At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary's chapel, Minsmere

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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www.suffolkchurches.co.uk - a journey through the churches of Suffolk

Eastbridge Chapel

Eastbridge Chapel Eastbridge Chapel Eastbridge Chapel

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Eastbridge is a small settlement just to the north of Leiston, actually in the parish of Theberton. The hamlet is tiny and off the beaten track, but is well known for two reasons. Firstly, it is the nearest settlement to the RSPB reserve at Minsmere. Secondly, it has a good pub called the Eels Foot. If you head south of the pub you reach a footpath marked to Minsmere Sluice about fifty metres along the road. This is a beautiful walk, especially on a summer day, although not undemanding. Part of the walk crosses a field which was high with maize on the sunny August day I made the journey, and it was a bit like being in France. For a good part of the walk, you amble beside the Minsmere river, dappled and sparkly under the trees. I saw a marsh harrier off to the north, dipping and rolling over the banks. The landscape was rich and green, but wild, increasingly untouched as I headed east towards the sea. And then, up ahead, was a first sight of the ruin.

It stands on a knoll in the fields, about a mile and a half along the path from the Eels Foot, the white dome of Sizewell B nuclear reactor about a mile to the south of it. The ruin is about ten metres long, perhaps four wide. The north and south walls stand fairly tall, broken down where the windows were. The west wall has gone. The east wall on the other hand appears to have a concrete block built into it. As you get closer, this resolves itself into a WWII pillbox - that is to say, a machine gun emplacement. The age of the chapel is suggested by the surviving core around an opening in the shape of what must have been a Norman doorway.

The little chapel was, in fact, part of the church of a Premonstratensian community, an order who would later move to Leiston and build a grand Abbey there in the 14th Century. They probably left this site because it was so vulnerable to the sea. We know they went to Leiston in 1382, exactly 200 years after the community first formed, in which case this building must date from the end of the 12th Century. However, it is possible that it continued in some sort of use after the community left, perhpas as a retreat house. It was repaired and elaborated, perhaps in the early 15th Century, but must have gone into a decline soon after.

There are no signs telling you to keep out, but the site is surrounded a barbed wire fence and a ditch that is about a metre and a half deep. The county council website warns you that there is no access to the site, but I found it was possible to walk to the chapel. Entering the machine gun emplacement I found that somewhat surreally the gun slot facing south lines up exactly on the dome of the Sizewell nuclear reactor.

If you carry on eastwards after visiting the ruin you come after half a mile to Minsmere beach, a wild spot with no vehicle access. Even in the height of summer, with the crowded beach at Walberswick visible a mile or so to the north, I was almost alone on it. The four mile round trip is worth it for this alone, never mind the ruin of the chapel as well.

       

Simon Knott, February 2021

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Eastbridge Chapel Eastbridge Chapel Eastbridge Chapel
Eastbridge Chapel Sizewell from Eastbridge Chapel Eastbridge Chapel
Eastbridge Chapel

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