbury's three mediaeval churches (shown above, from the south) and the one which is both the most important architecturally and which occupies the best site, overlooking as it does a couple of medium-sized greens to the northwest of the town centre.  In its present form it was also originally the product of a single build, dateable by its association with Simon Teobald of Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1375, the year in which he founded a college for priests in training here, for which St. Gregory's served as chapel.  Perhaps the church was complete when Simon was beheaded in Wat Tyler's rebellion of 1381 (by the mob), for much of the building is still of fairly consistent early Perpendicular appearance.  Features which probably fit this time include the windows with straightened reticulation units in the unusual, two-bay-deep S. porch with E. chapel adjoining (cf. the S. porch with E. chapel at Clare, which Pevsner considered to be fourteenth century work), the inner and outer porch doorways, and the nave arcades of four bays (see the N. arcade, below right), with arches bearing a sunk quadrant and a hollow, springing from piers composed of wide semicircular shafts towards the openings, attached to what are still only chamfered wall pieces rather than proper polygonal columns.  The capitals extend all the way round the piers to the north but round the semicircular shafts only to the south, which led Pevsner to conclude the N. arcade is somewhat later.  The elaborate tower arch springs from two orders of semicircular shafts, the inner wider than the outer, and carries a succession of hollows, wave mouldings and rolls.  The tall chancel arch is formed of two orders, each bearing two sunk quadrants, of which the inner pair spring from semicircular shafts and the outer pair run into hollow mouldings down the responds.  The aisle windows are mostly renewed or restored but the S. aisle E. window is mediaeval and has ogee-arched lights, a supertransom above the central light, and bowtells attached externally to the mullions.  The porch and adjoining chapel have windows with double-cusped quatrefoils and blank double-cusped arches between them internally, while the chancel windows of from two to five lights, now begin at clerestory level only, except that the five-light E. window and three- and four-light S. windows continue downwards as blank arches below transoms.  It is instructive to look at these details for while considerable fifteenth century remodelling has undoubtedly taken place, if the fourteenth century forms can be successfully disentangled, they will show the style thought suitable for a moderate-sized town church in the 1370s.   Moreover, this was a church built at the behest of a man familiar with what were then the latest developments in architecture, not least because from 1378 Archbishop Simon was also employing the great Henry Yeveley on the reconstruction of the nave of Canterbury Cathedral. That, of course, does not mean a local mason may not have been in charge here, but whoever took responsibility for this building could hardly have been unaware that Simon was no ordinary client or that he would be likely to have clear and advanced ideas about what he expected from his commission.  Even so, of the architectural elements found at St. Gregory's, perhaps the most useful of which to have dating evidence are actually the quite basic ones of straightened reticulation units in window traceries and sunk quadrants round arches, for the simple reason that these are so frequently encountered in presumed early Perpendicular work elsewhere.


St. Gregory's church contains some important woodwork, albeit that most of this is later.  Above all, it includes one of the finest mediaeval font covers in England (shown left), rising in two tall tiers of gilded, crocketed, canopied niches, supported by flying buttresses.  This is likely to date from the last quarter of the fifteenth century even though the font itself - formed of a shallow octagonal bowl cambered out above a narrow octagonal stem with bowtells at the angles and two narrow blank lights on each face - is  generally accepted to be of Archbishop Simon's time.  So, perhaps, are the choir stalls (see the first thumbnail below right, which shows the N. stalls), which have faces on the arm rests and on the three misericords beneath the return stalls, but accurate, scientific dating of the S. door (see the second thumbnail) would be especially valuable, for while this has straightened reticulated tracery shallowly but attractively carved in the heads of the panels, it is also four-centred.   The nave roof, of couple type, is probably late fifteenth century work again, while the flat chancel ceiling (restored in 1966) is later still, being, in Pevsner's words, "more Renaissance than Gothic in character".  (The previous roof here, contemporary with that still over the nave, is reputedly the very same one that may now be seen twenty miles away above the chancel at Saffron Walden in Essex.)


The church contains two large tomb chests in the porch chapel, one (with wall monument attached) commemorating Thomas Carter (d. 1706), a benefactor of the church, and one commemorating Martha Pannell (d. 1701) and her husband and daughters.


The church was restored in the mid nineteenth century by William Butterfield who, however, has left little obvious evidence of having been here.  Finally it remains to mention that the brick N. vestry, of sixteenth century date, has within it a niche, rather arrestingly containing Archbishop Simon's skull!  As might be expected, the other mortal remains of this poor unfortunate are buried in Canterbury Cathedral.