Towards the end of the thirteenth century there appeared for the first time on buildings
in England a new shape of pointed arch, each side of which consists of two contrasting
curves. Its introduction led to a new, curvilinear style of architecture.
It is not easy to construct and is not very strong as a support, so it is mostly
seen on ‘blind’ archways, tombs, wooden screens and small windows, or else as a decorative
feature over an archway. It seems that it was used mainly for ornamental rather
than for structural reasons.
Nobody seems to have solved the mystery of where the idea of an ogee arch came from.
Examples elsewhere earlier than those found in East Anglia which could suggest a
source of inspiration are hard to find. However, there are a few early examples
surviving in Russia (such as one near a place called Tzarkoe Selo) where they are
seen alongside onion-shaped domes. Many old churches there that have ogee-shaped
features are built of timber, and it happens that the ogee arch has sometimes been
called the keel arch because it resembles the section of a boat, including its keel
and hull, but in reverse. A possibility is that the idea for the ogee shape stems
from a tradition in working with wood.
The above picture shows ogee arch decoration on the front of the Great Gate at Bury
St. Edmunds, which was one of the entrances to the Benedictine Monastery there. Although
the ogee arch is purely decorative, the Gate itself was built for defence purposes,
evidenced by the narrow slits behind some of the niches. The Gate is now a scheduled
Grade 1 monument. The lower part was finished in 1346.
This elaborate canopy with ogee arches on pendants can be seen in the church of St.
Peter and St. Paul at East Harling in Norfolk. The underside of the canopy has a
vaulted ceiling, under which lies a monument to Sir William Chamberlain who died
Below is a picture of a turret with a Russian-style cap at Beccles Church in Suffolk.
The picture above shows the elaborately carved ogee arch over the tomb in Wingfield
Church in Suffolk of Sir John Wingfield who died in 1361.
Notice the cusps and subcusps under the arch.
Below shows an ogee arch over one of the doors at St. Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich.
Above, right: One of the doorways at St. Margaret’s Church at Cley-next-the Sea
n north Norfolk. It is shaped with an ogee arch and hood-mould and is cusped and
subcusped in stone.
Below left: an ogee-shaped window on a house at Brockdish in Norfolk.
Below right: Ogee-shaped window on a building in Long Melford in Suffolk.
Below left is a good example of ogee shapes in ironwork. The photo shows a close-up
of the porch gates at Finningham Church in Suffolk. Below right and below centre
are modern buildings with ogee-shaped roofs at Lowestoft. The smaller building is
a refreshment kiosk and the larger building is a glass pavilion.
The red walls of this house near Flixton in the Waveney Valley help to give emphasis
to the white-painted ogee-shaped windows. (Below) The colour of the walls has recently
This brick-built ogee-shaped porch, which dates from 1685, is at Letheringham Church
Wooden screen gate at Breckles Church in Norfolk with ogee-shaped top.
Wooden pulpit with ogee-shaped decoration in the church at Covehithe on the Suffolk
This parclose screen, which divides off one of two chapels, is at St. Mary’s Church,
Dennington, in Suffolk. Dating from about 1450, it is complete and well-preserved
with original lofts intact and colouring that was renewed in 1845. The ogee shapes
are very elaborately adorned with cusps and crocketing.
Other examples of ogee-shaped work in East Anglia, include:
Brasswork with ogee shapes incorporated in the design is what remains of a memorial
to Sir John Howard and his wife Alice Tendring in Stoke-by-Nayland Church in Suffolk.
Alice was the daughter of Sir William Tendring who has a brass memorial in the same
church depicting him in his full armour. Sir John Howard was the ancestor of the
Dukes of Norfolk.
There are ogee arch doorways at Caston, Dickleburgh, Elsing and Wheatacre churches
The octagonal font at Walsham-le-Willows church in Suffolk has ogee-shaped arches
with leaf crockets and a finial at the top which is flanked by foliage. There is
a band of little faces of animals around the top of the richly-traceried panels of
the bowl. It dates from the first half of the fourteenth century, and is almost
identical to one in Rattlesdon Church.
The screen in the Harling Chapel at East Harling Church in Norfolk has ogee arches.
It has its original colour, a fan canopy, tracery tipped with roses, and much heraldry.
In the spandrels there are carvings of figures and faces, and in the panels there
are birds, owls, dragons, men and a squirrel eating a nut.
The fourteenth century rood screen beneath the chancel arch at St. Mary’s Church
at Grundisburgh in Suffolk has been carefully restored. It has elegant ogee arches
and openwork tracery, embellished with leaf-crockets.
Pulpit with ogee-shaped decoration at Gissing Church in Norfolk.
This fifteenth century wooden screen with ogee-shaped decoration is at Walsham-le-Willows
Church in Suffolk.
Ogee-shaped decoration on this painted wooden medieval screen is at Tivetdhall Church
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Below: Ogee-style window on a building in King’s Lynn in Norfolk, which was designed
by Tree and Price of London.