At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Holbrook

At the sign of the Barking lion...

home index e-mail what's new? - a journey through the churches of Suffolk


Holbrook Holbrook Church open, Welcome!

Follow these journeys as they happen at Last Of England Twitter.

          The Shotley Peninsula is a pastoral scattering of gentle hamlets along high hedged lanes which thread over hills and through woodlands. Other settlements line the Orwell estuary, the full drama of the wide water and forests beyond constantly on show. The road along the northern shore is a busy one, as is the Ipswich to Manningtree road which cuts the Peninsula off from the rest of Suffolk, but otherwise this is an introspective, secretive landscape, especially on the southern side. No wonder people long to live there.

The Peninsula has only two places of any real size. There is broad functional Shotley itself at the eastern tip, and there is Holbrook to the west, a rather more prosperous proposition. Holbrook is home to the famous Royal Hospital School, a sprawling 1930s neoclassical confection designed for the sons and daughters of the Navy. Its campanile tower is a landmark for miles around. You can see it from north Essex and from tower blocks in the centre of Ipswich.

Holbrook's church sits beside the main street, behind a high hedge. At first sight, the arrangement is a bit odd. All Saints has one of the south towers commonly found in the Ipswich area, and the nave to the north is broadly contemporary with it. But a small, low south aisle was built at the start of the 16th Century running eastwards of it, and the effect from the outside is now of a small church with a big north aisle. In fact, there is a 19th Century north aisle beyond the nave, the work of Diocesan architect Richard Phipson. It has a slightly awkward juxtaposition with the nave at the west end, with an angled doorway. The nave west window appears to be made of terracotta. Also memorable from the exterior is the clerestory, somewhat hidden by the south aisle, but picked out beautifully in red brick. All in all, full of interest.

Stepping inside, the interior is a curious contrast, because the view east with the opening out of the aisles beneath the clerestory is successfully harmonious, that of a typical late medieval East Anglian church, with none of the patchwork effect of the outside. And yet the fixtures and fittings are almost entirely 19th century, again the work of Richard Phipson. There is none of the razzmatazz of his contemporary St Mary le Tower in the middle of Ipswich here, the wide space is simple and plain, although a glance at the chancel shows that Phipson fitted it out for the kind of mystical, incense-led 19th Century High Church worship which he loved, and for which St Mary le Tower is the crowning moment in Suffolk.

Holbrook church contains a couple of important major pre-Victorian survivals. One is the figure brass of William Tendryng in full armour with his six sons of the early 15th Century. The other is more dramatic and certainly more memorable. This is the early 17th Century memorial to one of the arch-villains of the English Reformation, set at the east end of the south aisle. Sir John Clenche is the figure above his daughter-in-law. Clenche was High Sheriff of Suffolk, but is more famous, and more notorious, for being the judge who sentenced Saint Margaret Clitherow to death.

Sir John and Dame Katherine Clenche, c1600 Sir John and Dame Katherine Clenche, c1600 Sir John Clenche
six weepers for Sir John Clenche Dame Katherine Clenche

In 1586, Margaret Clitherow, the middle-class wife of a York butcher, was accused of treason against the state. This was a catch-all charge designed to root out Catholicism. She was told, as all martyrs of the time were, that the charges would be dropped if she renounced Catholicism, and conformed to the Anglican church. This she refused to do, and also refused to enter a plea, saying that "having made no offence, I need no trial". Failure to make a plea was a capital crime in itself, of course, and Clenche's sentence was that you shall return to the place from whence you came, and in the lower part of the prison be stripped naked, laid down upon the ground, and so much weight laid upon you as you are able to bear, and thus you shall continue for three days; the third day you shall have a sharp stone laid under your back, and your hands and feet shall be tied to posts that, more weight being laid upon you, you may be pressed to death.

Popular Catholic martyrology has it that Clitherow's only problem with her sentence was the bit about being stripped naked. The night before she was crushed, she was said to have made a shift to wear. This was not allowed her, but it was placed over the lower part of her body to preserve her modesty from the paying spectators. The final sentence was carried out on the 25th of March 1586. Brennan's Martyrs of the English Reformation recalls that a stone the size of a man's fist was placed under her back, her arms were stretched out and tied with cords provided; a door was placed upon her, and stones piled upon it by some beggars hired for the purpose. Her last words were 'Jesu have mercy upon me!' and when her chest was crushed her ribs protruded, and she was left in this position for six hours.

Her body was thrown on a dunghill on the outskirts of the city, but was rescued after six weeks by local Catholics, who found it 'free of putrefaction'. In May 1970 she was canonised as one of the Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope Paul VI. There are images of her at Holy Family church in Kesgrave, a few miles off, and at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Wells in Norfolk, and the story of her martyrdom can be seen in stained glass over the border in Cambridgeshire at the church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs in Cambridge.


Simon Knott, December 2020

looking east, covid-secure looking east

Royal Hospital School gloom

Follow these journeys as they happen at Last Of England Twitter.

Amazon commission helps cover the running costs of this site