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English Church Architecture -



THURSTON, St. Peter (TL 929 658)     (August 2004)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)


This church is mostly by Hakewill - but John Henry Hakewill (1811-80), not his brother Edward Charles, as claimed by Pevsner - since, with the exception of the chancel, it was almost entirely reconstructed in 1860-1 after the tower collapsed on Sunday, 18th March 1860, bringing down with it most of the nave and aisles.  Hakewill had already visited the church two years earlier at the request of the churchwardens, when he reported that the condition of the tower was critical and repairs, imperative, but action was put off from one church meeting to the next in spite of the fact that Hakewill took the unusual step of writing again some months later to try to impress upon the parishioners the gravity of the situation.  Ironically, when the disaster did occur it was during the night before work was finally due to commence.


Hakewill was determined that the new building should be in Second Pointed style "replacing", in the words of the Bury and Norwich Post, "the inferior architecture in the old structure" - meaning work in the then unfashionable Perpendicular style.  Whatever form that had taken, however, it seems unlikely that Hakewill's designs were an improvement, especially in regard to window traceries, for his variations on curvilinear tracery can only honestly be described as ranging from the cumbrous to the downright ugly.  Thankfully, his arcades are better (see the N. arcade, left) but only because he seems to have restricted himself here to reproducing the pre-existing forms and, remarkably, those of the detested Perpendicular style at that.  The arches bear two wave mouldings and spring from piers composed of semicircular shafts with capitals towards the openings, attached to narrow wall pieces with wave mouldings on the angles towards the nave and flat chamfers on the angles towards the aisles. The aisle windows also look a little better inside the building for here they are set in large blank arches which have the effect of recessing the tracery and mitigating somewhat its ice-cream-like appearance.


The Perpendicular chancel, which was the only part of the original church to survive intact, has three-light N. and S. windows of a type dated by Dr. John Harvey to c. 1396 in the chancel at Great Shelford in Cambridgeshire. These have supermullioned tracery and two tiers of reticulation units over the central lights, and inverted daggers beneath subarcuations above lights 1 & 3.  The E. window (shown right) is transomed and has five ogee-arched lights, intersecting subarcuation of the lights in groups of three, through reticulation, and two tiers of supertransoms above lights 2 & 4.  Inside there is a three-bay stepped sedilia and two-bay transomed piscina recessed in the S. wall, with the transom forming a credence shelf, all with cinquefoil-cusped arches and carving in the spandrels.


Not surprisingly, in view of its history, the church contains few old furnishings of note, but twelve mediaeval benches were salvaged from the rubble in 1860 and can now be seen at the back of the church. They are not special by Suffolk standards but the octagonal  font (illustrated left) is more noteworthy, having miraculously survived in one piece.  This is an almost exact copy of the font at Tostock and must surely be the work of the same craftsman:  it has the same fluted stem and the same distinctive foliage patterns on the faces of the bowl, where on two sides, "green men" peer similarly through the branches.