Monday, September 27, 2010

All Saints, Crowfield, Suffolk

click photo to enlarge
As I've travelled about England I've periodically come across a medieval church with walls that are wholly or partly constructed of wood. Usually this has been in the west midlands, southern and south east England. Churches such as Greensted (Essex), Pembridge (Herefordshire), Melverley (Shropshire), Brookland (Kent), and Besford (Worcestershire), reflect a local tradition and skills in timber construction as well as an absence or paucity of good building stone. The furthest north I've found such construction is the church of Lower Peover in Cheshire, where a sixteenth century stone tower rises above a building that is entirely "black and white". There was a time when most churches displayed regional characteristics - Suffolk flushwork, Norfolk flint, Yorkshire gritstone, Lincolnshire oolitic limestone, etc. But, it has always been the case that materials and styles have been copied from areas where they didn't originate, ever since the Normans began importing Caen stone. As late as 1902-4 the architects Bucknall & Comper decided that half-timbering would be right for their church at Gosberton Clough, Lincolnshire, and Victorians examples of this method of construction are not too hard to find.

Why then was I surprised to come across the half-timbered chancel of All Saints at Crowfield in Suffolk? Perhaps because all the other medieval Suffolk churches that I've come across are stone-built (this is the only Suffolk example of this building style in a church). In this county stone is usually imported and mixed with the local flint, "clunch", "crag", or with the small amount of freestone that can be dug locally. There was probably a time (pre-Norman) when timber was much more widespread in Suffolk church construction, but then that is true for much of central and southern England.

The chancel at Crowfield is a fifteenth century addition to the fourteenth century nave. It looks quite "domestic", probably by association with the much more common half-timbered houses and farms: only the tracery of the wooden window frames hint at the religious nature of the building. The graveyard of the church has been rationalised with an eye to ease of grass cutting, an "avenue" of gravestones being arranged as a pathway to the priest's door in the chancel, and others largely re-positioned around the periphery of the site. This gives the building a neat, park-like setting that isn't altogether to my taste.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 13mm (26mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f4.5
Shutter Speed: 1/320 seconds
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On