Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Denston, Suffolk

I finished the day at St Nicholas which, even before I got out of the car, instantly leapt into my top ten. To quote Cautley "the most beautiful and interesting of the smaller churches in the county".

Inside there is a wealth of woodwork from the roof carvings to screens, stalls and poppyheads as well as tombs, brasses and good glass and a very fine font.

ST NICHOLAS. Short W tower, probably of the late c 14. Excellent church, all Late Perp and of a piece. The building no doubt connected with the founding of a college by Sir John Howard and John Broughton in 1475. Nave, aisles, chapels, and clerestory have three-light windows, only those of the clerestory without transoms. The windows are tall and fairly close to each other. S porch with fan vault inside and a pretty crocketed and vaulted niche and castellated stoup outside. The N rood-stair turret and all the buttresses are of stone, not of flint with stone trim. Arcade of seven bays running without a break from W to E. Piers of lozenge section with concave-sided polygonal shafts without capitals towards the nave, i.e. running right up to the roof. They are crossed by a string-course below the clerestory windows. Good cambered nave and lean to aisle roofs. In the nave subtle alternation in the form of the tie-beams. Wallplate with affronted lions, hounds, hares, and harts. The arched braces of the nave have carving too. - FONT. On the bowl the Seven Sacraments and the Crucifixion in small figures against a rayed background. The figures are defaced. - PULPIT. Elizabethan; very simple. - SCREENS. The dado only of the rood-screen; much restored. - Parclose screens to the chapels. - Above the rood screen the ROOD BEAM, a moulded embattled beam, remains; a rare survival. - STALLS AND BENCHES with animal poppy-heads and animals on the arm-rests. The stalls have traceried fronts. Four MISERICORDS are preserved. One of them has a fine figure of a crane. - C 18 Box Pews in the S aisle.- SOUTH DOOR with tracery, c15. - COMMUNION RAIL. With slender twisted balusters; C18. - STAINED GLASS. The whole E window consists of bits of old glass. - PLATE. Elizabethan Cup; Paten 1640.- MONUMENTS. Unknown couple of Early Tudor date, both represented dead, and both shrouded. Death is shown more frighteningly in him than in her. Good quality. - Brasses to Henry Everard d. 1524 and wife (26 in. figures; chancel floor) and to a Lady of c. 1530 (18 in. figure; nave floor). - ARMOUR suspended in the S chapel. The GATES to this chapel are of wood made to look like iron.

Font (1)

St Nicholas (1)

South aisle

DENSTON. It has the charm of thatched cottages round a green, a fine old hall in a park, and a big 15th century church, with oak trees growing outside and with far older oak trees turned to great purpose within. The array of woodwork is remarkable, touched into life by the imagination of the old carvers. There are old altar rails with twisted balusters, an old door with beautiful tracery, a 17th century altar table, and a panelled Jacobean pulpit with a battlemented trumpet stem; but the special distinction of Denston’s woodwork shows itself in the fine lofty roofs, on the screens, and on the pews and choir-stalls.

Only the lower part of the old chancel screen has survived, but it is a wonderful piece of work, with a beautiful cornice of foliage, tracery from which little flowers hang down, and a battlemented row of quatrefoils along the bottom. In the chancel are other traceried screens with cresting of foliage. On the ends of the choir-stalls various animals are carved, a hare, a haughty-looking dog, and other odd creatures and on a few misereres are flowers and foliage.

The pews in the nave are of two kinds, those against the walls being tall old  fashioned box-pews and those in the middle a fine set of low oak seats, all but two of them old. On their ends and elbows are animals such as rabbits or hares and dogs, many with heads raised as if to look up at their friends in the roof, where on the cornices are carvings of animals running, some strange and fanciful, but others quite clearly goats, hares, and dogs.

This little menagerie in a church is a fascinating one, but it is not the only attraction Denston has, for there are sights to be seen in stone and glass and brass. The porch is enriched by an elaborate fan-vaulted roof, a pinnacled niche, and two animal-headed gargoyles huge and hideous. The 15th century font has damaged carvings of the Seven Sacraments in which we can still distinguish a Crucifixion and a scene at a font, and below the corners of the bowl are figures of angels. Many fragments of old glass in the east window show two kneeling figures, a knight with raised arm, roses and lilies, shields, and conventional ornament; in modern glass in an aisle window are scenes of St Nicholas, one showing him as a bishop holding a model of the church, another appearing to sailors as they pray in a storm, and another kneeling before three little boys in a tub while a butcher looks on amazed at seeing them brought back to life.

On the nave floor is a brass portrait of Felice Drury as she was in the 15th century, with a veil headdress and a tight-waisted gown with a long sash. A very quaint pair of brasses in the chancel shows Henry Everard of 1524 and his wife, rather like two figures from an old pack of cards. She has a triangular headdress and a long heraldic cloak; he is in armour and has by him another head in a curious leaf-like design, perhaps a portrait of a second wife or daughter. Near the altar are two stone figures, shrouded and emaciated, lying under a marble table; and far more interesting as a nameless memorial is a group of things on one of the walls - a pair of lances, a funeral helm topped by a high-stepping horse, and a gay heraldic tabard on which three golden harts appear; it is known as the Robinson tabard.

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