Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Pevsner on Saffron Walden

ST MARY THE VIRGIN. With a total length of nearly 200 ft Saffron Walden is one of the largest parish churches of Essex. It 1s also one of the most lavishly designed - in a style entirely E from across the border, East Anglian of the Suffolk and even more the Cambridge brand. There are indeed certain features which make connexions with King’s College Chapel and Great St Mary more than likely. The whole church was re-built between c. 1450 and c. 1525, with the exception of a crypt partly below the S aisle and partly below the S porch, and  the arcades from the chancel into the N and S chapels, and from these chapels into the aisles. These parts are of the C13 and indicate a church with crossing and transept, narrower aisles and a S porch, corresponding to the crypt. The CRYPT is divided into four bays and has single-chamfered arches and ribs springing from semi-octagonal responds. The chancel arcades have quatrefoil piers and moulded capitals and arches. The rebuilding started with the chancel and ended with the chancel arch, the nave clerestory, alterations to the chancel chapels, and the completion of the tower.

The exterior of the church is as follows. The W tower has setback buttresses, decorated battlements, and at the corners big panelled polygonal pinnacles like turrets. The tall octagonal stone spire with crockets and two tiers of dormers, the lower one of two lights with a transome, was added in 1831 to the designs of Rickman & Hutchinson, the architects, at the same time, of New Court, St John’s College, Cambridge. The aisles, clerestoreys and chancel chapels of the church are all embattled and have pinnacles. There are large, wide four-light windows in both aisles with elaborate but not very interesting panel tracery, equally large windows of different, somewhat closer panel tracery in the chancel chapels, a C19 five-light E window dating from the restoration by Butterfield in 1876, and three-light clerestory windows. At the E end of the nave clerestory are two polygonal turrets with crocketed stone roofs clearly dependent on King’s College Chapel as completed in 1515. The S porch is of two storeys, also embattled and pinnacled. It has an upper window of four lights. The N porch has only one storey. That is the only external difference between the two sides.* The church lies indeed in such a commanding position, on a hill, higher than the surrounding streets, that it can be seen as prominently from the N as the S.

Now for the interior. The arcades of seven bays are very tall with lozenge-shaped piers enriched by four attached shafts and with hollows and finer connecting mouldings in the diagonals. Only the shafts towards the arches have capitals. The shafts to the nave run on unbroken (except for a thickening at the main horizontal course) to the springers of the roof and only there have capitals. The diagonal members have no capitals at all. The spandrels of the arches are closely decorated with tracery as at Great St Mary’s Cambridge and of course also at Lavenham and other Suffolk churches. The horizontal course has fleurons, the clerestory mullions are carried down in panels to the string course. The roofs are original everywhere, low-pitched and adorned variously with bosses, tracery, badges etc. As for other enrichments, the three bays of the N aisle have blank wall-arcades with different intricately carved heads. Especially the easternmost bay is worth studying. The figures in the spandrels represent King David, St John, Doubting Thomas, the Virgin, the Scourging of Christ, the Agony in the Garden. They are clearly earlier than the aisle and must for some reason be re-used material - FONT. Octagonal, C15 to early C16, with quatrefoils and shields. - SCREEN. 1924 by Sir Charles Nicholson. - ORGAN casa. The one side still in the pretty Gothick state of 1825, the other re-done by Bodley in 1885. - PAINTING. Copy of Correggio’s “The Day” by the Rev. W. Peters. -SCULPTURE. Small piece of a C15 alabaster altar in the S porch, N wall. - STAINED GLASS. Good Shepherd, Samaritan etc. S aisle, 1858, whom by ? - Four Evangelists S aisle by Lavers & Barraud, 1859. - N aisle windows (East Anglian Saints, Four Musicians) by Powell. - N Chapel E window by Burlison & Grylls, 1904. - PLATE. Silver-gilt Cup, Paten, and Flagon of 1685; silver gilt Cup and Paten given 1792.

MONUMENTS. All the brasses with figures are collected against the N wall of the N aisle: three Women of c. 1480-90; Priest, perhaps Richard Wild Jr 1484; Civilian of c. 1500; Civilian and wife of c. 1510; Woman of c. 1530; Civilian of c. 1530; Thomas Turner d. 1610 and wife. - Monument to Thomas Lord Audley, Lord Chancellor, d. 1544. Black marble tomb-chest decorated with wreaths round medallions and ornamented pilasters in the taste of the tomb of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey; back-plate with splendidly carved coat of arms between pilasters (S chapel). Done probably by the same workshop responsible for the Vyvyan monument at Bodmin, Cornwall, the effigy of Lord Marney at Layer Marney, the Oxford Monument at Castle Hedingham and the North Monument at Kintling, Cambridgeshire. - Tomb-chest for John Leche d. 1521, with lid and inscription but no figures (N chapel). - One side of a tomb-chest, N wall, N aisle.

* Internally the S porch vault is more elaborate than that of the N: a two-bay fan-vault with two bosses (cf. Cambridge customs of the early C16) as against a simple one-bay tierceron vault of star shape.

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