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English Church Architecture.

 

YAXLEY, St. Mary  (TM 121 739),

Suffolk. 

(Bedrock:  Neogene to Quaternary, Crag Group.)

 

A village church with several interesting, disparate features,

including a fine Perpendicular N. porch and an excellent Carolean pulpit dated 1635.

 

 

This is a building in a mix of Decorated and Perpendicular styles, with a small S. porch of 1854 by John Johnson of Bury St. Edmunds and a chancel largely rebuilt in 1868.  The mediaeval parts of the church consist of the W. tower, the nave with its S. aisle, and the much grander N. porch, but the tower is probably earliest - the work, perhaps, of c. 1300 to judge from its Y-traceried bell-openings and the extremely narrow cusped slit openings below to north and south.  The short nave is only three bays long, with three-light Perpendicular N. windows with supermullioned tracery each featuring a pair of quatrefoils above the main mullions, two two-light supermullioned S. windows differing greatly in width, and a clerestory formed of six two-light windows on each side (i.e. two per bay) with depressed cinquefoil-cusped Y-tracery.  The chancel now features a rather flimsy flying buttress over the priest's doorway to the south (shown below left), like those at Eye and Little Stonham, which must surely represent an original feature.

 

The exceptionally rich N. porch (seen, above right, from the northwest, and again, below left, in order to show the detail around the right hand spandrel of the doorway)  is two-storeyed and largely faced in knapped flint.  It is lit in the upper storey by two, two-light N. windows with double-cusped lights, a castellated transom immediately on top, and supermullioned tracery with split 'Y's above that, and is replete with carved and flushwork detail that includes a row of crowned 'M's (for St. Mary) above the doorway, a frieze of shields wrapped in scrollwork on the parapet, and pinnacles rising at the angles and midpoints of the walls, on which sit the remains of a set of mutilated beasts and figures.  Canopied niches of varying sizes decorate the sides of the doorway, the sides of the upper storey windows and the little space between, and the leading edges of the diagonal buttresses.  These last also feature flushwork arches on the sides and a row of carved shields in encircled octfoils below.  The doorway carries a series of mouldings above jambs with two orders of attached bowtells, and inside the porch, the lower storey is covered by a tierceron vault supported on shafts at the angles, with capitals with long necks (illustrated below right).  The inner doorway consists essentially of three orders separated by hollows and has a single pair of bowtells attached to the jambs.

 

The church is now entered down a few wooden steps as the floor is considerably lower than it appears from outside.  A door to the right leads to the porch upper storey.  The S. arcade consists of three double-flat-chamfered arches supported on octagonal piers, which scarcely look later than c. 1340, while the tower arch bearing two continuous flat chamfers without intervening capitals, could be contemporary or earlier.  The chancel arch, as seen from the nave, has a three-light window above that obviously once looked out over the chancel roof before this was raised in height, presumably at the time of its Victorian restoration.

 

Specific features to notice within the building should begin with the hexagonal pulpit (illustrated below right) which, though not the earliest, must surely be the best. This has a carved tester with pendants at the angles and bears the date '1635' on the fretwork crest to the southwest (towards the camera).  Four tiers of panelling decorate the sides, of which the third features the standard Jacobean arches, the top rail is carved with a kind of inverted gadrooning, and the backboard is adorned with fretwork dragons at the sides.  The dado beneath the rood screen is carved with blank arches which were once painted and gilded with figures of  saints that have now all but disappeared, although their apparently all-female cast reputedly included SS. Mary Magdalene, Barbara, Dorothy and Cecilia to the south, and SS. Ursula and Katherine to the north (church guide).  The nave roof (seen below left, from the west) appears to be partly original and consists of six bays (or three, each subdivided into two), with arched braces, castellated wall plates, and nicely-carved bosses where the principal rafters cross the purlins.