Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Rushbrooke, Suffolk

I came to St Nicholas in search of the Jermyns, of which I found several but not any of the ones in the tree, and found a truly astonishing church. This really is a must see and, whilst acknowledging that Suffolk provides plenty of stiff competition, I'm amazed Simon Jenkins doesn't even mention it.

The nave holds the greatest surprise; the seats are "collegiate" style i.e facing each other. Carved by Colonel Robert Rushbrooke – once described as "a Connoisseur, Collector, Wood-Carver and Joiner" - much of the interior of this church is the result of the Colonel’s work. Carved on oak 4 centuries old, some from the Hall, some from his travels and even some on the 17th century commandment boards. The seats and poppy head bench ends may well have come from the original church seating. However the carving of the pulpit and in the spandrels of the tracery heads behind the lower seats, featuring mythical beasts, leaf patterns and vine trails, a cross, rosary, chalice and grapes and are the work of the Colonel.

At the West end of the nave is what appears to be an organ loft. The decorated "pipes" are painted wood and the whole loft - even the remains of the access stairs, are again, the work of Colonel Rushbrooke.

The chancel rood beam is "a rare survival, carved and supported by arched braces standing on small figures which in turn stand on bases beneath which is the top of a further canopy. "(Pevsner Buildings of England) The tympanum above with the arms of Henry VIII supported by two talbots, or heraldic hounds, a red and white Tudor rose and portcullis, may well have "re-ordered" by the Colonel.

If by re-ordered they mean knocked up I think this likely - a large part, almost all, of me wants to believe that this is the genuine article but the realist in me cannot believe that it would have survived the attentions of Suffolk iconoclasts. Wouldn't it be great if someone carbon dated it and proved its authenticity or otherwise; perhaps not, I like the part of me that believes.

ST NICHOLAS. A small church, with a Dec W tower, but otherwise Perp,* and mostly of brick. There is a S but no N aisle. Stepped gables. Very strange interior. The S aisle is of two bays, followed by one which is the family pew, followed by yet one more which is the funeral chapel. Moreover, the nave is treated in its Early Victorian furnishings as a chancel, or as a college chapel, i.e. with STALLS facing each other instead of pews. All this is said to have been the handiwork of Col. Rushbrooke c. 1840. He used a number of bits of medieval woodwork. In addition there is the rare survival of the ROOD BEAM, carved and supported by arched braces, standing on small figures which themselves stand on bases beneath which is the top of a further canopy. And finally, above the rood beam is a TYMPANUM, again a rarity, and displayed on it the carved and painted ROYAL ARMS of Henry VIII, not only rare, but, it is maintained by Cautley, unique. -  FONT. Of timber, also by Col. Rushbrooke. - STAINED GLASS. Fragments in the S and N windows, and especially the E window, where there are two complete figures. - PLATE. Silver-gilt Set of 1661, Parisian. - MONUMENTS. Thomas Jermyn d. 1692. White and black standing monument. Reclining figure, one hand resting on a skull. Background with open pediment. - Sir Robert Davers d. 1722. No effigy. Grey sarcophagus below broken pediment with well carved garland. - Several minor monuments.

* The LG suggests the late C16.

nave (2)

Glass (2)

St Nicholas (4)

Henry VIII (2)

RUSHBROOKE. Serene among the fields, it still has charms which gladdened Queen Elizabeth. The church is much as she saw it, the hall is as she knew it except for 18th century additions. The group of thatched cottages, a dozen on either side with a canopied well between them, is a picture for an artist.

Surrounded by trees and guarded by a line row of poplars, the church keeps its 14th century tower, but the porch, which has a recess above, received its graduated brick gables from the Tudor builders who made new the nave and chancel. The interior appears unbalanced, the nave long and narrow, for, with the exception of one arch in the chancel, the south arcade is built up. The one open arch is the entrance to the south aisle, which has monuments and other memorials to the Rushbrookes and the Jermyns, and tablets to the Davers with carved and painted doves. The most appealing monument is one in marble to Thomas Jermyn, who lies with his hand on a skull, dressed as he may have been in 1692, when he was killed by a falling mast, a boy of 15.

There is a wealth of splendid woodwork. With a knight’s helmet on each side, the carved oak chancel arch rests on canopied figures. There are carved beams in the chancel roof, their supports painted with shields, and fine work on the pulpit and the vestry door. Some of the carving in the nave was the work of Colonel Rushbrooke, who was possibly the good friend from the hall who gave these high backed wooden seats, placed face to face. There is an old carved chest in the south aisle. Among the rest of the woodwork is the rare possession of a carved wooden font, with a cover of open tracery.

The great park faces the church, and in it, with a moat still wet, stands the fine hall, part of it 13th century, much of it Tudor, the remainder Georgian. Here in 1578 came Queen Elizabeth with her brilliant train. The drawing-room, in which she held her Court, still has most of the furniture then used. We were told that the hangings of the bed in which she slept are here, and with them a mother-of-pearl cabinet reputed to have belonged to her. The chapel she saw is now the billiard room, but has still a huge painting of Belshazzar’s Feast. A clock-bell over the hall porch, and three stone heads of the queen herself are the memorial of her visit.

Sadly the great park  no longer exists; exactly 20 years after "Suffolk" was first published, in 1941, there was a fire and the house was illegally demolished.

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