Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic
We were off on an expedition geocaching around West Suffolk and on our way to Little Conard we saw this amazing looking church and just couldn’t resist. It was Stratford St Mary church and is made from a dark coloured flint. As we pulled over we realised there were workmen putting up scaffolding so we were lucky to see this impressive black flint church before it was covered in scaffolding. It looks like all the lead was recently removed from the church roof. I cannot believe that people do this. Around the outside of the church was letters which seem to be inscriptions and possibly the marks of the Mors family merchant in Gothic script. There is nothing else like them in East Anglia. The inside is lovely too with angels on the cambered nave roof and marble columns on the chancel arch decorated with clustered shafts of Devonshire marble. There are some wonderful wall painting in the chancel from 1904 by Alexander Jamieson painted in bone and turpentine on canvas and fixed with white lead and varnish. The Minton tile work in blue, green, brown and black was beautiful. In the chapel, there was a coloured screen and a tombstone with a double-cross from the 1400’s. On the floor are some impressive Ledger stones of Robert Clark of Stratford Hall in 1731 and Nicholas Brage of Royden in 1698. The font bowl is supported by eight marble pillars and decorated with a scene of the apostles. It is also inlaid with patterns of coloured marble dated 1858. Behind it is the minstrel’s gallery and there is also an impressive parclose screen separating the chapel in green and patterns. The cache was quickly found near to where we parked the car.
After we swapped our car so that Charlie could drive we drove through Long Melford so stopped to make at quick find at the URC church. The first official cache on our list was at St James church at Stansted. One set of Charlie’s grandparents were confirmed in this church on the same day in 1900. It wasn’t until several years later that they met while his grandfather was on leave from the Navy that they met officially in the pub that his great-grandparents ran. The church was not open when we arrived but while Mike and I were looking for the geocache which was in a walkway not far from the church Charlie had rung a churchwarden who very kindly came to open the church for us. The red-themed tapestry kneelers all standing on the pews made for an impressive sight. There was a Queen Anne Royal Coat of Arms and a Ledger stone for Thomas Lloyd Clerk, rector of this parish from 1735. The tile work in the sanctity was very beautiful with four representing the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and a Pelican which symbolises Christ.
The next stop was at St Mary’s church in Glemsford. Unfortunately, the church was closed so we went to collect the numbers for the multi while Charlie was chatting to a local about the village being the last place that the riot act was read.
In 1885 working men were given the right to vote for the first time but the employers of the Glemsford men disagreed with this decision and refused to allow polling booths to be set up in Glemsford. The men were would then have to walk to Long Melford to vote thus losing a day’s wages. However, they still insisted on voting and around 400 men from the village descended on Long Melford to demand their own polling station. After this, they proceeded to visit all the local pubs and the riot which ensued caused such havoc that the military had to be called in from Bury St Edmunds to restore order. It was the last time the Riot Act was read out in England and is reported to be the reason that Glemsford got its nickname of ‘Little Egypt’ – as the men were said to fight like Egyptians.
We drove to the final for Glemsford’s Church Micro and found a good spot to park but could not find the final which is embarrassing as there are no other DNF’s listed. I still wonder what we missed or maybe our coordinates were not correct.
Soon after the beginning of the nineteenth century a range of new industries such as horsehair weaving, an iron foundry, a flax works and coconut matting started in Melford. In horsehair weaving was introduced to Suffolk in the 1830’s by John Churchyard and this initially concentrated on the production of crinolines for ladies skirts and horsehair cloth for seating in railway carriages. By 1851 there were three horsehair manufacturers in Melford employing over 200 men women and children – men were mainly employed as foremen and for maintaining the looms but the majority of workers were women and children. According to the 1851 census the youngest child employed as a ‘horsehair server’ was Henry Bullock who was only four years old and whose job would have been to keep the weaver (probably his mother) supplied with the lengths of horsehair. The coconut matting industry first appears in Melford around 1851 and by the 1880s a large factory was built by George Whittle behind Cocoanut House in Hall Street. The coconuts were brought by rail to Melford, unloaded and then transported by horse and cart to the factory where the fibres were woven into lengths of matting. The finished mats were then sent back to London to be sold.
As you approach the St Mary the Virgin church in Cavendish the first thing you see the crooked spire but inside it is the amazing 16th-century Flemish reredos in gilt and paint showing the crucifixion and set in a frame by Sir Ninian Compe. It is so beautiful. There was a little Medieval glass as well as other wonderful stained glass windows and a lovely painted ceiling in the sanctuary. The octagonal font is very damaged but there is an intact tomb chest of Sir George Colt who died in 1570. The final for the geocache, which we couldn’t find, took us past the village pond, named The Waiver. The name is old English and means swamp. In days gone by this was where carts wetted their wheels to seal the wood.
One of the really cool things about this area is the pargeting on the buildings. Pargeting is the adding of decoration in relief of the plastering on the outside of half-timber houses, or sometimes covering the whole wall. Clare has some particularly nice examples of this form of decoration.
St Peter and St Paul church in Clare has some good hatchments and a George III royal coat of arms. It was only after Henry VIII moved to assert crown authority as the head of the church in England that royal coats of arms began to appear in churches. The Clare church also had some excellent stained glass windows, clergy stalls from 1617 and Jacobean carved choir stalls with poppyheads from 1569. It had nave arcades and a string course with grotesques. The most important thing to happen though we met not one but two Bishops. The Rt Revd Martin Seeley, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and the Rt Revd Dr Mike Harrison, Suffragan Bishop of Dunwich were walking 80 miles on their 10-day Lent pilgrimage visiting churches around Suffolk on their way. The expedition began at St Stephen’s Chapel, Bures, and finished at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, having followed a route that took in the villages of Cavendish, Keddington, Little Thurlow, Exning, Worlington, as well towns Sudbury, Mildenhall, Haverhill, and Newmarket. This was a similar route to that which we are following ourselves today. We called in to see Clare Castle which is a Motte and Bailey castle and is only a ruin these days. We looked at the building which it had been suggested we exhibit in before we went to Melton. It was not as remote as we thought as it is right beside the main road in Clare but the area itself would not have been big enough as it was broken into two rooms. The church micro in Clare was part of a series where you had to collect information from other caches so we just found a geocache at the Clare castle site. I found it immediately but getting the nano out of its hiding place required a bit of manipulation.
St John the Baptist church in Stoke-by-Clare had a one-handed Turret clock. It is not broken but was made that way and dates from before 1500’s. It is probably the oldest working clock works in Britain still in its original place. It still keeps very good time too. Much of the wall painting is barely recognisable but the colour scheme of the Doom painting behind the organ is unusual as it has a pale green background.
There was a good collection of monumental brasses, some underneath the carpets placed to protect them. I easily found the church micro near the wall beside the dovecote. Then we went to Wixoe where the church was closed but again I found the cache with a good hint. St Leonards at Wixoe had a brick porch with an angled sundial and the 12th-century Norman south door had scalloped capitals and zig-zag ornamentation on the arch. St Mary’s at Sturmer was also closed and the cache was easy to find but harder to put back.
The village of Kedington is locally called ‘Ketton’. We visited the church first and it had 10 hatchments to members of the Barnardiston family. Mike was very happy as hatchments are at the top of his list of most interesting things in churches. There was a Jacobean altar tomb to Sir Thomas Barnardiston in his armour who died in 1610 as well as a fantastic wall monument to his two wives.. There were other impressive tombs to this family too. There is a hall pew for the Barnardiston’s with a dado on the front. The paintings on the dado were destroyed but the colour scheme and designs are known and date from about 1430. There is a rail all around the altar which is quite unusual and a 9th-century Saxon cross. The geocache eluded us. All three of us looked for it very well but found nothing which is very frustrating especially when you consider that it was only replaced a few days ago.
Next, we took a short detour to pick up six more churches and geocaches very close to each other at Little Wratting, Great Wratting, Great Thurlow, Little Thurlow, Little Bradley and Great Bradley. At Little Wratting St Mary’s church was closed but Mike found the cache easily in an obvious geocaching spot on the church side of the ditch. St Mary’s church in Little Wratting was also closed but again Mike found the cache, this time in a spot where I had already looked – obviously not very well. LOL
At Great Thurlow, the church was also closed and the cache took a bit more searching for. We looked and looked around the bridge and then Charlie saw it in plain sight. We had a close encounter with a tractor while we were all standing on the narrow bridge. He was a bit bigger than us. St Peter’s church in Little Thurlow was open and it was a very good church with huge poppyheads on the pew ends and a square font. There was a massive alabaster tomb and three hatchments to Sir Stephen Soame who died 1619 and his ancestors. There was also a stained glass window displaying the heraldic arms of the Soame family. The main stained glass window over the altar was a wonderful ‘Last Supper’ and another one beside it was ‘Lazarus Come Forth’. The bell tower had 5 bells and a wonderful Ascension window. We were let in by a gentleman walking two dogs. When it came to finding the cache we spent way too long looking on the wrong side of the road but then found it easily enough.
The tower of All Saints church in Little Bradley was round at the bottom and octagonal on the top which was very unusual. I looked and looked for the geocache then Charlie came to the same place, reached up and said ‘Is this what you are looking for’. The Conard Strutt!! That is a little dance that Charlie does when he finds a geocache.
Charlie and I thought that St Mary’s church at Great Bradley was closed but Mike found an open door and found some nice stained glass windows. Charlie and I were more interested in finding a bench and set about making sandwiches for lunch after I had found the church micro nice and quickly.
St Margaret of Antioch church at Cowlinge was also closed but we made an easy find. We are having quite a bad run of finding churches closed this afternoon. However we saw our first lambs of the season, a sure sign of spring, and they were black.
All Saints at Wickhambrook and All Saints at Stansfield were both closed so we found the geocache and moved quickly on. St Mary’s church at Hawkedon was open and we found a royal coat of arms that started as Charles II but then the C was changed to an A, for Anne, and finally to a G for George II. There were hatchments to Philip Hammond and Edmund Plume both of Hawkedon Hall and some good wall monuments. The church had 15th-century poppyheads and a lovely memorial stained glass window to Orbell Plampin Oakes and his wife Julia.
All Saints church at Boxted was also closed and the cache was found surprisingly fast with no hint. This was an amazing looking church with monuments and tombs but we could only see that through the window. We are going to have to try to return to this one as it looks very special. We had a great view of the 14th-century Boxted Hall down the hill, it is a moated hall. The Weller-Poley family have lived in the Hall since 1392 and still do.
St Andrew’s church in Brockley is a plain church with a nice altar and a colourful reredos. It also had a set of medieval clappers from 1485. I went to find the cache but despite looking in the obvious place, an old traction engine, I couldn’t find it but Charlie found it straight away. I think I was getting very tired by then as we had had quite a day.
Rede has the highest church and is the highest village in Suffolk. We saw the Suffolk flag – St George’s cross with St Edmund’s crown with three arrows in a shield. The altar frontal and the stone reredos were both lovely. This geocache was a multi but we were unable to look of the cache as our numbers were incomplete. We were unable to find Rev. Cheryl Collins phone number anywhere, which was one of the clues. It looks like the vicar and the phone number may have changed.
At St Petronilla‘s church in Whepstead, there was a lovely stained glass memorial window from 1924 featuring St Petronilla and a Victorian chancel arch in the style of a Norman one. This is the only church dedicated to St Petronilla in England and the other unusual thing is the rood-loft stairway which is cut into a window bay also has a piscina drain on one of the steps. Mike found the cache after a long look in the tree at the side of the walkway. He climbed about 6 ft up the bank and found it at the base of the tree. Just as he found it he was muggled by a couple walking a dog in the field. The dog gave us away by rushing up and barking madly. We explained about geocaching and they were interested and quite surprised. St Whepstead Baptist, we made a very quick find of the cache but the log couldn’t be signed as it was wet and mouldy or rusty. Yucky!!. It had not been found since September 2017 but it was still there but in desperate need of maintenance.
All Saints church at Hawstead was closed but I made an easy find. I’m glad it was winter as it would have been very hard to find in summer as it was hanging in the hedge. In summer with all the green growth on the hedge, it would be almost impossible to find.
At All Saints in Lawshall there was no geocache and it was closed but we did find our last cache of the day at the Lawshall United Reformed Church. We didn’t understand the hint but we didn’t need it as we found it without any problems.
So we had a great haul for the day looking for 25 Church Micro and finding 21. We returned to Charlie’s place and had a nice ham casserole that he had made for us. On his mantlepiece is a very cool teapot that was made especially for him. It is entitled “On The Huh” – A Suffolk phrase meaning ‘not quite straight’ and the title of Charlie’s book on the Suffolk dialect.