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English Church Architecture -



THORNHAM MAGNA, St. Mary (TM 104 714)     (March 2009)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)


Consisting of a W. tower, a nave with S. porch and N. vestry, and a chancel, this is pleasantly situated church (shown left, from the southeast) constructed of flint and pebble rubble with limestone dressings and slate roofs. The tower and chancel are Decorated* in their earliest surviving details while the nave and porch now appear entirely Perpendicular, albeit of two distinct building phases, as shown by the inept way in which the porch cuts into the S. window to the west  (as seen in the thumbnail, right)


The diagonally-buttressed tower is a dignified piece of work notwithstanding its modest size.  It rises in three stages, of which the second is much the tallest, with a semi-polygonal projection from the S. wall, towards the east, which ascends to the level of the bell-stage and houses the stair turret. The bell-openings have reticulated tracery, the (later?) battlements have pinnacles at the corners, and the leading edges of the buttresses are decorated with chequerwork. The W. doorway displays a series of narrow mouldings which continue around the arch without intervening capitals, but the only window above (apart from the bell-openings) is a tiny trefoiled opening in the second stage which can serve no very useful purpose.  There are no N. or S. windows in the tower.


The nave is four bays long and lit by large, three-light windows, all except one of which are segmental-pointed, with cinquefoil-cusped ogee lights and supermullioned tracery, dating, perhaps, from the early fifteenth century. The Victorian N. vestry, now balancing the porch to the south, was presumably added when the church was restored (fairly extensively), according to Pevsner in 1851.  The chancel is two bays long and lit by one N. window and two S. windows like the nave windows just described, and by a nineteenth century E. window with rather jarring tracery formed of a wheel of demi-sexfoils surrounding an encircled sexfoil - which sounds quite innocuous but proves coarse and spiky in execution.  The easternmost S. window to the nave has renewed reticulated tracery.  The diagonally-buttressed porch - which may have been added to the building around 1500 - is actually the best piece of architecture and it is a pity that the mason responsible did not take more care to integrate it properly with the nave, which he could surely have done by making the porch slightly narrower (if he was determined to set it centrally) or,  alternatively, by positioning it a little further west.  The two-light side windows have supermullioned tracery with two-tiers of subreticulation units separated by castellated transoms, but it is the S. front that is especially grand (as may be seen in the photograph, right), with upper and lower tiers of flushwork arches with heads carved in shallow relief in limestone ashlar, separated on either side of the S. doorway, by trefoiled ogee niches and encircled octfoils containing shields in the spandrels.  A third niche above the apex of the doorway has a vaulted canopy and the doorway itself displays two renewed orders of sunk chamfers containing at intervals, rosettes (inner order) and crowns (outer order). The parapet is faced in knapped flint and short pinnacles rise at the angles.  


Inside the church, the chancel arch formed of two flat-chamfered orders springing from semi-octagonal responds, most probably dates back to the early fourteenth century.  The sill of the easternmost S. window to the chancel has been cut down to act as a sedilia, and a piscina immediately to the east, opens northwest into the splay of this window and due north into the sanctuary, through two ogee-pointed arches, respectively trefoil and cinquefoil-cusped, supported at the angle by a little pier formed from a cluster of demishafts.


Woodwork in the church now appears almost wholly Victorian, though the nave roof, of single hammerbeam construction, was probably mediaeval before it was restored within an inch of its life.  Also Victorian is the attractive tiled floor to the sanctuary, besides the stained glass in the windows, of which that in the westernmost S. window (shown left) is by Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98).  This displays three figures, depicting - from right to left - St. Mary (in unaccustomed green), St. John and St. Mary Magdalene.  However, the most striking internal feature of the church is probably the large monument against the chancel N. wall (shown below right), by Josephus Kendrick (1791-1832), whom Gunnis described as "a competent minor sculptor, whose smaller monuments and bas-reliefs are harmless and even pleasing [but who] when... chosen as the sculptor for the national monument to Sir William Myers, 1816, in St. Paul's Cathedral, ...attempted... a task far beyond his powers and produced one of the most unfortunate memorials in the whole building.  The design - one of complete bathos - shows Hercules and Minerva warmly shaking hands in front of a tomb surmounted by a bust of Myers" (Dictionary of British Sculptors; 1660-1851, The Abbey Library, 1951) Fortunately, Kendrick's monument here - to Lord Henniker (d. 1821) and his wife, Emily (d. 1819) - while substantial, is altogether more conventional, and although, arguably, the two allegorical female figures leaning on a pedestal on which stands an urn bearing profiles of the deceased, are not entirely well balanced (with one figure upright and one stooped), nevertheless they are generally well-carved and their draperies handled very effectively, and it would be churlish not to accept this as a good piece of work overall, showing Kendrick to be a more capable artist than his rather embarrassing efforts at St. Paul's might suggest.

* I have recently been informed by Dr. Simon Cotton, however, of a surviving bequest, dated 1428, in which a certain Robert West leaves half a mark "ad campanil novi faciend", suggesting this is another East Anglian example of Decorated forms persisting in Perpendicular times.