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English Church Architecture -



WORTHAM, St. Mary (TM 085 788)     (March 2007)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)



This building (shown above from the south) presents a strange spectacle for it preserves the stump of what was formerly the largest round tower in England, surmounted today - resting partly on its eastern rim and partly on the extreme western end of the nave roof - by a little weatherboarded bell-turret covered with an ogee dome. The tower collapsed in 1789, leaving just an open shell, reaching as high as the nave ridge and retaining sufficient details to witness its Norman date, notably two open, round-headed east windows, visible through the huge open space to the west.  (See the thumbnail, left.)  The tower is 29 feet (8.8 metres) in diameter and was once 62 feet (18.9 metres) high.


The rest of the church is Perpendicular externally and consists of a chancel, an aisled nave and a S. porch. The best work is the nave clerestory, composed of six two-light, four-centred windows on each side, with supermullioned drop tracery, bricks tumbled-in around the arches, and flint flushwork between.  This forms a frieze below the springing level and features motifs in squares, including various geometrical patterns, the sacred monogram “IHS”, and a crowned “M” for Mary.  The majority of the aisle windows (seven in all) and the two easternmost windows in the chancel (one on either side) are two-light and supermullioned, of the type to be seen at a number of Suffolk churches, including Brettenham, Preston St. Mary, Rattlesden and Stowlangtoft (See the example in the S. wall of the nave, illustrated right.)  These have their lights linked by small subarcuations above and are sufficiently distinctive to suggest they are the work of the mason, in which case they may be dateable by association with St. Nicholas's, Stowlangtoft, which was erected c. 1390.   The westernmost window on either side of the chancel adopts a related but different pattern, also found at Shelfhanger, Norfolk, and almost certainly the work of a different man.   The seemingly unrelated five-light E. window has rather elaborate supermullioned tracery and a supertransom above the three central lights.  The S. porch has a double-flat-chamfered outer doorway and two-light side windows formed of little ogee-pointed lights with a split “Y” between. 


Inside the church, the three-bay arcades are composed of double-flat-chamfered arches springing from octagonal piers (see the N. arcade, left) and the chancel arch is similar.  However, the important features here are the outer flat chamfers at the sides of the semi-octagonal responds, which terminate at the top in a little incised trefoiled arch-heads, in what proves to be another diagnostic design element of the Stowlangtoft group of churches.  (See the photograph of the chancel arch S. respond, below, viewed from the nave.)