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English Church Architecture -



THRANDESTON, St. Margaret of Antioch (TM 117 765)            (May 2009)

(Bedrock:  Quaternary, Norwich Crag Formation)


The church (seen left, from the southeast) is attractively situated along a quiet country lane, less than three miles from the centre of Diss, and consists of a W. tower, a nave with embattled aisles and porches, and a chancel with a mediaeval N. vestry that seems once to have been two-storeyed. It is a building that reveals a different history inside from that which appears without, for while, externally, everything is very neat and trim, here it is entirely Perpendicular in style, with many renewed or restored features.  The parts of the building that seem to have been least altered or repaired down the centuries, are the tower and nave clerestory. The tower has a basal frieze of flint flushwork (although actually it is about 4 feet up from the ground) and rises in three stages, of which the first is by far the tallest.  A projection at the east end of the N. wall houses the stair to the ringing chamber, the bell-openings have strong mullions and stepped supertransoms resting on the stepped lights, and the bell-stage is surmounted by tall stepped battlements faced in flushwork and by crocketed pinnacles at the corners.  The three-light W. window in the first stage, rests on another flushwork frieze that includes three shields and an inscription.  The windows in the nave aisles are an assortment but all include at least a little supermullioned tracery above the lights, and one window each to the north and south displays a little linking subarcuation above and between the lights, like those to be seen at a number of churches in the middle of the county, around Brettenham, Hitcham, Preston St. Mary Rattlesden and, perhaps most importantly, Stowlangtoft, where the work appears to be dateable to c. 1390.  (See the entry for St. Mary's, Brettenham for a full description of this small but distinctive tracery shape.)  The windowless N. porch projects only slightly beyond the aisle and now appears largely nineteenth century in date.  The S. porch outer doorway carries a series of wave mouldings arranged in two orders, of which those on the inner order die into a flat chamfer running down the responds.  The attractive clerestory consists of four, two-light windows on each side, with supermullioned drop tracery beneath triangular-pointed arches, trefoil-cusped sublights, and cinquefoil-cusped lights.  The chancel windows are two-light and square-headed with renewed supermullioned tracery to north and south, and three-light and segmental-pointed with strong mullions to the east.


However, the same windows inside (in the chancel walls to north, south and east) retain an original order of Early English colonnettes at the sides, supporting roll mouldings around the arches above, and so appear scarcely later than c. 1290 - 1300.  (See the S. window, illustrated right.)  If construction of the church began with the chancel, therefore (as was often the case), then perhaps there was a break in proceedings after it was completed, for not only are the nave arcades consistent with early fourteenth century Decorated work, being composed of double-flat-chamfered arches supported on octagonal piers with characteristically prominent capitals (as seen in the photograph of the S. arcade, left), but the alignment of either the nave or the chancel, as viewed from the other, is sharply southwards. The traditional explanation for such an arrangement is that it is intended to symbolize Christ’s drooping head after his death on he Cross, though nearly all can probably be explained by the difficulties encountered in laying out of the foundations (albeit that it must be admitted that northward-deflections are rare).  The change of alignment at Thrandeston is exceptionally pronounced - in the order of 10° to 15° - and seems most unlikely to have been intended at the outset, raising such questions as whether a decision to make the nave longer than originally planned, could have meant that burials or other obstacles prevented work continuing along the original building line.  Be this as it may, however, the chancel arch does rather span the transition between the Early English and Decorated styles, for while it is similar to the nave arcades in basic form (with two flat chamfered orders above semi-octagonal responds), the capitals are enriched with leaf and vine carving which is thirteenth century in spirit.  (See the capital to the N. respond, right.)  The tower arch consists of two flat-chamfered orders that die into the jambs while other masonry features include a Decorated piscina in the S. wall of the S. aisle, a blocked rood stair beside the E. respond to the N. arcade, and a trefoiled ogee niche for a statue in the N. wall of the N. aisle.  The octagonal font (illustrated left) has carved roses alternating with the symbols of the Evangelists on the faces of the bowl, and four very jolly lion supporters between buttresses round the stem, with frog-like back legs.  It is one of a number in this region aligned to face east-northeast, east-southeast, south-southeast, etc., rather than the more usual cardinal and ordinal directions.


Finally, a few items of woodwork should be mentioned, especially the chancel benches, of which there is a long one on the N. side (illustrated below) and a shorter one to the south.   These have tracery on the back and front panels of late fifteenth or sixteenth century appearance, but also - on the back panel of the N. bench, behind the gangway - a Jacobean round arch, suggesting either that the correct date is the seventeenth century or, at the least, that the work was altered then.  There are also two tall carved figures rising from the front panel on either side of this gangway, carrying a dog and a bird. The rood screen consists of two one-light divisions on each side of the central opening, with supermullioned tracery above and a carved dado below; the central opening has two traceried lights above, again with supermullioned tracery.  Many of the nave benches appear to have old work re-used in them.