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THORNDON, All Saints  (TM 142 697),

SUFFOLK. 

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group.)

 

One of a group of Suffolk churches identified by the late Birkin Haward as having been part-built by the same master mason, 'Hawes of Occold', fl.  1410-1440.

 

The question of whether or not it is pertinent to talk about 'the mediaeval mason' is a subject that has fiercely divided architectural historians in recent decades, with many taking the view that the very concept of 'authorship', defined as the consideration of a work of art as an expression of an individual's creative skill and personality, had no currency before the Tudor period.  This supposition has coincided with the passing from fashion of connoisseurship as an approach to art history more generally, whereby the identity of individual artists was previously sought by stylistic analysis, in favour of such modern obsessions as  understanding art as an expression of ethnicity, colonialism, gender, 'the male gaze', or similar issues, and since some academics have built their reputations on the basis of these new studies, they naturally seek to defend them vigorously.

This shift in the focus of art history has not gone completely unchallenged however, albeit that some of the greatest champions of 'the old school' have since passed away too.  One such was Dr. John Harvey (1911-97), whose biographical dictionary English Medieval Architects (Gloucester, Alan Sutton, 1987) identified some 1,700 men of varying importance, who appear to have been responsible for buildings or part-buildings in England before 1550, and who argued that the only reason the men who designed mediaeval buildings are so little known is that no-one makes the effort to discover them.  This theme was subsequently taken up at a local level in Suffolk by the late Birkin Haward (1912-2002), who tried to group Suffolk's mediaeval churches on the basis of their aisle arcades (Suffolk Medieval Church Arcades, Hitcham, Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 1993) and who, in particular, went on to pick out on stylistic grounds, a dozen churches in mid Suffolk that appear to have been part-built by the same master mason, referred to by name in a building estimate for work at Wingfield church as 'Hawe[s], mason of Ocolte' (Master Mason Hawes of Occold, Ipswich, Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 2000).  The validity of this exercise is ultimately for the reader to decide, but the examples illustrated on this web-site will seek to promote it.  Indeed, the present writer has attempted to identify another group of Suffolk churches using Haward's methodology, centred on and around St. George's church, Stowlangtoft, and these can be examined separately. 

 

 

This is one of a number of churches in the immediate area that are related in a variety of ways, one of which lies in its possession of a mediaeval S. porch tower, further 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 conclusion must be that in these years there was either a team of masons working in the region who particularly favoured this arrangement, or else that the parishioners of these villages consciously set out to emulate one another, perhaps in response to a particularly well regarded prototype.  All Saints' tower here at Thorndon rises in three broad stages to more recent brick battlements and seems rather large and heavy in comparison with the nave and chancel, which  are 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 was added to a pre-existing building and was possibly entirely free-standing for a while 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 and probably most important feature of the church that must be examined in a regional context, for with their supermullioned tracery (supermullions are short mullions forming part of the tracery, which stand on the apices of the lights below), strong mullions (mullions that continue all the way to the top of the windows with undiminished thickness), and stepped ogee-pointed lights with stepped transoms, they are almost identical to the aisle windows at Debenham 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 photograph, right, shows the two easternmost nave windows to the south. This form has been associated by Birkin Haward with the work of Hawes of Occold, who, if he did nothing else here, seems to have been responsible for the nave's refenestration. The nave W. doorway may be contemporary however and has a casement moulding around it, containing at intervals 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 for it has been stripped bare of almost all furnishings, is open from end to end and, in the absence of a chancel arch, appears particularly wide and barn-like.  Just two items are worth particularizing, namely: (i) the attractive Jacobean pulpit (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, with angels holding shields alternating with lions on the faces of the bowl and four lion supporters around the stem.   

 

[Other Suffolk churches featured on this web-site where Hawes of Occold appears to have worked are Bedingfield, Bildeston, Bramford, Debenham, Wickam Skeith and Wingfield.]