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English Church Architecture.


WORDWELL, All Saints  (TL 827 721),


(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Chalk Rock Member.)


A humble little church with a characteristically naÔve Norman tympanum.


This is a small building in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, consisting of a nave and chancel with a S. porch and W. gable belfry.  It is of considerable interest, however, as should be evident from the doorways, even though no other original external features were permitted to remain in the phased restoration of 1857-67.  (See the date in Roman numerals on the belfry.)  This was carried out according to the plans of S.S. Teulon (1812-73), an architect of French descent who also worked at neighbouring Ampton and of whose characteristic church at Huntley, Gloucestershire, B.F.L. Clarke observed that it contained 'many... expensive and unbeautiful things' (Church Builders of the Nineteenth Century, Newton Abbot, David & Charles, 1969, p. 157).  Here Teulonís faults lay less in what he added than in what he took away however - meaning primarily a lot of seventeenth century woodwork, to judge from a very early photograph of the interior - but fortunately both doorways were suffered to remain, which is fortunate as they are Norman and the S. doorway is particularly interesting.  For some reason, Teulon reversed the tympanum above the N. doorway, though whether to preserve it or (more probably) because he thought its carving unworthy of a prominent position is impossible to say.  (See the photograph above.)  It features two standing figures so childishly done that it certainly must have taken someone of more than ordinary imagination to see in it the legend of St. Edward the Confessor giving a ring to St. John the Baptist disguised as a beggar (as reported by Roy Tricker in his leaflet on the building), yet this was not atypical of the age for 'at least to the middle of the twelfth century the Norman carver seems to have been quite incapable of grasping the simplest principles of proportion or anatomy' (Alfred Clapham, English Romanesque Architecture after the Conquest, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1934, p. 142) - only compare, for example, the tympana at Little Paxton and Pampisford in Cambridgeshire, which are hardly an improvement.  Even so, the S. doorway tympanum here at Wordwell is definitely better, perhaps because it wisely eschews figure carving in favour of a lively juxtaposition of two dogs beneath a surrounding pattern of foliage, so deeply cut away behind as to appear almost like free-standing tracery.  Both doorways also retain an order of shafts with volute capitals and a roll moulding above.  The church windows appear to have been renewed both outside and in, yet they include a two-light S. window to the nave and the two-light E. window to the chancel, with cruciform lobing set vertically, which must surely copy their original form if only because it is hard to imagine why Teulon would have introduced this design in these random positions otherwise.



Internally, the church is dominated by the massive chancel arch (illustrated above), with one order of shafts to the west, again with volute capitals, and abaci with chamfered under-edges and the most modest of decoration comprised of depressed triangles.  On either side (left and right) there is a Perpendicular cinquefoil-cusped niche beneath a label and spandrels decorated with fleurons.  An odd feature of the nave that may or may not be Teulonís is that one now enters the building via a low cross-passage running between the N. & S. doorways, against which the floor rises some 8" (20 cm.) on either side.  The eight nave benches east of the entrance gangway, have carved bench ends and excellent arm rests featuring figures and animals, real and imagined, but showing the regional fondness for dogs (cf. Stowlangtoft, Tostock and Woolpit, all in Mid Suffolk).  Six have carved backs (of which one is shown below).  These are mediaeval, of course, other than where restored, but the priestís stall (facing north) is a composite piece that includes a section of Jacobean panelling.  The S. porch, the reredos with its blank arches, the stone pulpit, and the scissor-braced roofs with uncommonly tall ashlar pieces, are all the work of Teulon.