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English Church Architecture.

 

UFFORD, St. Mary  (TM 299 522),

SUFFOLK. 

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group.)

 

A church most notable for its excellent mediaeval woodwork.

 

 

 

The church today consists of a chancel with a long, modern cross-gabled N. vestry, a nave with a S. aisle and porch, and a W. tower.  Externally, this is a building predominantly in Perpendicular style and although it is actually much older than this suggests, the evidence of earlier work outside is fragmentary.  First, and most especially, this includes the easily overlooked herringbone masonry in the easternmost bay of the nave N. wall, which 'is practically always an indication of early date, and though it was used occasionally in the Saxon period it is commonly distinctive of late-eleventh century building...  It generally occurs sporadically in a wall, in occasional courses or patches, and seems to have been introduced with the idea of strengthening the construction, though it is difficult to see in the majority of cases what advantage was gained'  (Sir Alfred Clapham, English Romanesque Architecture, Vol. 2 - After the Conquest, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1934, p. 115).  Secondly, the partially-reconstructed(?) priest's doorway with a roll moulding round the head in the chancel S. wall, retains side-shafts with capitals reminiscent of waterleaf, suggestive of c.1200.  And thirdly, the windows include one with Y-tracery in the second bay from the east of the nave N. wall, commensurate with the late thirteenth century, another with reticulated tracery in the W. wall of the S. aisle, probably of early fourteenth century date, and the three-light E. window to the aisle with tracery suggesting the Decorated/Perpendicular transition, c.1350-70, composed of  mouchettes above three ogee-pointed, trefoil-cusped lights, set between mullions reaching almost to the arch head.

 

 

 

However the best work is the proud fifteenth century porch (illustrated above right), decorated with flint flushwork on the S. front featuring two stepped tiers of arches each side of the doorway and a third tier above, interrupted by three elaborate canopied niches.  The parapet displays a cusped wave moulding, formed in flushwork to the east and west, and carved on stone to the south.  The outer doorway bears a complex series of narrow mouldings around a two-centred arch, supported on jambs with two orders of shafts, and is set beneath spandrels depicting St. George (on the right) and the dragon (on the left).  The probably contemporary nave clerestory is formed of eight three-light windows on both the aisleless N. side and the S. front above the aisle, with strong mullions and castellated stepped supertransoms beneath segmental-pointed arches - a grand conceit for a relatively small church in such a rural position.  The two aisle windows in the S. wall east of the porch, and the three renewed windows in the chancel (two to the south and one to the north), are similar, suggesting they were inserted when the clerestory was added.  The diagonally-buttressed tower (shown from the west, above left), also approximately of the same time, rises in four stages to bell-openings that are three-light in the direction of the approach road from the west but only two-light elsewhere.  A semi-polygonal projection housing the stair turret, rises to the bell-stage to the southeast.

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the church, the aisle arcade consists of two parts, separated by a wall piece.  Both have rather wide, double-flat-chamfered, two-centred arches, but while the eastern pair of arches (shown above left, viewed from the northeast) spring from a circular pier and semicircular responds with shallow circular capitals, the western pair (illustrated above right, viewed from the northwest) are supported on an octagonal pier and semi-octagonal responds with slightly deeper octagonal capitals.  The first design goes well with the style of the Y-traceried window in the nave wall opposite - or, rather, would do if the arches were more steeply pitched. Very possibly these were lowered when the clerestory was added, but they probably do still show the length of the nave at the end of the thirteenth century.  The western arches are an equally good match (albeit subject to the same modification) with the two-light reticulated window in the aisle W. window.  The chancel arch bears a complex series of mouldings including a sunk quadrant, above semi-octagonal responds.   The easternmost S. window to the chancel has a large angle piscina set in its eastern splay, with the drain at floor level, and there is another angle piscina in the window at the southeastern end of the aisle, which is divided off by a screen to form a chapel.  The tall tower arch carries two wave mouldings separated by a casement above semi-octagonal responds.

 

 

 

The huge monument in the W. end of the aisle, curiously displaying two large cows (presumably intended to be oxen) above the tomb chest, with garlands around them, commemorates Sir Henry Wood (d. 1671), treasurer to Queen Henrietta Maria during her exile in France following the execution of her husband, King Charles I, in 1649.  

  

 

    

The very attractive chancel roof (illustrated above) is composed of six bays:  the cornice is elaborately carved with little tiers of pierced quatrefoils, crenulations and fleurons beneath a line of carved angels, touching wing to wing along both sides, and there are castellated purlins halfway up the roof pitch, together with pendant posts and castellated collars tenoned into the junctions between these and the principal rafters.  The nave roof alternates tie beams with false hammerbeams, now bearing huge wooden angels which the church guide says were carved at Oberammergau c. 1890 (Roy Tricker and W.G. Arnott, St. Mary of the Assumption at Ufford in Suffolk, 2004, p. 8).  Here there are purlins at the one-fifth and three-fifths positions, but as there are no collars, it has a disconcertingly unstable appearance nonetheless.  However, the truly outstanding piece of woodwork in the church is the fifteenth century font cover (below left), described by Munro Cautley as 'the most beautiful in the world... Spire like, it soars to a height of no less than 18 feet above the font.  The corona immediately above the font is formed with a delicate band of groining, surmounted by a pierced Tudor flower cresting. It then rises in gracefully receding tiers of canopied niches and terminates with a carved pelican'  (H. Munro Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures, Ipswich, Norman Adlard & Co. Ltd., 1954, p. 82). Nor is this the extent of the notable mediaeval carpentry for there is also a very good collection of contemporary bench ends, featuring traceried panels on the sides, animal and figure 'arm rests', and intricate, bizarre poppyheads, each worthy of close inspection.  (See the example, below right.)  The rood screen and loft have been largely destroyed but the dado survives and retains its faintly discernible saints, painted in brown on a red background in its traceried panels (six on either side of the opening), and the moulded rood beam remains, high up, in front of the chancel arch.