At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Nicholas, Hintlesham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Hintlesham chancel

St Nicholas (detail)   I had passed this big church regularly for fifteen years before I ever went inside. It stands on the busy Ipswich to Sudbury road in Hintlesham village, near to where the road goes through a series of gutwrenching 90 degree turns to circumnavigate the pile of Hintlesham Hall, and incidentally, to reveal the old field pattern by running along what were the sides and ends of the medieval strips. Hintlesham Hall was once the home of the Timperley family, but is now one of the county's most famous and expensive hotels.

I first went inside this church on a day in early April back in 2001. On that bright spring morning, the churchyard was full of greenness, and a richness I has not previously seen that year. On the south side of the church, ivy clustered enthusiastically over ancient graves, the grass was dark and luscious, the trees were coming into leaf, and in the air was a fecundity of which sex guru and one time resident of this parish, Henry Havelock Ellis, would doubtless have approved.

Coming back in 2009, I was not wholly surprised to discover that the ivy had been cleared from the graves, and indeed everything about the church and its graveyard spoke of love and care. And, as is often the way with such places, the church is open every day.

A modern porch hides the flint chequers of a typical Decorated south wall; and this is a typical Decorated church, and therefore not typical at all for Suffolk. The door opens into a rather dim, even mysterious interior, which is refreshingly unsanitised. It feels old. The benches make the nave feel rather crowded, but you step beneath the medieval rood beam into a chancel which has been cleared of all clutter. On the north side of the chancel is a rather remarkable object, a large table-top memorial now turned on end and bolted to the wall. It remembers Captayne John Timperley, son of Nicholas Timperley of Hintlesham Hall, for whose pyous memorie his loving wife caused this memoriall too too little to expresse either his deserte or her affection. It is, the inscription concludes, a silent and sadd epitaph writt in teares. Captayne John stands in full armour, his helmet and musket decorating the panelling of his portrait.

 Captayne John Timperley helmet and musket Captayne John Timperley Captayne John Timperley

Opposite to John Timperley, his father and grandfather are remembered with their wives and children on a rather battered alabaster memorial. The Timperleys were recusant Catholics, and seem to have reached some accomodation with the authorities that didn't involve them being hung, drawn or quartered, although they did lose all their property in the end. Unlike the Kytsons at Hengrave, of course, who seem to have had the power to negotiate themselves out of even this position. Curiously, the church guidebook, dated 2000, refers to the Timperleys as papists! Perhaps the writer didn't realise that this is a term of abuse.

There are some huge grotesque corbels in the chancel, and the squint in the north wall shows that the vestry was once a chapel, possibly a chantry to the Timperleys. It would have been converted to secular use in the 1540s. The stairway to the roodloft in the south wall is one of the best preserved in Suffolk, and its Tudor brick outline is excellent. It is interesting to see how far back the upper exit is set from the chancel arch. It must have been a big one, clearly intended for regular liturgical use. The Tudor brick shows that this stairway is late, and suggests the importance of the roodloft on the eve of the Reformation.

An image niche in the north aisle would have accompanied an altar against the screen. It now contains a modern image of St Nicholas, perhaps not completely different to that which it would have contained 500 years ago. Also in the south aisle, look out for the etched quarries in the window glass with their memorial inscriptions, and the churchwarden's initials and date on a roof beam, WV 1759. He is probably the William Vesey in the graveyard. The font is typically East Anglian; in good condition, and set rather gloomily under the organ gallery. There is a scrap of a surviving St Christopher wall painting to the north of it. Elswehere, paintings, memorabilia and pictures are all nice little touches. Generally, this feels like a building which is really used - I kept expecting other people to pop in.

I wandered back outside, and around to the east side of the graveyard, where there are some very fine imposing 19th and early 20th century headstones, and then to secluded north side of the graveyard, where the gravespace was extended in the 1920s, apparently a gift of land from the adjacent pub. It is good that Hintlesham people can still be buried in their own village.

This has been a joint parish with Chattisham for about 350 years, and the churches stand about a mile apart from each other, separated by a valley of meadows and woods. The Victorian school building is still in use for its original purpose, still using the names of both villages; it is one of the smallest in Suffolk. There is also a modern Community Hall, again bearing the names of both villages. This busy place has a half-decent pub, and when I came here in 2001 it still had a petrol station, a rare thing in the outback then - and rarer now, for it has since closed..

Of course, this isn't really the outback. A brisk stroll eastwards will bring you, in thirty minutes or so, to the edge of Ipswich, and the Chantry housing estate, Suffolk's largest. Nowadays, the Timperleys would find the name of that estate rather ironic, I think. The church guide, which I mentioned earlier, is really rather good. It is informative and often amusing (if slightly eccentric on the subject of the Reformation). It costs 2.50, one of the most expensive I have come across. But this seems to me a realistic price to pay, and I hope they sell lots of copies. It seems to me that most church visitors are prepared to pay more than churches usually charge for their guides. If every Suffolk church made the same effort to be open as St Nicholas, and had as good a guide on sale at as sensible a price, then all churches would be better off, both in terms of people and of money; and I should be a happier, if slightly poorer, man.


Simon Knott, October 2009

a Priest's eye view south aisle font
looking west looking east font St Nicholas St Nicholas
Nicholas Tymperley Nicholas Tymperley Hintlesham Hall Honourable  East India Company
young Timperleys young Timperleys north doorway etched windows
WV 1759 side chapel Timperley father and son St Christopher (fragment)

four evangelists symbol of St Matthew urn and cross
in the midst of life we are in death SV 1786 WV 1778 only four of which survived them


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