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English Church Architecture -



WISSINGTON (or WISTON), St. Mary (TL 907 340)    (October 2001)

(Bedrock:  Palaeocene, Thanet Sand Formation)


This little church in the Stour valley, though just 5 miles from the centre of Colchester, stands in a moated enclosure beside the Hall in what is still some of the best countryside Suffolk has to offer.  From a distance it appears to be wholly Norman but this is not the case unfortunately, as much is now due to a nineteenth century restoration which sought to undo - within the limits of the architectural understanding and sensitivity of the times - alterations that had been made to the building some four hundred years before.  Thus the Victorian apse with poorly designed rib vault, built above the original Norman foundations, replaced a square-ended fifteenth century sanctuary, and the S. windows bar one, which are over-wide and in pseudo-Norman style, replaced Perpendicular windows with mediaeval stained glass.  Nevertheless, Charles Birch, vicar from 1832, at whose instigation the work was done, cannot really be blamed for this damage to the building, for he found it in great disrepair and left it at least weathertight and structurally sound.  Moreover he did preserve the genuine Norman features that remained, including the ground plan, the N. windows and one S. window, the N. and S. doorways and, pre-eminently, the arches from the nave to the chancel and from the chancel to the apse.  The windows are small and high up, but the S. doorway is impressive. (See the photograph at the foot of the page, showing the arch and tympanum, and the photograph, above left, showing the W. jamb.) It consists of an arch of three orders, bearing chevron, a roll and scallop moulding respectively, together with more chevron and incised triangles round the hood mould, supported on jambs with a single order of tall shafts, the left one being circular, with spiral fluting and a band of leaf carving beneath the scalloped capital, and the right one, octagonal, with chevron moulding and a leaf volute capital reminiscent of water leaf. Below the arch there is a diapered tympanum, supported on a curved lintel.


The interior is quite atmospheric, in spite of the Victorian work.  This is due to the chancel and apse arches in particular (shown right, looking east from the nave), which make one first look to see if there was once a central tower above.  Perhaps, indeed, there was, for the arches are heavy for a building of this size, although their width and height do make the building appear larger than it is.  Only the chancel arch is decorated, and only there to the west.  This arch is composed of three orders, bearing chevron on the inner and outer, and a roll moulding in between.  The roll rises from shafts which also differ, left from right, the former having spiral fluting and the latter being divided into two and covered with leaf patterns within a diamond lattice on its lower two thirds and indented saltires above.  The apse arch (of two orders) is plain but looks equally well in the view from the nave.  However, the same cannot be said of the round-headed blank arches beneath the apse windows, which contain the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer.  Presumably they were intended to inspire pious thoughts in the minds of the rural Victorian congregation, though whether any design so leaden could provoke such emotions must be open to question.  The nave walls are covered with an extensive but very fragmentary series of thirteenth century wall paintings, of which Pevsner wrote "the quality [of which] can never have been more than provincial", before proceeding to list them exhaustively.