At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Shelley

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Shelley Shelley

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Shelley isn't just a pretty name, it's a lovely place. But if you want to see it you will need to find it first, for it must be among the most remote of all Suffolk villages, particularly when approached from the south and west. No major road goes anywhere near, and coming down from Withermarsh Green in the hills, you reach a simple street hugging the River Brett which gently bottoms out here. Houses are old and scattered, and you could easily miss the church with its low tower as you take the corner.

The tower stands to the north of the nave - indeed, because the south aisle extends fully westwards, it appears to be behind the church. In a rare misreading of his notes, Mortlock suggests that it is also the main entrance, but this is not the case; the north side of the churchyard is hemmed in quite severely, and you enter directly into the south aisle from a pretty little wood and brick porch.

The Sanctuary is plain and fitting, Anglican in its simplicity. Also Anglican is the elegant Elizabethan pulpit, a rather sturdy example of the wineglass style. About twenty years ago the friendly churchwarden of the time informed me that it had 'recently begun to wobble', so he'd cemented it in more securely. He also showed me the pieces of an organ in the south aisle, which had come here from Woodbridge St John. He told me that he'd brought it over bit by bit in his car, without the least idea of how to put them together! However, it is now all in its proper place and in working order.

Many people who come to Shelley will do so to see Dame Margarett Tylney. Her effigy lies in a window embrasure to the west of the pulpit - rather unnervingly, a preacher must look down into her wide-eyed face. It is strange to think that, from this very same pulpit, a 16th century Minister could have looked down at her when she was still alive. She wears a ruff and a black dress, the very model of Elizabethan piety. She died in 1598, shortly before the Tudor dynasty ended. She was part of its last gasp, and barely forty years separate her from the madness of the Commonwealth and the vandalism of the Puritans. Quite rightly, she looks from another age.

Dame Margrett Tylney, 1598 Dame Margrett Tylney, 1598 Dame Margrett Tylney, 1598

The setting of the memorial is perhaps a little odd, and it may originally have been placed in the chancel. An earlier Tylney, Sir Philip, has his memorial there now. It looks as if it was intended as an Easter sepulchre, although it is not complete and may also have been reset here from elsewhere. As with many of the churches to the south of Hadleigh, All Saints was thoroughly scoured and reordered by the Victorians. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and as much as the Tylney's may have shuffled huffily in their graves at being shifted about, the restoration left Shelley with a lovely little village church that is at once beautiful and dignified, and still todfay in a fine condition. I'm sure that Dame Margrett would have approved of that.

Her sleeping effigy was witness to a quite extraordinary event in the early years of the 21st Century. In 2003, archeologists working at Jamestown, Virginia in the United States of America discovered the remains of a body which had been buried with obvious ceremony at the James Fort heritage site. There was a theory that it could have been the corpse of Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, a Suffolk-born adventurer who led the pioneers that established the first English colony in the New World at Jamestown in 1607. A certain amount of DNA was recovered, and the only way of establishing for certain the identity of the corpse was to find a match from a source known to be of the same family. Gosnold's sister Elizabeth Tilney Gosnold had been buried in the vault of Shelley church, and permission was given for the vault to be opened and a DNA sample obtained.

James Halsall, the Diocesan Secretary, explained to the press at the time that permission was given because of "the strength of the educational and scientific rationale presented to us by the Jamestown team". The Victorian tiles were removed from the chancel floor, then the 18th Century bricks below them, and then the 17th Century flagstones. A small amount of DNA was obtained from the corpse of Elizabeth, but it proved not to be a match. A brass plaque on the chancel wall recalls the event and remembers Elizabeth.

Simon Knott, October 2020

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looking east looking east looking east in the south aisle
font pulpit (16th Century) Sir Philip Tylney, 1533 A principal Founding Father of Jamestown, Virginia
the word was made flesh three Marys at the foot of the cross Jesus wept
Dame Margrett Tylney

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