The zig-zag is one of the most common motifs appearing on buildings dating from the
time of the Normans, especially around windows and doorways. It is often referred
to as the chevron, a French word referring to the way rafters meet at the ridge of
a roof. It is reminiscent of the arrow-shaped openings and motifs of the Anglo-Saxons.
The motif was varied by changing the arrangements of the diagonal lines and the
degree of the angles at which they were joined. Although basically very simple,
it was nevertheless very effective. No doubt a major reason for its use was because
its execution did not require a great deal of creative skill, and was relatively
easy to carve in stone.
Above are two pictures of south doorways with zig-zag decoration in stone that date
from Norman times. The one on the left is at Gissing Church in Norfolk, and the
one on the right is at All Saints Church, Kirby Cane, in Norfolk. In this archway,
the inner order of zig-zags is set at right angles to the wall and the hood-mould
has unusual flower motifs.
On the left is the Norman north doorway at St. Andrew’s Church in Wissett in Suffolk.
It was used as the main doorway until it was superseded in the fifteenth century
by a new south doorway. As well as zig-zags, it has scallop and billet motifs.
The photo above left shows the very elaborate and finely carved archway of the north
doorway at St. Margaret’s Church, Hales, in Norfolk. Of Norman date, it has zig-zags,
bobbins and stars, and on the hood-mould there are stars and wheels. The doorway
shown above right is at Shingham Church in Norfolk.
The picture above is of a timber-framed house at Coddenham in Suffolk that dates
from about 1500. The pargeting and geometric patterns, including zig-zags, dates
from about 1640. The house was once the village post office and prior to that the
‘Live and Let Live’ inn.
The ideas for many of the geometric and strapwork patterns in pargeting probably
came to East Anglia from the Continent. At the same period that there was an influx
of skilled plasterers from the Low Countries, Flemish and German pattern books were
being translated into English.
Common morifs apart from zig-zags are squares, circles, lattices, ropes, herringbones,
scallops and fantails. Some patterns may have some symbolic significance. In Suffolk,
for example, a cable or rope pattern may be linked to the hemp industry that flourished
here for a time.
Other examples of zig-zag motifs in Norfolk churches are at:
Heckingham where the south doorway is described by Arthur Mee as ‘one of the finest
pieces of craftsmanship the Normans left in East Anglia’. The arch is rich in different
motifs, including zig-zag, bobbin and stars, and the hood-mould has wheels. Such
lavishness may have been due to the closeness of Langley Abbey which in Norman times
was of considerable importance. One of the abbots of the Abbey was buried here in
Thurton where there is a richly carved Norman south doorway with zig-zags on the
arch, and two orders of scallops at right angles to the wall on the hood-mould.
Kenninghall where the Norman south doorway has a repeated motif carved in stone on
its arch that represents St. Andrew’s Cross.