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English Church Architecture -



WALSHAM-LE-WILLOWS, St. Mary (TM 000 711)        (April 2007)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


This is an all-Perpendicular church consisting of a chancel with a cross-gabled N. vestry, an aisled nave with a N. porch, and a W. tower of medium height.  Windows to the building have been largely renewed externally (especially to the south, which is curious), and are supermullioned and mostly segmental-pointed.  The five-light E. window to the chancel is two-centred and has round-arched lights and three tiers of subreticulation units divided by supertransoms.  However, perhaps the two-light S. aisle W. window is rather more interesting for this displays the characteristic little subarcuation linking the lights in the manner to be seen at so many local churches, including Stowlangtoft, where the work can be dated c. 1390 - c. 1400, Brettenham, Hitcham, Preston St. Mary, Rattlesden and Wortham.  The diagonally-buttressed tower has cinquefoil-cusped Y-traceried bell-openings and rises in five stages to flushwork battlements and corner pinnacles that were apparently added later (as, indeed, the battlements may have been also) and which are described by Brian Turner in his short but authoritative church guide as “the armorial beasts of Edward IV: northeast, the bull of his Clarence dukedom; southeast, the griffin of his forebear Edward III; west - the white lions of his Mortimer ancestors”.  (Edward IV reigned 1461-70 & 1471-83.)  Nevertheless, the most striking feature of the church externally is the nave clerestory, composed of twelve two-light windows on either side, set above the spandrels of the seven-bay nave arcades, leaving the end spaces blank.  It is distinguished by the fine supermullioned drop tracery of the windows themselves, by the tumbled-in brick around their heads, and by an intermittent flushwork frieze that runs between them, at the springing level of the main lights, featuring motifs which include the sacred monogram, the crowned “M” for “Mary”, and “a circular pattern of the heavens ... often used by Thomas Aldrych, a North Lopham mason active from the 1460s” (ibid).  The N. porch (shown above left) is faced with diapering in limestone and knapped flint and has a niche above a tall, relatively narrow doorway, composed of three orders bearing wave mouldings and quadrants with fillets, springing from hollowed-out, semi-octagonal responds carved with little arches at the top, in the manner of the aisle arcades.


As already mentioned, these are constructed in seven bays, now entirely out of synchronization with the aisle windows, but their real significance lies in the fact that they are sufficiently similar to the nave arcades at Lakenheath, Norton and Rattlesden to suggest they are almost certainly the work of the same mason or masons, working - to judge from the evidence of those other buildings - in the early decades of the fourteenth century.  (See the N. arcade, right.) The arches here at Walsham-le-Willows likewise bear two wide hollow chamfers but it is the form of the piers which is telling, with their hollowed octagonal section featuring trefoil-cusped arch heads below the capitals.  The tall tower arch of three orders and the chancel arch of two, bear a variety of simple mouldings above semi-octagonal shafts. However, the best feature inside the church is the admirable, low-pitched nave roof (shown below left, from the west), framed with alternating tie beams and hammerbeams, and apparently still wholly mediaeval, although probably not entirely as first constructed c. 1400 for the sun carvings which are so prominent now, appear to be another addition of Yorkist times: “called ‘roses en soleil’  [they were] Edward IV’s favourite badge.  There are similar carvings in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, built by Edward in 1475” (ibid).  The tie beams and wall plates are decorated with brattishing and there are carved bosses where the purlins and ridge beam meet the principal rafters.   The chancel roof, in contrast, is Victorian (1878) but there is more mediaeval carpentry to  be seen in the rood screen, which is dated precisely by a will to 1448:  formed in seven ogee-pointed bays beneath alternate tracery, it retains its mediaeval paintwork on the dado to the south.  Finally, the octagonal font  (illustrated in the thumbnail, right) adopts another local form with its crocketed ogee arches on the faces of the bowl and two small blank windows on each side of the stem.  A good comparison may be made with Rattlesden again, although the workmanship there is rather finer.