Outlook 24
News and Views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
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The making of our church – the flint factor
This is the first of a series of articles on the fabric of St Mary’s Church building. Flint is a sedimentary cryptocrystalline (small crystals) form of the mineral quartz. This is formed in chalk by a means not fully understood, and it is very common in East Anglia. As it is readily available, it is a cheap building material which has the added advantage of being durable. Stone, on the other hand, usually has to be imported into East Anglia and is thus relatively expensive and not so widely used here. The walls and tower of St Mary’s are made of flint rubble in lime mortar, with split (knapped) flints forming a smoothish, fair-faced finish externally. Internally, the walls are plastered and lime-washed, so that the flints are not visible. The down- side of flint is that it is difficult to split into regular pieces of any consistent size, so that stone (as at St Mary’s) or brickwork tends to be used at corners and for arches, pillars, etc. Irregular shapes Flint is also quite a weak material when used in walling, because although the individual flints are strong, they do not stick to mortar very well, and the irregular shapes are difficult to bond together in the same way as stone or brick. This weakness is shown up by the large cracks visible in the steps up to the tower, which are normally only seen by the bell-ringers – but after nearly 600 years this is not bad going! There is another use for flint: as external decoration with stone, known as ‘flushwork’. This is almost entirely unique to Suffolk and Norfolk, and there are some particularly fine examples to be found on the outside of St Mary’s. If you look at the two panels (pictured above), showing the Sacred Monograms of Mary and of the Holy Name, you will see that the flint is beautifully knapped and the pieces fit together with barely a gap. John Davies Pictured right: Flint flushwork on St Mary’s North Porch. Work has started on extensive repairs as Outlook goes to press (see p.7)