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English Church Architecture -

Suffolk.

 

THORNDON, All Saints (TM 142 697)     (October 2008)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)

 

This is another church in the immediate area with some close local parallels, one of which lies in its possession of a mediaeval S. porch tower (shown left), other examples of which can be found at Barham, Gosbeck, Mickfield, Stonham Aspal and Witnesham, while St. Mary's, Coddenham, about ten miles to the south, has a tower to the northwest.  Every one of these can be assigned to the late thirteenth or early fourteenth centuries, which seems unlikely to be a coincidence, and so the inference must be that in these years, there was either a team of masons working in the region who particularly favoured this arrangement, or - at the least the parishioners of these villages consciously set out to emulate one another in the construction of porch towers, perhaps in response to a particularly well regarded prototype. The tower here rises in three broad stages to later brick battlements and seems rather large and heavy in comparison with the nave and chancel constructed as a single structural unit behind.  The bell-openings have the cusped Y-tracery characteristic of c. 1300, but the angle buttresses are less usual at this date although they seem integral to the original structure.  The outer doorway is formed of three flat-chamfered orders that continue all the way round, without intervening capitals. The inner doorway, composed of a single flat-chamfered order supported on little imposts, is set behind and inside a taller triple-flat-chamfered arch, showing that the tower has been added to a pre-existing building and was possibly entirely free-standing initially and only joined to the nave after being given time to settle on its foundations.

 

However, the present nave windows - of which there are three on either side - are Perpendicular in style, and constitute the next feature of the church that must be examined in a regional context.  (The photograph, right, shows the two easternmost nave windows to the south.)   With their supermullioned tracery, strong mullions, and stepped ogee-pointed lights with stepped transoms and supertransoms, they are almost identical to the aisle windows at Debenham and Wetheringsett and very similar to the aisle windows at Bildeston and the tower W. window at Occold, save only that the latter lack the lower tier of stepped transoms.  The possible significance of all this (as explained in greater detail under the entry for Bildeston) is dependent on whether at Bildeston and Debenham, these windows can be associated with the same phase of building operations as their respective arcades, which the late Birkin Haward attributed to the master mason Hawes of Occold, who appears to have been active between 1410 and 1440.  The nave W. doorway is also Perpendicular and has a casement moulding around it, filled at intervals with carved crowns alternating with shields, beneath a hood-mould decorated with roses.  The W. window is Victorian. The chancel is three bays long and restored or renewed in nearly all its details but the two-light S. windows in bays one and three are certainly attractive.

 

Unfortunately, the interior of the church completely lacks atmosphere but, at the time of this visit, an attempt was certainly being made to improve the utility of the building at least, with the recent construction of a little kitchen and a lavatory inside the west end and what looked like preparations for more modifications to follow. This is probably a wise course in view of how many churches of modest architectural pretensions there are in this very rural part of the county, in addition to others that lie redundant already. However, for present purposes the church has been almost stripped bare of interest inside and now contains just two items worth particularizing, namely (i) the attractive Jacobean pulpit (above left), which stands on a modern stem and features the usual three tiers of carved panelling, with the conventional round arches in the second tier, and (ii) the octagonal font (right), which has angels with shields alternating with lions on the faces of the bowl and four lion supporters around the stem.   The church is open from end to end and, in the absence of a chancel arch, seems particularly wide and barn-like.