Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Stratford St Mary, Suffolk

A couple of weeks age I did a church run through Suffolk and Essex and Stratford St Mary was my randomly chosen jump off point. Externally St Mary is practically on the A12 and has suffered from an extraordinarily heavy handed Victorian refurb but for all that I found it attractive in a clean cut sort of way.

The nave roof has seven central double angels with a single angel at either end over watching the congregation which I liked but, with the exception of the Lady Chapel, the rest is too overdone to hold much interest. Given the size of the church I would imagine it would once have been a splendour.

ST MARY. A large Perp church, immediately along the road. Nave with tall clerestory and aisles, chancel and chancel aisles, W tower. All embattled except for the chancel. The tower is largely rebuilt. NW stair-turret corbelled out and ending in a square turret with its own pinnacles. The stone details of the body of the church also much renewed, the S windows e.g. entirely C19. The E window also C19. The show front of the church is to the N. Ornate chancel chapel and N aisle, ornate N porch. Everywhere here flushwork decoration. Below the windows inscriptions referring to the donors of the money. On the walls and buttresses the curious feature of an alphabet. The N porch has to the E and W very broad low windows with tracery of a large trefoil of two-light arches with circles in the spandrels, and in the two main spandrels circles with mouchette wheels. The Perp building history, as far as is known from bills and inscriptions, is as follows: S aisle C15; N aisle paid for by the clothier Thomas Mors, who in his will of 1500 asked to be buried in the N aisle because he had made it of new. He also left money for the building of the clerestory. His wife, who died in 1510, left money for the building of the porch, but on the porch are the date 1532 and the initials of another merchant, John Smith. The N chancel chapel was given by Thomas Mors’s son Edward, who died in 1526. He left money for it to be made to the same form as the S chapel. Interior with four-bay arcade. Thin piers with four thin shafts carrying small capitals. The broad hollows between the shafts are carried into the arches without capitals. The apex of each arch an ogee point. On this rise shafts between each pair of clerestory windows. Shafts also stand on the pier shafts towards the nave, so that all clerestory windows are framed by shafts. Low-pitched roof. Angel figures against the middles of the tie-beams. The chancel chapels have similar piers, but four-centred instead of two-centred arches. - PARCLOSE SCREEN. Original parts preserved. - STAINED GLASS. Some original glass in the N aisle w window. - PLATE. Cup and Paten 1702-3; Almsdish 1823. - BRASSES. Edward Crane d. 1558 and wife. Nothing special.

St Mary (2)

Edward Crane 1558 (2)

Angel (3)

Mee, it has to be said, was much more taken with it - so what do I know!

STRATFORD ST MARY. Many are the tales its old inn could tell, for it was a famous place in coaching days, greatly excited when the London mail arrived with new instalments of stories that were enthralling all England, written by a man whose daughter sleeps in this churchyard.

It is not without a quickening of the pulse that we stand by the grave of the last member of the family of Samuel Richardson, Father of the English Novel. There are houses here which were old when he was thrilling his generation, houses to which, clamorously welcomed, came Pamela, Clarissa Harlowe, and Sir Charles Grandison, straight from the 18th century press.

The church, which was stately and splendid two centuries before he was born, is a wonder of carving and decoration. Standing out from the flint ornament of the walls is an inscription in a style we do not remember to have seen elsewhere, a message written in stone and flint, recording benefactions of the Mors family, especially of Thomas and Mary Mors, who built the aisle in 1499. Carved figures riot over the building; faces peep and spy, some to welcome, some to amuse, some to intimidate. Each pinnacle of the fine old tower has four heads; and keeping company with a tiny Atlas, disquieted with his burden, is a glaring griffin with jaws agape. Little men and little animals smirk and grimace over the windows, and with four grim gargoyles above him a pirate stealthily watches out of the corners of his eyes. More alert heads on the pinnacles of the 16th century porch scrutinise those who pass through the fine doorway within; and in the nave, where angels adorn the bosses of the 15th roof, queens, griffins, and men with long moustaches serve as corbels.

A portrait brass of Edward Crane and his wife is from Tudor days but probably the oldest relic here is a coffin lid supposed to havee been that of a Crusader. There is, however, a piece of ancient glass with the arms of the Black Prince, and the fine altar table in an aisle is the work of Jacobean craftsmen. There is old wood in the handsome screen made by Berthold Browning, a 20th century rector, who found his timber in an ancient bridge in Constable’s country and himself carved it into beauty. He also painted the side screens and made the charming reredos. The rood stairs are still here, but now lead to the pulpit, behind which are coloured fragments of the old screen. The linenfold choir-stalls are modern; so is the east window of the 14th century chancel, showing in delicate colouring the Annunciation, the Wise Men, and the Master preaching.

It is in the churchyard that Richardson’s daughter Anne, his beloved Nancy, sleeps. She was the youngest of the novelist’s 12 children. Twice married, he saw the death of six sons and two daughters. Anne, the sixth child by his second wife, was the darling of the family. Her three sisters married, but she was delicate and he long feared for her life, yet she grew up a sweet and amiable woman, and outlived him 42 years.

She lived in Salisbury Court joining his printing office; she shared the week-end delights of his country villas, first at Hammersmith (later the home of Burne-Jones), and afterwards at Parson’s Green. In her presence the immortal novels were written; in the mornings she heard them read over, page by page, to the adoring circle of bluestockings who bought him daily incense. Wonderful stories Nancy lived to tell of those days, when the greatest men in Europe were writing to her father, counting him the greatest genius and fine spirit of the age. She lived long to tell of his glories; the delight of his years of triumph, she was the solace of his old age when, enfeebled and broken, he sank into the grave at St Bride’s, Fleet Street near his old home.

There was born in this village in 1868 a boy almost blind. For much of his boyhood he could read a book with big type, but for the rest of his life he saw almost nothing. Yet he could play cricket, throw a ball fairly accurately, was good at croquet, and could win his service at tennis. He grew up to be Principal of Ruskin College at Oxford and to be made a peer by Mr Ramsay MacDonald. He was Lord Sanderson and the peerage died with him in 1939, when he was buried at Headington near Oxford. He overcame his affliction by his heroic spirit, and was a keen student of economics. It was he who discovered a street fiddler in Bristol who, thanks to his care and the training he made possible, took London by storm at the beginning of our century. She was Marie Hall.

In point of fact Lord Sanderson was not associated with Stratford  St Mary, as stated, but with the neighbouring parish of Higham.

Flickr set.

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