September was a busy month. While I struggle to catch up, editing shots and posting them with a hopefully informative narrative, I keep snapping and so will mix in current shots.
Anyway, coming up, Wissington, Bures in Suffolk and Great Ryburgh in Norfolk. A few bits and bobs and then we’ll have caught up!
Start of the two day road trip.
I was awake before five with my allergies giving me hell. It was so bad I thought I had a cold, but it went off during the day, allergies is the best fit, but as I was feeling better later, it don’t really matter. Anyway, we have breakfast, I load the car having packed the night before, and I drive Jools to the factory. And It’s just me and the open road. Well, apart from all other drivers in south east England who were driving too. In fact I got caught in a train of cars heading to Folkestone behind a Dutch camper van travelling at 25mph.
However, onto the motorway and into the rush hour traffic of Ashford and then Maidstone before the fun that is the M25 heading into Dartford. It is odd that the most important part of the motorway is the corssing and we have to pay to use it, even if it has already been paid for and it causes god-almighty traffic jams. It’s not that the money is reinvested back in the road system, as you will see later when I moan about the East Anglain road system with its myriad of bottlenecks and planning disasters.
I get through the queues, pay my two quid to find the southbound traffic the other side of the tunnel is at least three times as worse. And then there is the hjoy of the A12 through Essex. How can it be that a simple road causes so much pain? Is it the mad driving, the racing to get to the next junction, the pointless jams at Chelmsford. I mean who would want to go to Chelsmford? But once into the quiet county of Suffolk, I was able to turn off and head into the Dedham Vale. Or would have if the road signs would have made sense! Does it sound like I’m complaining all the time? I don’t like traffic, queues or Essex. So, maybe driving through Essex in the rush hour was planning for trouble.
I switched on the sat nav, programmed the first port of call, Stoke by Nayland, and set off. I was lucky that my friend, Simon, had provided me with a list of fine churches to visit. All of the churches I would visit this morning would be splendid. I saw a sign for the village of Boxted, and realise that is on my list, so I head there, driving towards Church Hill, which my spidy senses tell me I might find the church. I park on the small high street through the village, with the church on my left. I leave the sat nav in the car switched on, I thought there would be no thieves in such a wonderful spot.
And I was right.
St Peter was quite spectacular, to me, inside, it was like a theatre, with a gallery containing seats and the organ, with the later being the centre of the stage. It was a delight, and is quite possibly my favourite church of all. Some doing, but I loved the church. But, I had to move on. But I tell the folks clearing bushes for the church wall how much I loved it. She had only been in once, at Christmas, but though the acoustics were good.
It was only a five minute drive to Soke by Nayland, I found the church and parked on the main street of the village and walked up to the churchyard noting the worker’s vans parked near the porch. This could be trouble I thought.
It has fine glass, memorials and tiles, but I did have a run in with one of the workers. I wanted to photograph the windows, and asked if I could get by. NO. I was told. We’re busy. But you’re just talking. No, we’re busy, and we might hot you on the head, said the stage erector. I siad I would be careful, and he retorted that he would not be held responsible if I had an accident. All in all it put a damper on the church, so I got my shots and left. I mean I can always go back.
I stopped at the small book shop at the cross roads and by a Sherlock Holmes novel to read if I got bored that evening, and head off for the next church.
It is a short drive to Polstead, the next on the list. Now, I did not plan this and I am getting the feeling that I am retracing my tracks already, in fact I was to pass through Stoke by Nayland some four times during the day. Oh well, its no real hardship.
Polstead lies in a shallow valley, with the village scattered up one side. I assume that the church will be on the highest point. As there are only four roads in and out of the village, it shouldn’t be hard to find. I drive past the attractive cillage pond, more like a lake and head up through the village, past many wonderful looking ancient houses, but find no church. Back down into the centre of the village and out another road, and still no church. This just leaves the road I came in on, and so head back down through the village, past the pond onto the main road, or what counts as the main road, and a few yards further along is a small white sign pointing up the other side of the valley into some woods.
A new road has been laid, and there is a good sized car park, so I abandon the car, grab the cameras and walk into the church year. From outside St Mary looks something like a typical small Suffolk church, others might feel differently about that, but nothing too spectacular. But once inside on is met with brick-topped arches and it filled with the most wonderful light. I am awestruck, and glad that I do not research these churches beforehand so my breath can be taken away by the beauty of these churches.
After getting my shots I go back outside, taking a tray of quinces that are on offer and deposit a couple of quid in the box as a donation.
I program in Wissington into the sat nav and set off. Soon I see we are to go through Nayland, so I decide if I can find a parking space I will stop here first and snap the church. Nayland is a stunning looking large village, but, it knows it. I wanted to warm to the village, but seems to be more Aldborough that traditional working village, I could be wrong, but judging by the quantity of high powered sports cars parked in the village square, I get the feeling I am right.
I find a place to park, and see the church framed down Church Mews making a fine shot. So I snap that and enter the churchyard, walking round t the main entrance through the porch. Inside it is another fine church, built on a grand scale. I really warm to the church and am happy to snap it.
When I parked the car I saw some fashionably dressed ladies sipping coffees outside a shop, so I go in search of a cup for myself, to find it an arts shop which held classes for children to pain ceramics, with a coffee bar as a side line. Having just two tables, and a queue of several people, I assume I won’t get a table and hope I can find a place somewhere else. I walk back to the car, load up and drive off towards Wissington.
Nayland. All villages around seem to be by or next to Nayland. Best go to Nayland to see what it was like.
I had programmed the sat nav to take me to Wissington, more of that next, but I saw that we would go through Nayland, I decided to turn up the main road through the village and find a place to park.
Nayland is pretty as a picture, maybe even chocolate box pretty. But it knows it. Nayland, twinned with Aldburgh!
The streets were full of sports cars and top end range rovers. Pubs had been converted to houses, which happens everywhere, but it gave off, at least to me, an air of being better. Better than me.
I glimpsed St James along the line of Church Mews. I walked along to the church, found that the entrance was round the other side of the church, but it was easy to cut through a metal gate and made my way inside.
Most recently, I visited St James as part of the anniversary celebrations – of another church. I’ll explain why in a moment, but an observation first: I like St James a lot. I like Nayland too – Suffolk has far fewer chocolate box villages than you might be led to expect, but Nayland is one of them.
The church is shoehorned into a tight site among houses that are nearly as old; only to the north is there room for the graveyard to expand. Because of this, you might be tempted to view it only from this side; but this would be a mistake, for although it is grand enough, it is probably the least interesting of the four sides. At any church, a walk around the outside is recommended. Here, it is essential.
As I say, I came here last because of celebrations It was the centenary of the little building on the north-east edge of St James’s churchyard. This is the Catholic church of the Sacred Heart. Before the Reformation, of course, St James itself was a Catholic church; but Henry VIII and two of his children threw the Priests out of the Temple, and now Nayland’s Catholics leave their Mass under the shadow of the glory that was once theirs. Sacred Heart is a tiny little church, and St James is vast; but as so often these days, it is Sacred Heart that has the larger congregation. So it was that the centenary Mass was held in the big sister church. It must have been many years since St James hosted a high pontifical Mass, but it seemed very comfortable with it.
I have several reasons for particularly liking St James. Firstly, he is my favourite Saint, and his church here is a glory to him; it is furnished in the Anglo-catholic manner of the early 20th century, with Stations of the Cross set in the walls and a grand ritualist sanctuary. But it does not have the pomposity or the triumphalism you find in other large Suffolk Anglican churches like Lavenham and Clare. Here, the feeling is of a rural church at ease with itself, not the proto-urbanity that comes with Minton tiles and polished woodwork.
Having said that, the work here is of a high quality, and very well-cared for. Quite frankly, I think this church is a credit to its village and parish.
But let us survey the outside first. St James was a 15th century cloth church, rebuilt on the wealth of the cloth traders. You step down into the seriously civic south porch, or continue anti-clockwise to the west tower, behind the houses, where the west door has four steps – up. Most curious. The tower was never rebuilt; it is still the original 14th century one, and the late-medieval battlements are, in fact, Victorian.
Carrying on southwards, we come to a third entrance, and the grandest. William Abell’s porch was given as part of a bequest on the eve of the Reformation. Rather curiously, it faces westwards at the end of the south aisle, and is no longer in regular use.
A narrow path leads up the south side of the church, with a wall and gardens beyond. It takes us past a grand red brick rood loft stair turret, an indicator that the screen went right the way across the church as at Blythburgh, Southwold, Lowestoft St Margaret and other grand churches of the same date.
The eastend is like a little city of chancel and chapel, including several original doors. Then, you are back round into the open churchyard.
We step in, then, through the north porch. The nave is immediately reminiscent of that at Framlingham, with the organ high in its gallery, the well recut font in the north-west corner, and solid pillars leading to a bold clerestory. The aisles spread beyond the arcades, and end in fine modern chapels; that in the north aisle is particularly appealing. The roof is reminiscent of Blythburgh in its camber, but is entirely devoid now of angels and monograms.
The chancel is high and grand, and if the stone reredos is a little severe then this is adequately compensated for by John Constable’s best altar piece. I am assuming that there is now a replica in place, as at Brantham. Christ blesses the bread and wine with a haunting expression on his face; you wonder what Constable might have done if he hadn’t achieved success as a landscape painter.
If you can get access to the vestry, you will find the memorial to William Jones, vicar for the last quarter of the 18th century. His place in modern Anglican history is secure and undeniable, and yet his name is almost entirely forgotten. At a time when the Church of England was almost entirely the preserve of a boorish squirarchy, he led a group of intellectuals who explored the spiritual nature of the church, and attempted to reintroduce ideas to their parishioners like the real presence in the Eucharist. He made his mark felt in many corners of the English Church. One of his early followers was John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement. Another was the father of John Keble, who went on to be the inspiration behind the Oxford Movement. Yet another person inspired by the legacy of his spiritual writings was the young John Henry Newman. It seems incredible that the catalyst behind the two great breakaway movements of the last 250 years should have been a quiet clergyman in this Suffolk backwater, although in the late 18th and early 19th century the name ‘Jones of Nayland’ was well-known.
For brass-hunters, there is much to see – there are six, all told, to the Sekyn, Hacche and Davy families. There is also some really good modern glass, particularly in the north aisle.
Why is this grand church not on the ecclesiological tourist circuit? Well, it is all a bit Victorianised, I suppose. But as on the outside, there are some medieval survivals inside, and the most remarkable of these are hanging up on the south aisle wall. These are the panels of the medieval roodscreen (the frame and boarding is all Victorian) and show eight figures. The first shows St Cuthbert – the football in his hand is in fact a head; the second and third are two popular Saints in East Anglia, our own St Edmund and the Papal St Gregory (you can tell that the furious Anglican reformers didn’t like him). The fourth is a King, the fifth shows the legend of St Edward the Confessor (you can see this in stone at Wordwell) the next two are Kings, and the last is probably St Thomas of Canterbury.
I’m assuming that the screen must have been in situ until the Victorian restoration.
If you can get permission to climb to the organ loft, then the view of the church from there is wonderful, and particularly that of the roof and clerestory.
Don’t leave without examining the funeral bier in the south aisle; it is one of Suffolk’s biggest, and obviously designed for grand processions for civic worthies. It is a reminder that, as late as the 19th century, Nayland was a significant place, before the second industrial revolution faded it into obscurity.
Tagged: , St James , Nayland , Suffolk , church , jelltex , jelltecks