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English Church Architecture.


WETHERINGSETT, All Saints  (TM 127 669),


(Bedrock:  Neogene to  Quaternary, Crag Group.)


One of a group of Suffolk churches identified by the late Birkin Haward as having been part-built by the same master mason, 'Hawes of Occold', fl.  1410-1440.




The question of whether or not it is pertinent to talk about 'the mediaeval mason' is a subject that has fiercely divided architectural historians in recent decades, with many taking the view that the very concept of 'authorship', defined as the consideration of a work of art as an expression of an individual's creative skill and personality, had no currency before the Tudor period.  This supposition has coincided with the passing from fashion of connoisseurship as an approach to art history more generally, whereby the identity of individual artists was previously sought by styllistic analysis, in favour of such modern obsessions as  understanding art as an expression of ethnicity, colonialism, gender, 'the male gaze', or similar issues, and since some academics have built their reputations on the basis of these new studies, they naturally seek to defend them vigorously.

This shift in the focus of art history has not gone completely unchallenged however, albeit that some of the greatest champions of 'the old school' have since passed away too.  One such was Dr. John Harvey (1911-97), whose biographical dictionary English Medieval Architects (Gloucester, Alan Sutton, 1987) identified some 1,700 men of varying importance, who appear to have been responsible for buildings or part-buildings in England before 1550, and who argued that the only reason the men who designed mediaeval buildings are so little known is that no-one makes the effort to discover them.  This theme was subsequently taken up at a local level in Suffolk by the late Birkin Haward (1912-2002), who tried to group Suffolk's mediaeval churches on the basis of their aisle arcades (Suffolk Mediaval Church Arcades, Hitcham, Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 1993) and who, in particular, went on to pick out on stylistic grounds, a dozen churches in mid Suffolk that appear to have been part-built by the same master mason, referred to by name in a building estimate for work at Wingfield church as 'Hawe[s], mason of Ocolte' (Master Mason Hawes of Occold, Ipswich, Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 2000).  The validity of this exercise is ultimately for the reader to decide, but the examples illustrated on this web-site will seek to promote it.  Indeed, the present writer has attempted to identify another group of Suffolk churches using Haward's methodology, centred on and around St. George's church, Stowlangtoft, and these can be examined separately.




This church looks very much like one of East Anglia’s 'Perpendicular glasshouses' on approach, due to the magnificent nave clerestory formed of eight pairs of large three-light windows with supermullioned tracery beneath segmental arches.  It is, however, the product of several building phases, some older than at first appears, and on this occasion it will help to begin the examination of the church inside.  The building consists of a W. tower, an aisled nave with a S. porch, and a heavily restored chancel with a N. vestry. 


The nave arcades are constructed in four bays and were described by Pevsner as late thirteenth century work (James Bettley & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk East, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2015, p. 575)  - a date that would also fit the doorway inside the porch, with its two flat-chamfered orders, with the outer order springing from circular shafts.  However, in the view of this writer, the arcades could well be later than this, and perhaps contemporary with the three-light reticulated window of c. 1320-50 in the S. aisle W. wall.  The piers are quatrefoil in section with capitals going all the way round, and the arches bear two hollow chamfers separated by a roll set in a deep hollow - a design presenting a rather diverse assemblage of elements, with the roll more characteristic of the Early English style, and the hollow chamfers more typical of Decorated work, so that, separating styles from periods, it seems likely that this work was executed at the later date.  (The S. arcade is illustrated left.)


More scope for uncertainty is provided by the tower (shown below left, viewed from the southeast), though what cannot be in doubt is that this has been influenced by the neighbouring tower at Cotton, some three and a half miles to the west, for both have the extraordinary feature of a lower stage entirely open to the elements through a high W. arch (illustrated below right) that exposes the hardy campanologist to every passing Atlantic gale.  The tower at Cotton has bell-openings with flowing tracery in the Decorated style but there are reasons to question whether its construction was later than this suggests. At Wetheringsett, the straightened reticulation units of the bell-openings could be indicative of a date in the third quarter of the fourteenth century, which might imply its construction followed that of Cotton’s tower quite closely.  It is also the more impressive work, for its angle buttresses continue the full height, decorated by flint chequerwork on the leading edges and by niches in the northwest and southwest buttresses above the first set-offs.


Excluding the W. window to the S. aisle, already described, the remaining aisle windows may or may not be contemporary with the clerestory. They are notable, however, for being of identical design to windows at neighbouring Debenham, Thorndon, and Wickham Skeith, and of similar design to the aisle windows at Bildeston, a little further away, and the tower W. window at Occold.  The possible significance of this (as explained in greater detail under the entry for Bildeston) is dependent on whether at Bildeston and Debenham, these windows can be associated with the same phase of building operations as their respective arcades, which the late Birkin Haward attributed to the master mason HAWES OF OCCOLD, who appears to have been active between 1410 and 1440.  The windows at Wetheringsett, Debenham and Thorndon are comprised of three stepped lights beneath depressed segmental-pointed arches, with transoms and supertransoms at two levels, the former, some two-thirds of the way up the lights, and the latter, immediately on top, and the lights are separated by strong mullions and have supermullioned tracery above;  the windows at Bildeston and Occold differ only in the absence of the lower tier of transoms. 


Finally, the S. porch is an attractive addition to the building, decorated by flushwork on the battlements and leading edges of the buttresses, and with an outer doorway formed of a wave moulding carried on sem-octagonal shafts and of an outer order bearing a sunk chamfer, carved at intervals with crowns below the springing and with shields above.  The hood-mould and label are carved with fleurons.

[Other churches featured on this web-site where Hawes of Occold appears to have worked include Bedingfield, Bildeston, Bramford, Debenham ,Thorndon, Wickham Skeith and Wingfield in Suffolk, and Dickleburgh, just across the county border in Norfolk.]