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English Church Architecture.

 

NORTH STOKE, St. Mary (TQ 020 108),

WEST SUSSEX. 

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Middle Chalk.)

 

'Unrestored and delightful, outside and in.  Cruciform and aisleless...'  (Ian Nairn).

This little building, now in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust, is situated in a delightful rural position in a bend of the River Arun, although surrounding trees make it very difficult to view satisfactorily from any angle or position.  Tower-less and cruciform, except in respect of a little surviving Norman evidence it is otherwise wholly Early English in style, even though that includes work of at least two dates, from early and late in the thirteenth century.

 

First the Norman work must be described briefly, however, which must include the basic fabric of at least some of the walls, to judge: (i) by their thickness, as illustrated by the very wide soffit of the nave N. door, which may be seen outside since the door is hinged at the wall’s inner angle; and (ii)) by their masonry, since at least some of the flint rubble is set herring-bone wise (e.g., in the nave west wall) - a usual indication of a late eleventh century date.  Yet the only specific features remaining from this period are the little round-headed window in the nave S. wall (shown above right), where it is almost cut into by the later S. transept, and the corresponding blocked N. window, visible internally.

 

The early thirteenth century work includes the lancet windows in the nave and chancel except for the stepped group of three in the chancel E. wall, which were replaced c. 1910 (Roy Tricker, notes in the church).  However, the group of three lancets in an encompassing arch in the nave W. wall is original, and the N. and S. nave doorways are presumably contemporary.  By the mid-thirteenth century, therefore, the church must have consisted of a nave and chancel, much as they are now, without any additions.  The transepts appear to have been constructed some thirty to fifty years later.  The windows are an assortment but the latest appears to be the S. transept E. window with cinquefoil-cusped Y-tracery with the appearance of c. 1300.  The S. transept S. window and N. transept N. window are formed of two tall trefoil-cusped lights with an encircled quatrefoil above, and the N. transept E. window (illustrated above left) consists of three short trefoil-cusped lights with an encircled cinquefoil in the head.  The S. porch with its brick front, may be an early nineteenth century addition;  the curious weather-boarded belfry (shown aove right, in a view of the church looking northwest), scarcely more than three feet high (1 m.) astride the N. transept roof, defies reliable dating, and neither Roy Tricker nor Ian Nairn (in The Buildings of England: Sussex, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1965, pp. 283-284) attempt it, but that could be early nineteenth century work too.

 

That brings this brief examination of the building to the inside of the church, which is constructed chiefly of clunch.  Here, the arches to the transepts and chancel are most significant.  The N. transept arch carries a series of flat chamfers that die into the walls, and the S. transept arch (seen above left, viewed from the northwest) is similar except the chamfers are now hollowed, suggesting the date may be a little later.  The W. wall of the S. transept features two deep blank arches springing from a corbel between them, carved with an animal looking like a pig but probably correctly identified by Roy Tricker as a sheep, which was probably key to the rural economy in this area in those days and which is still of some local importance today.  The chancel arch carries a series of mouldings including rolls with fillets, resting on moulded capitals supported on short rectangular responds.  Tiny niches cut into the responds face southwest and northwest, and beyond these, in the east wall of the nave, there are larger blank arches that may once have held statues or even their own altars, entirely additional to the altars that once occupied the large arched recesses in the east walls of the transepts.  Between the niche and the blank arch to the north of the chancel arch, the wall is supported on another corbel, carved beneath in the form of a human hand.  (See the photograph of the chancel arch N. respond, above right, viewed from the southwest.)

 

Furnishings in the building include the triple sedilia and piscina in the chancel S. wall (illustrated below), which follow the ascending floor-line as the sanctuary is approached up four steps.  The piscina and easternmost arch of the sedilia are trefoil-cusped, and all four arches are united by a single semicircular hood-mould.  There is also another piscina in the S. wall of the S. transept.  The circular 'tub' font at the west end of the nave, is twelfth or thirteenth century in date.  Traces of wall paintings above the chancel arch are too fragmentary to make out but mediaeval carpentry in the church probably includes the chancel stalls and some of the timbers of the collar-beam roofs.