At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Andrew, Bramfield

At the sign of the Barking lion... - a journey through the churches of Suffolk


hover to read,
click to enlarge:

detached tower

14th century nave window

chancel east window

looking east

shrine recess

shrine recess angels

nave piscina

early 20th century sanctuary

chancel piscina



garter flag


Bramfield - simply beautiful

Some churches are simply beautiful - maybe I am getting sentimental in my old age, but I'd come to Bramfield as often as I could even if it had nothing of any interest inside it. The exterior is so gorgeous that it wouldn't bother me if the inside was now a furniture storeroom smelling of gas. It isn't, I hasten to add, but this is a church where you'll be as pleased as punch if you find it on a sunny day.

The thing everyone remembers about Bramfield, of course, is that it has a detached tower. It is the only detached round tower in Suffolk, and it might remind you of something similar at Little Snoring in Norfolk. However, there it is clear that a church was attached to the tower, then demolished and rebuilt to the north. It is hard to think that this ever happened at Bramfield, and I do not think this tower has ever had a building attached to it. It is unusual in that it is older than the body of the church (most round towers are attached to churches that show evidence of being originally older than the tower) but, of course, the church may also be a rebuilding on its original site, and probably was.

What you see is now almost entirely 14th century, under a lovely thatched roof. St Andrew has one of the best collections of headstops in the county, and I reproduce a few of them below - just click on them to see them enlarged. There is also a very well preserved green man on the eastern eaves of the nave, and on the other side, rather curiously, what look like two giant shellfish, but are probably garlands of flowers - we will remember them once we get inside.

Bramfield headstop Bramfield headstop Bramfield headstop Bramfield headstop
Bramfield headstop Bramfield headstop Bramfield headstop Bramfield headstop
Bramfield green man Bramfield headstop Bramfield garlands

I said that a visit here would be enjoyable even if there was nothing inside - in fact, Bramfield has an interior of great interest, including one of the most beautiful rood screens in East Anglia. It rather belies the simple Victorian restoration of the chancel , the pompous 20th century refitting of the chancel - in a way, these only enhance its glory. It is quite late, probably early 16th century, and is a riot of vaulting, gesso-work, cusping and colouring. Among the gessoed motifs are the flowers we saw on the eaves outside. There were eight Saint panels, and five survive - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and also St Mary of Magdala. The first two, on the north side, were repainted by the Victorians, but much survives on all five panels in the way of gesso work.

One of East Anglia's loveliest screens
Matthew, Mark Luke, John Mary of Magdala
Bramfield screen detail Bramfield screen detail Bramfield screen detail Bramfield screen detail

Bramfield was the site of a significant medieval shrine, and the recess for it survives. You can make out the outline of the wooden crucifix that once stood against the back of it, and there are faint surviving paintings of Angels of the Precious Blood around it.

Perhaps more remarkable is the grand memorial in the chancel by Nicholas Stone for Arthur and Elizabeth Coke. This is probably Stone's best work in East Anglia. Arthur died in 1629. His wife had died in childbirth two years earlier, and it is her effigy that makes the memorial remarkable, because she lies lifesize with her infant daughter beneath his kneeling figure.

Arthur and Elizabeth Coke
Elizabeth Coke Elizabeth and baby daughter Coke daughter Coke inscription

As if this wasn't enough, Bramfield is home to another one of Suffolk's most famous memorials: this is the ledger stone to Bridgett Applethwaite, formerly Bridgett Nelson: ...after the fatigues of a married life bravely born by her with Incredible Patience for four years and three quarters bating three weeks; and after the Enjoiment of the Glorious Freedom of an Easy and Unblemish't widowhood, for four years and upwards, She resolved to run the risk of a second Marriage-bed. But DEATH forbade the banns, and having with an Apopleptick dart (the same instrument with which he had formerly dispatch't her Mother) Touch't the most vital part of her brain. She must have fallen Directly to the ground (as one Thunder-strook) if she had not been catch't and supported by her Intended Husband. Of which invisible bruise, after a Struggle for above sixty hours, with that Grand Enemy of Life (but the certain and MercifulFriend to Helpless Old Age) In Terrible Convulsions, Plaintive Groans or Stupefying Sleep, without recovery of her speech or senses, She dyed on ye 12th day of September in ye year of Our Lord 1737 and of her own Age 44.

Mortlock claims that the Ecclesiological Society, in its description of this church in its magazine in 1846, thought that the inscription on Applethwaite's memorial was so very revolting and profane that we shall not defile the pages of our publication by reproducing it, which probably tells you a lot of what you need to know about the kind of people involved in the inception of the Ecclesiological Society; although not the wonderful people who run it today, I hasten to add.

Curiously, there is another ledger stone beside it to another Bridgett Nelson, who died aged 59 six years earlier. Apparently, she never married.

DEATH forbade the banns Another Bridgett Nelson



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