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English Church Architecture -



WETHERINGSETT, All Saints (TM 127 669)     (October 2008)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)


This church (shown left, from the southeast) 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 have been described by Pevsner and Roy Tricker (writing in the church guide in 1998) as late thirteenth century work - a date that would also fit the doorway inside the porch, with its two flat-chamfered orders, with the outer springing from circular shafts.  (See the S. arcade, below right.) However, in the view of this writer, the arcades could well be later than this, and perhaps even contemporary with the three-light reticulated window of c. 1330 in the S. aisle W. wall.  The piers are quatrefoil in section with capitals that go all the way round, and the arches bear two hollow chamfers separated by a roll 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, on balance it seems likely that this is work influenced by both styles which was executed at the later date.


More scope for uncertainty is provided by the tower, 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 that exposes the hardy campanologist to every passing Atlantic gale.  (See the photograph, below left.)  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 last quarter of the fourteenth century (see Appendix 2 for some close-dated examples of this tracery shape), 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 composed 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.  (See the photograph, right, showing the detail around the west spandrel.)