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English Church Architecture -



THEBERTON, St. Peter (TM 437 659)     (November 2014)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)

This is an attractive church (seen above from the southeast) composed of a nave and long chancel under a continuous thatched roof, a S. aisle and S. porch, and a round W. tower with an octagonal bell-stage.  The round tower should probably be discussed first since so much that is written about these is thoroughly misleading and in this case, Pevsner, D. P. Morton (in The Guide to Suffolk Churches, The Lutterworth Press, 2009), and The British Listed Buildings Web-site all repeat the mantra that by virtue of its shape, it must, ipso facto, be Norman, leaving Stephen Hart (in The Round Towers of England, Lucas Books, 2003) to suggest to anyone who cares to look that there is no evidence of a break in construction between the round section and the early fourteenth century bell-stage, no sign of earlier bell-openings at the top of the round stage, and every indication, to judge from the double-wall thickness of the tower arch inside, that the tower was butted up against an earlier nave and not integral to the original structure.  The bell-stage has cusped Y-traceried openings in the cardinal sides and cusped Y-traceried blank arches in flint flushwork in the ordinal sides, commensurate with a date c. 1300-20.  The tower arch to the nave carries two hollow chamfers that die into the jambs.  The nave retains its Norman N. doorway (or is it the S. doorway, re-set?), now enclosed within the Victorian vestry (see the photograph, left), and a blocked Norman window can also be seen, high up to the east, the former composed of three orders around the arch, the outer two bearing chevron supported on shafts with cushion capitals, and the latter, with  nook-shafts supporting a roll.  The nave windows to the north and the W. window to the tower are Perpendicular insertions with supermullioned drop tracery.


The chancel is interesting because outside to the north, there is a clear change of masonry halfway along, and the western section has a round-arched corbel table beneath the eaves, showing this is Norman also.  Presumably this represents the chancel's original length before its subsequent extension.  The eastern N. window today is constructed in moulded Tudor brick, and the inserted window to the west has Y-tracery characteristic of the late thirteenth century.  The S. windows are Perpendicular but dissimilar.  Inside, there is no chancel arch but the doorway to the erstwhile rood stair survives in the N. wall.  The continuous nave and chancel roof is ceiled but the ashlar pieces are exposed and very prominent on either side.


What, then, of the S. aisle and porch?  The arrangement here is of an aisle of lean-to construction beginning at the chancel/nave junction and extending three bays to the west to butt up against the porch, yet even the aisle and porch together fail to extend the full length of the nave, leaving space further west again, for a two-light S. window with supermullioned drop tracery and a quatrefoil in the apex to pierce the nave directly.  However, Pevsner considered the aisle to be Decorated and thus earlier than the Perpendicular porch, in which case, what a curious little aisle it was, terminating at such an arbitrary point!  Surely D. P. Morton is in the right, therefore, when he describes the porch as "late fifteenth century" and ascribes the aisle to the benefaction of Sir William Jenny (d. 1483), albeit he doesn't follow through and credit him with the arcade also, the salient point being that this would allow the porch to have been built first, even if only by a decade or two.  The porch could then have been constructed in the usual position and the length of the aisle would later have been constrained by it.  Moreover, if further evidence in support of this theory then needs to be sought, look at the porch east wall inside, where a large blocked window extending the porch's full height must once have looked outside.  The porch is a rather grand structure with a flint flushwork basal frieze, three tiers of blank flushwork arches entirely covering the S. wall (illustrated above right), and an elaborate canopied niche in the centre of the upper tier, above the apex of the doorway. The aisle bays are separated by buttresses decorated with flushwork motifs.  The three-bay arcade from the nave to the aisle is composed of arches carrying a hollow chamfer and a flat chamfer, but the distinctly tight-drawn capitals are not typical of the Decorated style.  The paintwork is a rather silly addition of 1848 (Pevsner), when the aisle was partially reconstructed using the old materials.  The colourful monument on the aisle W. wall dates from 1843 (ibid.) and commemorates Frederica Doughty,  whose family paid for the restoration.


Finally, important furnishings in the church include, in particular, the fifteenth or early sixteenth century hexagonal pulpit (below left), with simple tracery in the panels.  The octagonal font (below right) is carved on the faces of the bowl by lions in the cardinal directions and angels holding shields in the ordinal directions, while the stem is surrounded by four lions and four woodwoses, all of them broken, perhaps during the Commonwealth.