At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Edwardstone

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




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'you are welcome here at all times'

fortress-like from this side

the perfect country church from this side.

looking east

font and cover

west end of the north aisle

organ at the east end of the aisle




looking west

wall painting

chancedl roof

nave roof


Edwardstone: beautiful and loveable

The summer of 1984 was long and hot. I remember this, or at least it seems so in my memory, because this was the year that I met the woman, just a girl then really, who was to become my wife. She came from Sudbury, and so it was that I got to know the country lanes in the south of the county, the woods and fields that still make this seem quite the most remote part of East Anglia. You don't have to go far off of the Sudbury to Ipswich road to find yourself in forgotten backwaters. There are some fine villages, Boxford and Kersey for example, but mostly the parishes straggle; hamlets cluster at road junctions, and churches sit in fields. There are steep valleys and rolling hills, because south Suffolk is where the Chilterns finally come to die. This can make the landscape secretive and hidden, unfolding before you and closing behind as you walk or cycle across it. Sometimes I have cycled aimlessly along backroads from Hadleigh to Sudbury, and have been quite unable afterwards to trace my journey on a map.

Not far from Boxford, as you climb up towards the Waldingfields, you enter the parish of Edwardstone. There was once a big country house here, but Edwardstone Hall has now gone. Still, the gatehouse and walled park remain, and in the middle of the park, tree-surrounded like a secret, is the church of St Mary. We first found it walking those lanes in that long hot summer, and perhaps that is why I think of it so fondly. But it is such a beautiful place that I think perhaps I would have loved it anyway.

You are welcome here at all times, says the sign at the gate. In spring, the graveyard is fresh and green, the last snowdrops competing with the crowned heads of the new daffodils. From the north side the church can appear fortress-like, the battlemented north aisle wall without a clerestory. But on the south side this is a simple country church. Even so, there is enough of late Medieval grandeur about it to guess exactly where in England you are. This was the cloth country, and Edwardstone was a wealthy parish in the 15th century.

The church is open every day, and so you step into a light, simple, homely space. The 19th century restoration here has left a beautiful rural atmosphere with more than a hint of the 17th century. The nave is cleared of clutter, with pamented stone floors. A simple 13th century octagonal font on a 19th century colonade sits at the west end, domed by a Jacobean font cover. The south windows are filled with late 19th and early 20th century glass of the highest quality.

Madonna and child swordsmen melchizidek angel St Edith 
pampas St Etheldreda, St Edmund and St Margaret

Matching the simple, rural feel of the nave is the roof above, an array of kingposts lit by art nouveau candelabras. The wide north aisle with its elegant 15th century arcade creates a square feel to the nave, making the chancel seem a room off in one corner. The restoration was by George Bodley, and it must be one of the best of the 1870s of a village church. As an example, the west end, where the decalogue boards have been incorporated with a benefaction board to make a triptych above linenfold panelling behind the font, an exquisite juxtaposition. It makes you wonder how much 17th century panelling was ripped out by the Victorians. Here, Bodley positively seems to celebrate it.

Up in the north aisle chapel, beneath Bodley's beautiful organ case, are the memorials of the Brand family, some of whom would have known that panelling when it was new. On the wall is John Brand, who died in 1642. The inscription, as Mortlock reminds us, tells us that he died a freind and lover of pious and godly ministers. This part of Suffolk was a hot bed of puritanism, and many locals would respond to the restoration of the Church of England in 1660 by setting off to the colonies to populate New England, and to give states like Massachusetts and Vermont the reputation for puritanism that they retain to this day. The best of the memorials is the extensive brass to Benjamin and Elizabeth Brand, John's parents. They may well have been putritans too, but their inscription reveals an elegance, a flowering of sentiment, that is touching in any age (the spelling is theirs):

Memoriae Sacrum.
To ye Precious Memory of
Benjamin Brand, of Edwardstone Hal, Esq, and
Elizabeth his wife:
whom, when providence, after 35 yeares conjunction, divided;
Death, after 12 dayes divorcem, reunited:
who, leaveing their rare examples
to 6 sonnes and 6 daughters,
(all nursed with her Unborrowed Milk)
Blest with pooremens prayres: embalmed with numerous teares;
Lye, here reposed.

boys Edwardstone: the brasses Edwardstone: the brasses Edwardstone: the brasses girls
with her unborrowed milk

The chancel is pretty much all the work of CG Hare, and the centrepiece is a remarkably florid reredos of 1910, at a time when Anglican triumphalism was reaching its peak before the long, slow decline after the First World War. The late medieval piscina speaks of a remote time when triumph and confidence of a different kind was in the air at Edwardstone. Today, there is a simplicity, a quietness, infusing one of the loveliest and most welcoming churches in Suffolk.

Simon Knott, April 2007



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