Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Dalham, Suffolk

St Mary the Virgin is a restorative power in humanity, faith, hope and all things good with churches. By all rights I knew this would be locked - it's isolated, beautifully so, the location is extraordinary - but against all expectations it was open.

Without a doubt this is my favourite Suffolk church to date, slightly shabby but resplendently furnished and architecturally quirky, for example a de-roofed and defenestrated mausoleum for the Afflecks, who are remembered in several monuments within the church; why it is ruined and empty is not explained. Not to mention the tower with inscriptions from 1625 running round its castellated peak. 

Perhaps the most famous connection is to the Rhodes family, progenitors of Cecil Rhodes; if you don't know, buy a Wilbur Smith epic or Google Rhodesia.

Inside there are fading wall paintings, a great monument to Martin Stuteville, painted rood screen dado and a profusion of poppyheads - of which I think the chancel's are original and the nave's modern but fantastic.

ST MARY. C14 chancel (see the S doorway - the windows are Perp) and S aisle (see one window and the doorway). C14 arcade with octagonal piers and double-chamfered arches. Perp N aisle and lower part of the W tower (flushwork ornament on the buttresses). But most of the tower was rebuilt by Sir Martin Stuteville in 1627 as is recorded in a huge inscription inside and on the parapet to the N. On the W side it says Deo triuni sacrum, but on the S side Keep my sabbaths. That was for the villagers. The Perp W window must be of 1627, unless it was re-used. The Perp chancel S window was made under a will of 1466.* Of the same date presumably also the N chapel (now open to the sky) with its mullioned windows, and the Vestry. - SCREEN. Only the dado, with arabesque paintings. - WALL PAINTINGS. On the nave N wall traces of the Seven Deadly Sins (l.) and the Seven Works of Mercy (r.). Over the chancel arch apparently Scenes from the Passion. - STAINED GLASS. E window apparently by Kempe, 1908. - PLATE. Good silver-gilt set of 1691, presented by Bishop Patrick of Ely; Flagon 1712. - MONUMENTS. Thomas Stutevyle d. 1571. Tomb-chest with three shields in strapwork cartouches. Free-standing on it an inscription tablet flanked by two columns. - Sir Martin Stuteville d. 1631 . Three oval niches, the middle one raised, for Sir Martin and his two wives. Frontal busts in flat relief. Black columns l. and r. and entablature with semicircularly raised centre. The children kneel small in the ‘predella’. - In the churchyard Obelisk to General Sir James Affleck d. 1833.

St Mary the Virgin (1)

Martin Stuteville1631 (1)

Poppyhead (9)

DALHAM. Here in one of Suffolk’s most charming villages, where thatched cottages look across the little River Kennet with its wooden bridges, we think of a great man’s brother, laid to rest after an adventurous life. Colonel Rhodes knew this place well, for his grandfather had bought the estate of Dalham, and to this countryside they brought him to rest when his life ended far away.

His memorial is in the church, which we approach by a steep lane overhung with trees, turning a corner at the top and seeing it suddenly over a fine box hedge. The churchyard gates tell us they were made in 1904 from the wood of the ancient chancel roof; and the tower itself has a message, for round the top is written, Keep my Sabbaths, reverence my Sanctuary. The pinnacles and battlements are carved with 1625, but most of the tower is 150 years older. The spire was blown down in the great gale that swept over England on the day Oliver Cromwell died.

The nave and aisles have been standing for about 600 years, the clerestory being a few decades younger. Over the chancel arch are traces of an old painting of the Last Judgement, and by another arch is a big devil’s head with pointed ears, representing one of the Seven Deadly Sins. The lower part of the old screen is here, among its carving being lions and birds, little whiskered men, and spiteful dragons trying to get at each other; and carved on the modern oak benches are enough creatures to fill a menagerie, lions and bears and birds, dogs and stags, a monkey, a hare, and a squirrel eating a nut.

It is thought that one of Dalham’s sons lies here in his family vault, the 18th century admiral Sir Edmund Affleck, who distinguished himself in several actions against the French. A handsome canopied monument in the sanctuary has the bust of Martin Stutevill, who died 300 years ago, with him being his two wives, and eight children kneeling at a table.

But of all the things Dalham has to show nothing stirs us more than the inscription to Colonel Francis Rhodes, who restored the 15th century roof of this church in memory of his immortal brother Cecil.He was himself a great man and a hero, and though he died in 1905 at the house of Cecil Rhodes in Capetown, he sleeps amid the calm of this Suffolk village, where his memorial has these proud words:

Long travel in this churchyard ends `
A gentleman who knew not fear,
A soldier, sportsman, prince of friends,
A man men could but love, lies here.

He was only 54, a man who lived to great purpose and gave his life to Africa. He distinguished himself at the relief of Khartoum, was a member of a council of four for Matabeleland, supported the tragic Jameson Raid, and was captured by the Boers and sentenced to death. At last set free after paying a heavy ransom, he was war correspondent for The Times in Kitchener’s Nile Expedition; and in the South African War was besieged in Ladysmith, where his courage and cheerfulness helped to keep up the spirit of the garrison. When Lord Ava was mortally wounded he went out under heavy fire and brought him back. He was one of those who went to the relief of Mafeking, and when peace came again he travelled hundreds of miles taking photographs of little-known parts of Africa for a book describing the country from the Cape to the Zambesi. But the work was too hard for him, and, worn out with the strain of his journeyings, he died only a little way from the spot where his brother had been sleeping for three years.

The hall by the church is another link Dalham has with these two men, for it once belonged to Cecil Rhodes himself. Approached by a fine avenue and overtopped by a lordly sycamore, it was built in Queen Anne’s time by a Bishop of Ely and stands in more than 3000 acres. Running the whole length of the house is a fine upper gallery 24 feet wide; and here we like to think the two brothers walked, one now sleeping in the solid rock of the Africa he loved, the other in this corner of England he knew so well.

Flickr set.

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