Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Cowlinge, Suffolk

St Margaret of Antioch, like St Mary at nearby Lidgate, contains a wealth of graffiti on its nave columns, lots of which are helpfully pointed out with arrows. 

The church is elevated enough to make its bold brick tower visible for some distance. This is a lovely setting in the heart of the West Suffolk countryside, and it is well worth standing back and enjoying the building as a whole in its surroundings. The sturdy western tower dominates the exterior and is a comparatively late addition to the church; it was erected in 1733 by Francis Dickins of Branches Park. Although bold rather than beautiful, it is a good example of Georgian Classical architecture in brick [other Suffolk towers of this period may be seen at Drinkstone and Grundisburgh

The atmospheric interior is a treasure-house of ancient and interesting things. Light floods in through the clear glass of the windows to illuminate craftsmanship of many periods. St. Margaret's escaped major Victorian restoration which might well have altered it out of all recognition. Instead, the restoration came in 1913-14, by which time 17th and 18th century fittings, which the Victorians often threw out, were being conserved and treasured for their own sake. Their retention here has done so much to preserve the air of rustic antiquity, which is an unforgettable feature of this church's unique character.

The stonework of the piers contain a wealth of graffiti that people of different periods have carved upon them. There are all sorts of names and initials in varieties of script; some of these are dated. There are various patterns and random doodles, also a ship, two hands with pointing forefingers, a foot and a sea-horse. There is little doubt that many of these random scratchings are medieval.

The western gallery, where the musicians and singers would have sat, is 18th century and provides an excellent vantage point for a panoramic view of the interior. On the west wall are the royal arms of George II, dated 1731 and inscribed with the Churchwardens’ names. They are flanked by boards painted with the Commandments, the Creed and the Lord's Prayer; these were originally each side of the east window, above the altar. The large central inscription bears the Dickins coat of arms and is a quotation from the Latin Classics, which is translated, "He found the roof of this temple made of straw and he left it made of brick, and he built it with one tower only". Clearly Mr. Dickins had read the Emperor Augustus, who boasted that he found Rome a town of brick and left it a city of marble, and compared this to his own work of building the tower and of his other improvements here.

A plaque on the west wall of the north aisle records a Visitation in 1618, when Mr. Thomas Wolbych was given permission "to erect and build up certeine seates behind the north church dore". These were for the use of the Keeper of the Correction House "and the prisoners therin". These prisoners were mostly debtors, rather than hardened criminals. D.E. Davy records that the House of Correction was closed sometime between 1820-30 and turned into cottages.

The chancel arch is lofty and graceful and has the remains of its original colour. Beneath it is the fine rood screen which dates from c.1400. Above the three single openings each side is delicate tracery and there are tiny openings cut into its plain base. This is the only screen in the county, apart from one at Lavenham, which has retained its original doors.

On the wall above the chancel arch are the faded remains of a large wall painting. This is the traditional place for a picture of the Doom (or Last Judgement) and here we have a slight variation on the usual theme. On the south side is St. Michael, weighing souls in the balances. On the north side is the Virgin Mary, holding a long rod which stretches over the chancel arch and tips the scales in favour of the heavenward side, symbolising to mediaeval people the worth of her intercession for them. The painting was restored in 1991 by the Canterbury Cathedral Workshop, as was the fragment on the south wall.

A huge monument on the north side of the Chancel, in figured marble, by Peter Scheemakers, commemorates Francis Dickins, who rebuilt the tower and "repaired and ornamented the church";  he died in 1747. We see the figures of him and his wife in Roman costume, seated (or rather lounging) each side of an urn. Above is a pediment and Coat of Arms. The inscription on the tomb-chest is flattering and is well worth reading. Francis Dickins of Cowlinge and Little Bradley was a Barrister at Law and we read that he was "seriously religious" and was "a shining ornament to his profession". Rachel, his wife (whose maiden name was also Dickins) had the monument erected.

ST MARGARET. Brick tower built by Francis Dickins in 1733. Good classical inscription on the E wall. The medieval church is built of septaria and brick. It dates from the early C14. Arcade of octagonal piers with broadly moulded arches. Aisle windows with nice flowing tracery (motif of four-petalled flowers). Perp N porch, clerestory with quatrefoil windows (at least the first N and S from the W), and kingpost roof. Perp E window. - FONT. Perp, octagonal. - SCREENS. Rood screen Perp. Simple, with one-light divisions. The original gates are preserved. - Parclose Screen of crude workmanship. - PAINTING. Weighing of Souls, above the chancel arch. An unusual representation. Large St Michael on the r. with a feathered body, large Virgin on the l. reaching across with a long rod to tip the balance. - PLATE. Elizabethan Cup. - MONUMENT. Francis Dickins d. 1747, an unrecorded signed work by Peter Scheemakers. Base and reredos background with broken pediment on brackets. Two seated figures in Roman dress l. and r. of an urn on a tall pedestal. White marble and grey-veined white marble. Noble, if cool.


Robert 1571 and Margaret 1599 Higham (1)

Graffiti (13)

COWLINGE. It is a scattered village with a church on rising ground overlooking the fields, and the finely timbered Branches Park of 200 acres which is supposed to have belonged to one of the powerful nobles who advised King John to grant Magna Carta.

The church is chiefly medieval and has a clerestory, but its red brick tower is 18th century, having been built by Francis Dickins, a barrister who sits in white marble by the north wall of the chancel, shown in the pompous fashion of his day sitting in Roman costume on one side of an urn, while his wife sits on the other side in long draperies, holding an open book.

The nave has a good roof with kingposts, and some of the windows have fragments of old yellow glass showing foliage. The chancel screen is of old oak with delicate tracery at the top, and another old screen encloses a family pew; it has solid panels at the base with tracery above them, and more elaborate tracery hanging from the cornice. There is a very long oak chest which has kept the parish documents safe for many generations, and a battered old font with tracery on its eight panels and round the base. Two Elizabethans are remembered in brass in the floor of the nave, Robert Heigham and his wife Margaret, he in ruff and gown, and she wearing a Paris headdress. Two groups of their children (five boys and five girls), all quaintly dressed, stand below them with their hands clasped in prayer.

Flickr set.

1 comment:

  1. The majestic, medieval aura of this church of St Margaret of Antioch is majestic; I could tell from the photos. I can't help but take note of the aged brick walls and elaborate roofing. It must have also felt "historic" to get inside the church and adore the murals.

    Quite a blog you have here - heritage-rich churches.