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English Church Architecture -



WHEPSTEAD, St. Petronilla (TL 832 582)     (October 2001)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)


This is the only church in England with this dedication.  Consisting of a short W. tower, a four-bay nave with a S. porch and balancing N. vestry, and a two-bay chancel, it is predominantly Early English in style, with two Y-traceried windows each side of the chancel, another such window each side of the nave, and a three-light window with intersecting tracery in the chancel E. wall.  More interesting, however, are the four other nave windows, which have plate tracery formed of two trefoil-cusped lights with a quatrefoil above.  (See the example, shown left.)  They may be a little later but seem unlikely to postdate c. 1310.


The tower is a Perpendicular addition which rises in three stages to battlements, supported by diagonal buttresses and with a stair fitted into the angle created by the southeast buttress.  A former spire fell down in 1658, in the night that Oliver Cromwell died.  The details of the W. wall are much worn but must once have made some modest attempt to impress. The W. window (right) is three-light with a supertransom above the central light and inverted daggers beneath subarcuations over the outer lights - a form to be found in the church at Great Shelford in Cambridgeshire, where the work was dated by Dr. John Harvey to the period 1396 - 1411 (The Perpendicular Style, Batsford, 1978).  Here, however, there is also a cusped two-centred niche on either side, and a third, triangular-headed niche, above, albeit all surrounded by the concrete rendering that covers the entire building except for the porch, spared due to its facing of knapped flints, although only the lowest metre of this is mediaeval, the junction between this and the Victorian work being easy to discern.


Internally, the oldest work to be seen is the jambs of the chancel arch, which are tall and Norman, with nook-shafts with cushion capitals.  The arch above is now modern, having been reconstructed after the original arch collapsed in 1926.  The stair cut into the reveal of the nave's easternmost S. window, which once led to the rood loft, is Perpendicular, like the surprisingly tall tower arch, with wave and casement mouldings running round without intervening capitals and an inner flat-chamfered order springing from semicircular responds.