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English Church Architecture -



WISSETT, St. Andrew (TM 305 684)     (November 2014)

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group)



Pevsner had a tendency to describe all round towers as either Saxon or Norman and here at Wissett there is one that justifies that appellation.  Indeed, its origins may lie in what is sometimes called the "Anglo-Norman overlap", to judge from the very wide, round, unmoulded tower arch within (shown at the bottom of the page, on the left), supported merely on rectangular imposts with chamfered under-edges, resting in turn on unmoulded jambs.  Later additions to the structure include the battlements and, in particular, the Tudor stair, subsequently cut through the south reveal of the tower arch and just nicking the bottom of the impost above.  Presumably, before this was inserted, the upper stages of the tower were accessed by a ladder.


The rest of the church consists of a chancel with a lean-to N. vestry, and a nave with a S. porch (as illustrated in the view of the church from the southeast, above).  The nave might reasonably be expected to be contemporary with the tower.  Its two-light supermullioned windows in a number of very slightly differing forms, are now all Perpendicular insertions, but its N. & S. doorways are round-arched and Norman and display:  (i) within the porch to the south, a couple of rolls, nailhead and a form of beakhead, composed mainly of the heads of cats rather than birds, above a single order of plain shafts (as shown below left); and (ii) to the north, chevron, a roll, and lunette and billet moulding above two orders of shafts with [a], scalloped capitals and spiral moulding to the inner order, and [b] a leaf volute capital and spiral moulding on the outer order to the left, and a leaf volute capital and chevron moulding on the outer order to the right.  (See the photograph below right.)  Such mixed designs must surely have arisen either from the involvement of different masons and/or quite distinct phases of construction.





The chancel is largely a reconstruction of c. 1800, and its style is described as "Gothick" on the britishlistedbuildings web-site,  most probably as a result of its unarchaelogical side windows, with Y-tracery set beneath inappropriate round arches.  The E. wall dates only from 1987.   The porch is a modest but attractive piece of work, ascribed by Mortlock (in The Guide to Suffolk Churches, The Lutterworth Press, 2009) to 1470 for reasons he fails to divulge:  the side windows have been blocked but the S. front is decorated with flint flushwork rectangles on its simple basal frieze and the leading edges of the diagonal buttresses, the outer doorway has carved shields in the spandrels, and two more carved shields in square surrounds rest on the label, on either side of a small canopied niche.


To these various details, it must be admitted the interior adds little.  The tower arch has already been mentioned.  The chancel arch is Perpendicular and carries wave mouldings above compound responds formed of flattened shafts with fillets.  The most striking feature, however, is the astonishing way in which the entrance to the rood stair begins some 8' (2.4 m.) above the floor, within the window splay of the easternmost nave N. window.  (See the photograph, below right.)  Presumably, this called for the use of another ladder.  Thereafter the stair rises for barely half a dozen steps before emerging.


Finally, of furnishings, the fairly well preserved font is carved with the symbols of the Evangelists alternating with winged angels around the faces of the bowl, and more angels alternating with woodwoses around the stem. Mortlock describes the pulpit as "late C17" but that ascription may be suspect.