Mystery of St Peter and St Paul’s church tower

Taken from the Round Towers Society magazine, September 2019.

Attempts to give a precise date to the round tower at St Peter and St Paul at Tuttington has been a challenge for decades, writes Richard Harbord.

Tuttington Church’s round tower has long been controversial as there is no consensus regarding its date.
Early writers including Claude Messent, writing in 1936, claimed the lower part of it is Norman but the architecture historian Dr Nikolaus Pevsner was too unsure to commit himself. Bill Goode, whose book on Round Tower Churches in 1982, was uncharacteristically cautious about its date.

“The Early English period is the earliest to which definite features can still be seen. The tower shows no signs of its correct age owing to its extensive repairs and refacing. The belfry windows with Y tracery are Early English,” wrote the society’s founder.
“The other (lower) openings are now rectangular with their outer frames made of cement. Their inner splays are broken and give no clues to their date whatsoever. “Some of them have lintels of wood or stone but they also give no help either. The tower now contains only one bell of 1852, but at one time it held four,” he added.

Goode listed many physical characteristics but left it to the distinguished church architect, Stephen Hart to carry out a forensic analysis of its visible features.

In his 2003 Round Towers of England, Hart wrote that the exterior of the tower is faced with knapped flint as opposed to using roughly cleft-flints or broken pieces. This practice became popular from the end of the 13th century onwards and that is evident at Tuttington where half the facing material uses this type of flint. Darker flints were inserted in horizontal bands to provide a decorative feature which Goode noted are at +1.5m (5ft) and +9.3 metres. Many towers of this Early English period used medieval red bricks on the exterior facing but not at Tuttington. The simple chamfering and pointed head of the tower doorway also suggest an Early English date.

This small opening in the gable wall of the nave is splayed inside the tower which indicates the two were built together. These reveals are clearly not those of a Saxon or Norman west entrance as early doorways went straight through the wall with parallel sides. Norman ones usually have a rebate on the inside for the actual door. Thus, towers with splayed arches are likely to be post-Norman, as at Tuttington.

Hart’s conclusion is that there is no evidence in its fabric which suggests that tower is anything but post-Norman (ie built well after King Stephen’s death in 1154). There is a distinctive ledge inside the west gable of the Nave, 0.15 metres deep; at a height above the floor of 7.32m so the part below the ledge could be the remains of the gable wall of an earlier nave.

In the 15th century the nave was considerably widened and heightened so that the new roof ridge at +10.4m (34ft) rose up above the sill of the belfry opening. Following that, the tracery of the east and west openings were lost and the openings were blocked up with red bricks.
Goode measured the tower as 13.6m (44.6ft) which includes a fairly modern plain brick parapet.

It has an internal diameter at ground level of 3.12m and walls, 1.09m thick. Early writers seem to have given the tower a possible Norman dating based entirely on its wall thickness and its general proportions which alone is unreliable evidence.

The parish history helps to confirm the tower’s post-Norman date. Anglo-Saxon tax records for this district did not list Tuttington as it was so small. Domesday in 1086 recorded about 25 people living in the village – not enough to build or sustain a stone church.

In the post-Norman period around 1200, everything changed when much of the population of an adjacent village including the manorial lord migrated south into Tuttington. This coincided with the first recorded priest to serve the new parish in 1234 – reinforcing a post Norman date for the tower. Despite accumulation of evidence to support an Early English dating the Listing description and Pevsner’s updated edition described the tower as 12th century, which seems to be sitting on the fence.

John Ladbrooke’s drawing of this church in the early 1800s has a tower much as it is today including a small spire that replaced an earlier larger one. It seems to have collapsed around 1750.

Can the parish history help with the dating controversy over the tower?

991 A tax list included nearby villages but not Tuttington.
1086 Domesday records 25 people living in the village. Was there a small timber church?
1200 An adjacent village, Crackford, was abandoned by this time with its church of St Botolph’s. The “de Crackford” family moved south to Tuttington – hence a Tuttington-Crackford Manor.
1254 First parish priest recorded – John, son of a nearby manorial lord, Peter de Hautbois. Did he lay the foundations for a tower to an earlier church?
1349 The Black Death. A new vicar in post.
1368 Survey of the church’s goods shows it was richly endowed; were there plans to rebuild the Chancel and enlarge the Nave?
1450s Notable additions include:

1 South door with elaborate scrolled iron-work
2 12 Poppy-heads on new seats with carved bench-ends.
3 Side-altar with a plain piscina in the Nave, dedicated to St Botolph.
Bequest for its window in 1499. This may have served a church guild.
4 South porch and parvis chamber added with 1502 bequest.

Claude Messent. Parish Churches of Norfolk & Norwich 1936
Munro Cautley. Norfolk Churches 1949
Dr Nikolas Pevsner. Buildings of England, Norfolk 1962 (revised 1997)
Bill Goode. East Anglian Round Towers and their Churches 1982
‘Lyn Stilgoe. The Round Tower Churches of Norfolk. 2001
Stephen Hart. Round Towers of England. 2003

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