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English Church Architecture -



SUDBURY, St. Peter (TL 874 412)     (April 2004)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


This church (shown left, from the west), standing at the top of Market Hill in the centre of the town, is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.  It is kept locked but visitors can readily obtain a key, and the building is worthy of examination for it is a significant one, even though it was never a parish church in its own right but only a chapel of ease to St. Gregory's.  That, however, did not prevent it from being built on a fairly grand scale in Perpendicular style, with a tower rising to a height in excess of a hundred feet (30 metres), a two-storeyed S. porch, and aisles running alongside the tower, nave, and all but the final bay of the chancel.  The whole building appears essentially to be fifteenth century work, with the E. end having been built first as was usual.  It was restored in 1850 by William Butterfield (1814-1900), whose contribution now lies more in what he took away than what he added, and again in 1897 by George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907), whose most important surviving piece of work appears to be the reredos, which resembles that at Edwardstone, although here there are two tiers of figures (depicting the Annunciation below and the Crucifixion above) beneath the elaborate gilded canopies. The fifteenth century work requires a full description, first outside and then in.


The church is constructed of flint and pebble rubble.  The westernmost bay of the N. aisle is tapered alongside the tower to form an irregular quadrilateral, which was necessary to enable it to fit into its confined space, and it is probably for the same reason that the E. end of the chancel and chapels is conspicuously out of line.  Here the five-light chancel window has outer lights subarcuated in pairs while the four-light S. chapel E. window has a castellated supertransom above the central lights.  Aisle windows are three-light, with outer lights with secondary subarcuation and inner lights with supertransoms.  The clerestory is formed of three-light, untraceried windows set centrally in each bay.  The proud W. tower is angle-buttressed and rises in four stages to stepped battlements.


Inside the church, the nave arcades are five bays long and formed of arches of two orders bearing a wide hollow and a wave moulding separated by a deep hollow, springing from piers composed of four semicircular shafts with narrow hollows in the diagonals.  (See the N. arcade, right.)  The arches from the tower to the aisles and the rather taller arch from the tower to the nave, are all composed of three orders, of which the outer order carries a wave moulding that continues down the responds, the next has a wide hollow chamfer that does likewise, and the inner order has a hollow chamfer supported on semi-octagonal shafts. There are also arches crossing the aisles, in line with the tower and chancel arches (although the chancel arch is by Bodley), and two-bay arcades between the chancel and its chapels, all of which are similar to the nave arcades.  The S. respond of the arch crossing the S. aisle in line with tower arch, rises from an angel corbel, beneath which a narrow doorway gives access to the porch stair.


Furnishings to the building include, in particular, the reredos, described above (and illustrated below left), and the tall, wooden parclose screens of probable sixteenth century date, which fill the chapel arcades, formed of one-light ogee divisions with cresting on top.  The nave roof is modern but the chancel roof, mostly old. There are no old benches in the church as whatever was here before 1850 was removed by Butterfield and replaced with chairs as part of his crusade - entirely laudable at the time - against the evil of rented pews, the aim  being to make the "house of God equally free to the poor and rich throughout, and [to abolish] everything which might lead to a restoration of the slightest distinction" (Illustrated London News, 1857).


Finally, the octagonal  font consists of a mediaeval bowl on top of a modern stem, each face of which features a square panel containing four squashed quatrefoils set diagonally.  However, there is little else of interest and the main impression created by the building inside is that it is worthy but dull.  Perhaps this is the fault of the third restoration of 1968, which removed all of Bodley's deep colour scheme except for the now rather grubby red, black and gold of the chancel arch.  It is unlikely that the bland result is any truer to the intentions of the original builders than it is to Bodley, and with heavy Victorian stained glass of little merit in most of the windows, we are left with an interior which is stately but dead.