Cawston, Norfolk - St Agnes: One of the most magnificent and imposing of angel roofs; a steeply pitched single hammer beam construction, spectacular in its scale, the quality of its sculpture and secondary detailing, and in its lavish use of timber. Cawston’s angels are over 6 feet tall from feet to wingtips, and, uniquely, stand upright on the hammer beams. The tracery in the spandrels above and below the hammer beams is superb, and demi-angels line the horizontal wall plates. No expense has been spared.
The church of St Agnes was built in the late fourteenth century by Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, who died at the siege of Harfleur in 1415. His immediate heir fell at Agincourt five weeks later, one of the few high status English casualties of the battle, and the title passed to the second son, William. As chief adviser to the ineffectual Henry VI, William de la Pole was, by the 1440s, the most powerful man in England, becoming first Marquis and then Duke of Suffolk. It is tempting to assign the creation of so spectacular an angel roof to the de la Poles, and to see it as an assertion of their influence in the region. However, archaelogical evidence (the line of an earlier roof on the wall of the church tower) argues against a date during the years of de la Pole power, though stylistically such a date is plausible. From bequests, we know that internal refurnishing of the church was being undertaken in the 1460s (William de la Pole fell from power and was murdered in 1450), and Michael Begley has suggested to me in correspondence that the angel roof is more likely to date from 1470-80.