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Kirkdale (Yorkshire) - revised

Wootton Wawen (Warwickshire)

Beckford (Worcestershire)

Wareham (Dorset)

Melbury Bubb (Dorset)

Morcott (Rutland) - revised

Bere Regis (Dorset)

Winterborne Tomson (Dorset)

Swaffham Prior (Cambridgeshire)

Little Snoring (Norfolk)

Billesley (Warwickshire)

Old Shoreham (Sussex)

Little Saxham

Dedication : St Nicholas             Simon Jenkins: Excluded                                       Principal Features : Anglo-Saxon/Norman Tower; Bench End Figures

Suffolk has dozens of round tower churches dating from the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods, as does neighbouring Norfolk. This widely believed to be because of the lack of local quarried stone suitable for the usual square configuration. Thus towers were built with rubble faced with the flint that is abundant in this area. Round towers are not confined to these counties, although they certainly have the vast majority.

What is also interesting is not only that the towers are often round but that there are so many of them. Towers were big undertakings for church builders in any period so they tend not to be readily demolished once built. The comparative rarity of Anglo-Saxon towers elsewhere reinforces the fact that there were not too many stone Saxon churches at all. Compared with the rest of England, these two counties have a superabundance. This can be accounted for by their being particularly vulnerable to Viking raiders. It is known that the towers had a defensive as well as religious function - many, indeed, having no doorways at ground level for this very reason.

Little Saxham has one of the finest. It is immediately obvious that the top level is not Saxon, but Norman. It has been suggested that the regularity of the construction and the seamlessness of the stages indicate that all of this tower is Norman, but most authorities still seem to believe that the lower sections are indeed Anglo-Saxon dating from around 1130. For my part, it is the incredible height and the comparative crudeness of the tower arch that are convincing.

The very height of it and the existence of a blocked round-arched doorway even further up surely point to a very tall nave such as the Saxons - and not the Normans - would have built? The doorway on the south side is rather plain for the Norman period too. That would imply that the south doorway may be contemporary with the tower. It is rather plain and its decorations are believed by some to be more Saxon than Norman. What seems most likely to me is that Little Saxham had a late Saxon tower and nave. The Normans probably rebuilt the chancel with an apse (it was replaced again in c14) and raised the tower.

The North aisle is early c14 in the Decorated style, presumably contemporary with the replacement of the chancel. Unusually, the arcade has arches with no adornment of any sort - not even capitals. The chancel arch is similarly plain.

Just inside the south door is a blind arch. The Church Guide points out that Pevsner believes that it was the original north door moved here when the north aisle was built. However, as they point out, this arch is built into the tower arch itself so Pevsner is surely wrong. Norman Scarfe, the Church Guide reports, has suggested that it was the background to the font that would have originally stood here.

Finally, the bench ends here are splendid as they are in so many Suffolk churches. There are still holes where the rush tapers would have been placed.

The tower is beautifully regular and seamless apart from where the topmost section joins the rest. This section is undoubtedly Norman: it is the rest of the tower that is at issue im some quarters.

Left: The remarkable tower arch, surmounted by a high blocked doorway. Surely a nave of this height would have been Saxon, not Norman?

Centre: A window in the lower stages of the tower surrounded by zig zag moulding. It doesn’t look Anglo-Saxon, it must be said, but this is tower is late, not early, Saxon if it is Saxon at all.

Right: The South doorway, with its simple ornament is, again, late Saxon or early Norman.

The blank tympanum of the south door.

Saxham has a north aisle only. Note the unadorned arches of both the arcade and the chancel arch.

The blind arch inside the south door. Note that the decoration of the piers is identical with that of south the door capitals.

Two of the delightful poppy heads - something of a Suffolk speciality. See also Ufford and Blythburgh.

As with poppy heads everywhere, what these figures are meant to be and their significance are hard to fathom. My favourite is the walrus (upper second left).

This kneeling figure reading - presumably from the Bible - is the only one that is not an animal of some sort.

As can be seen in this picture, the bench ends have two carvings each so there is rather an abundance!