Thursday, 23 May 2013

Pevsner on Thaxted

ST JOHN THE BAPTIST. The church, as we see it now, appears at first all of one piece, proud, spacious, clear and a little frigid inside, and outside dominated by its splendid tall steeple. The spire reaches 181 ft up; the church is 183 ft long. The material is pebble rubble. Ashlar is not used; but otherwise, in innumerable details, it is obvious that much money was spent on the building. It is embattled all round, pinnacles are used in addition to battlements, decorative friezes of ornament or figures appear here and there, and so on. The church has often been restored, but care has always been taken and, except for the C18 windows of the transept fronts, not much has been changed. The spire, it is true, was struck by lightning in 1814 and had to be rebuilt, but the reconstruction was accurate. The tower has setback buttresses, but the angles are not of 90 degrees. They form two sides of a polygon. At the top of the tower battlements and panelled pinnacles connected by flying buttresses to the spire.This is of Northamptonshire type, with crockets and three tiers of dormer windows. Niches to the l. and r. of the W door and the W window. The aisle windows are identical on the N and S sides, with depressed heads and panel tracery - four lights, and five at the W end. The chancel chapels have longer, straightheaded windows, again identical on the N and S sides and again with panel tracery. The E window is huge, of five-lights and has an odd mixture of Perp detail and intersections. Both porches are two-storeyed, but that on the S side (the earlier - built between 1362 and 1368) is slightly less sumptuous. Even so it has a main S doorway and subsidiary doorways from the E and W, three-light side openings, and a star-shaped tierceron vault. The N porch vault has liernes as well and many bosses. This porch is taller than the other, in fact almost as high as the transept, which is most effective when one looks at the church from the NW. The doorway has large shields in the spandrels, two upper windows side by side, with fleuron surrounds, a turret at the NW angle which is higher than the porch, and a figure-frieze below the battlements. There are even headstops to the gables of the first set-offs of the buttresses. A similar figure frieze below the battlements can also be noticed in the N transept, and there are many more minor enrichments, gargoyles etc.

The interior in its present form is white and bared of all major furnishings, though there are plenty of smaller objects of devotion about, mostly bought in recently. The surprising lightness is largely due to the fact that clear glass is used everywhere. The arcades are the earliest element of the church. They date from c. 1340. The piers are quatrefoil with very thin shafts in the diagonals. The two-centred arches have mouldings with two quadrants. The hood-moulds rest on comparatively big headstops. The crossing arch belongs to the same C14 church. The C15 rebuilding proceeded as follows: S transept late C14, N transept c. 1400, N aisle widened and N porch added C. 1445; steeple probably late C15, chancel and chancel chapels, crossing arches to N, S, and E, and clerestory c. 1510. The date of the S transept can be deduced from the fine blank arcading below the S window, with alternating pointed and coupled ogee arches, all crocketed richly. The date of the N transept appears in the corresponding arcading on the N side and the fine Reredos on the E wall with ogee-headed niches and a frieze above in which Christ appears between censing angels. The tall tower arch and the vault inside the tower must be C15. The chancel arcades of c. 1510 have an interesting very complex pier section: semicircular shafts to the arches, but to the chancel a combination of thin shafts and thin hollows not having a capital but turning round to the l. and r. above the arches to form frames. In the arch spandrels is broad simple openwork tracery. The roofs of all parts of the church are original, and all are flat-pitched. Tie-beams are used only in the chancel. The figures at the brackets and the bosses will repay some attention.

FONT CASE AND COVER. Case with two tiers of traceried panels hiding the font completely. Top with buttresses, canopies, finial etc., a little broader and heavier than at Littlebury. - PULPIT. A fine late C17 piece with garlands hanging down the angles between the panels. The staircase with twisted balusters does not belong. - COMMUNION RAIL. With twisted balusters ; c. 1700. - SCREENS to the N and S chapels late C17, with a frieze of thick openwork foliage scrolls. - DOOR. In the N doorway, with traceried panels, C15.- ORGAN. Said to have been made by John Harris for St John’s Chapel, Bedford Row, London in 1703. - BENCHES. A number of French (?) benches of the mid C17 with tall ends. - STAINED GLASS. Many figures and other fragments have been distributed over N and S windows. The most notable are the early C16 figures of Saints in the N windows, the late C14 figure in the S transept S window, and the stories from Genesis, with small figures of c. 1450, in a S aisle window. - E window and N chapel E window by Kempe, the former 1900, the latter 1907. - PLATE. Cup of 1562 ; large Cup of 1622 ; Paten on foot of 1632 ; Almsdish of 1795. - MONUMENTS. Brass to a Priest (chancel), c. 1450. The dearth of monuments more than anything tends to give Thaxted church that curious atmosphere of remoteness which one cannot help feeling directly one enters.

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