English Church Architecture -
WETHERDEN, St. Mary (TM 008 628) (July 2006)
(Bedrock: Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)
This building is part Decorated, part Perpendicular in style, and consists of a W. tower, nave and chancel, to which a S. aisle was added c. 1484 (as dated by a bequest), incorporating a porch in its westernmost bay and extending alongside the easternmost bay of the chancel to form a small chapel. The nave windows to the north, and the aisle and chapel windows to the south and east, are three-light with cinquefoil-cusped ogee lights, supermullioned tracery, strong mullions, and small reticulations units in the apices. A carved basal frieze (illustrated above) runs around the aisle, featuring groups of three trefoil-cusped arches alternating with heraldic devices formed chiefly of shields in circles and stars, and the S. doorway has traceried spandrels and a carved frieze of shields above. The only window in the chancel S. wall to the east of the chapel, is similar to the aisle windows, albeit segmental-pointed, but the two-light N. window (west of the vestry) and the four-light E. window have reticulated tracery, showing this part of the building to date back to the early fourteenth century, as also does the tower, as witnessed by its diagonal buttresses and reticulated bell-openings, notwithstanding the inserted Perpendicular W. doorway with its series of complex mouldings beneath traceried spandrels, and the window above, which is clearly related to the aisle windows through its use of strong mullions, but which also includes split “Y”s in the tracery and a castellated supertransom across the central light.
Inside the church, the S. aisle consists of three bays to the east of the porch, plus one more for the chapel, from which the three-bay S. arcade proper is separated by a short wall piece now with a sixteenth century wall monument attached (on the S. side, facing the aisle). All four of these arches are contemporary, however, and feature double-hollow-chamfered mouldings above piers and responds with semicircular shafts towards the arch openings only, while the chapel is divided transversely from the aisle by a double-hollow-chamfered arch supported on corbels. The chancel arch, in keeping with the earlier date of the chancel, is double-flat-chamfered, without responds or capitals. However, it is the church carpentry that is most worthy of study internally. The attractive, shallow-pitched aisle roof (shown left) has tie beams supported by arched braces and nicely carved wall plates, purlins, ridge piece, bosses where these timbers intersect, and (to the north) angels at the bases of the wall posts. The double-hammerbeam nave roof has wall plates of particular elaboration, and although it has predictably lost the angels from the upper tier of hammerbeams, the lower tier and wall posts have survived undamaged since these only ended in pendants in the first place. This leaves the nave benches to consider and they form an especially fine set, which is indisputably the work of the same firm that produced the benches at Norton, Tostock, Stowlangtoft and Woolpit, all of which villages lie within a five mile radius. The form of the bench ends is almost identical to these others and the finely carved arm rests feature a similar bestiary with the same preponderance of dogs comprising about a quarter of the total (but see the owl, shown right). Clearly the firm’s workshop was somewhere nearby and it would be good to know precisely where and when it was operating.