Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Clare, Suffolk

SS Peter & Paul is a simply huge Suffolk wool church but, following a Dowsing visitation in 1643, strangely soulless. Having said that there are still various points of interest including the south door, the medieval eagle lectern and east window amongst others.

ST PETER AND ST PAUL. The church stands in a spacious treeless churchyard, and one somehow does not consider it as part of the town, although this stretches around it in all directions. C13 W tower with a W doorway with two orders of shafts and a hood-mould with nailhead decoration. Lancet windows higher up. The W window of five lights is of course Perp, as is the frieze with shields and quatrefoils below it. The tower is unfortunately a little short for the church. Large Perp church, but inside it the arcade piers (six bays) are of the c I4 and re-used in the remodelling. They are quatrefoiled and keeled. Of the CI4 the s porch with its windows with Y-tracery. It is vaulted and has carved bosses. The second bay of vaulting was half cut off when the aisle of the C I4 building was widened later. To the E of the porch is a contemporary chapel (cf. St Gregory Sudbury etc.), and the arch of this towards the aisle is again C14. Beneath this chapel and the porch is a vaulted bone-hole. The rest of the church is all Late Perp, and mostly Early Tudor, except for the chancel, which was all but rebuilt in 1617-19, an example of the effortless Perp survival of those years. There are few (if characteristic) differences between the C15 and the C17 work. The motif of the stepped arches of the lights in the three-light window is the same. In the Perp Work it appears in S aisle and S chapel as well as N aisle and N chapel and clerestory. At the E end of the nave is the most easily remembered motif of the church, the two rood-stair turrets with their crocketed spirelets (cf. Lavenham). The clerestory windows are not doubled, as in so many East Anglian churches, but as all the windows of aisles and clerestory are slender and closely set, the effect has the same erectness as at Long Melford and Lavenham. The remodelling of the interior made it very airy. The C14 piers received castellated capitals, the arches crocketed hood-moulds. Shafts rise from the piers to the roof. Above the arches a string-course with demi-figures of angels and fleurons. Chancel arch and chapel arches go with the nave. - FONT. Simple, octagonal, Perp. - SCREENS. Remains of the rood-screen re-used at the entrance to the S chapel. Parclose screen at the E end of the S aisle, fine wide one-light divisions. - STALLs. Jacobean, some with Jacobean poppy-heads. - GALLERY in the porch chapel. Jacobean with balusters. - COMMUNION RAIL. With twisted balusters, late C17. - DOORS. N and S doors and N chancel door with tracery and a border of foliage trail. - LECTERN. Brass, with a big eagle. The same type as at St Margaret King’s Lynn and Redenhall Norfolk (Oman’s type II). - PLATE. Richly embossed silver-gilt Cup, probably Flemish. - Cup 1562; Paten 1680; Flagon 1713.

UPDATE: Aug 2012 revisited to cover Clare Priory which was undergoing a large extension - I'm not sure I approve but it will be interesting to see once complete in 2013.

CLARE PRIORY. Founded for Austin Friars in 1248 by Gilbert de Clare, the earliest house of the order in England. Of the buildings most of the features which remain are early C14, namely one doorway in the former Cellarium, later the Prior’s lodging and later still the house of the Frende and Barker families, then a vaulted chamber at the s end of this range with one two-light window (single-chamfered ribs), the Lavatorium arches (see below), the doorway to the Refectory (see below), the Chapter House entrance from the former E walk, built, it is known, by Elizabeth de Burgh between 1310 and 1314, and the remains of the church which was indeed consecrated in 1338. The church was 168 ft long and had a chancel of six bays with a S chapel and s vestry, a narrow central tower, and a nave of six bays with N aisle but no S aisle. The last two bays of the N aisle were a chapel. Of this a doorway from the nave to the cloister remains, and in addition the s wall, the Sedilia with curious cusped blank arches against the back wall, and the blocked doorway to the S chancel chapel. The monument to Joan of Acre, daughter of Edward I, who died in 1305 was to the W of the sedilia and cut into them. Of the domestic buildings of the priory the walls of the cloister remain. In the E wall are the entrances to the Chapter House and the dormitory staircase. The Dormitory - a unique case - lay 12 ft further E, separated from the cloister range by an irregular quadrangular courtyard. The Dormitory at the S end overlapped the Infirmary. This has closely set upper windows in blank arches. Reredorter (i.e. lavatories) at the E end of the Infirmary and at r. angles to it. Of the Refectory in the s range parts of the walls stand up. In the S wall is a projection for the Reader’s Pulpit, at the W end of the N wall the Lavatorium, or friars’ hand-washing place. The Cellarium, i.e. W range, was converted into the prior’s residence in Early Tudor days, and of this time are the low mullioned windows with arched lights and the ceiling in the Hall, i.e. the room behind the C14 doorway. Then the Elizabethan period inserted a mullioned and transomed window in the front and a square bay (built of stone, not of flint) at the back. (Very fine C17 panelling in the upper room.) To the S of the Cellariurn is an irregular little wooden cloister of which the W and S ranges remain, complete but altered. The N range was of stone. The E range was widened to form a kitchen, which stood between Cellarium and Refectory. The date is probably the C15. Later on, in the C16-17, the cloister became an inner courtyard, and an entrance and back door were made through the S range.

You'd be hard pressed to tell:

Clare Priory (3)

Clare Priory (2)

Clare Priory (4)

SS Peter & Paul (2)

Chancel window (1)


CLARE. With delightful old houses, a fine and spacious church, something of an ancient priory, and the foundations of a proud Norman castle, it is as fascinating an old town as one could wish to see. Its name plunges us into history, for these lands belonged to one of the greatest of our ancient families, the long line of the Earls of Clare, which began with a follower of the Conqueror. Gilbert, the seventh earl, was one of the most powerful men in the land in King John’s miserable reign, and it was his son Richard who founded the priory. Another Gilbert, the ninth earl, married a king’s niece and then a king’s daughter, and only with the death of his son at Bannockburn did the long line come to an end. His daughter Elizabeth became the Lady of Clare, and it is through her that the name of this Suffolk town is on everybody’s lips at Cambridge, for she endowed and re-founded the second oldest college in the University.

What is left of the old priory is built into a house still called after it. There are parts of the cloister arches, old windows of the chapter house, massive buttresses, a vaulted roof, and some fine panelling and carving. Another building, once probably the refectory, is 60 feet long, and we noticed a fine old garden wall. It was here, in a lovely chapel built by herself, that they laid Joan of Acre, the daughter of Edward the First and his Eleanor. She had married the ninth Earl of Clare, 17 years before.

The castle across the Stour stands where a Saxon fortress stood, but only fragments of its foundations and its 13th century keep are left. The mound where the keep stood is about 60 feet high, and from it are fine views of the countryside.

A thrilling find of last century in these foundations takes us back to Edward the Third, for it is believed to be a treasure he lost, a golden crucifix and chain now in the keeping of Windsor Castle. It is ornamented with four big pearls, and so made that the figure of Our Lord can be removed.

The priory and the castle we look at with the eye of imagination, but not so the ancient church, for its beauties speak for themselves, and the Roman bricks in its walls are the oldest possessions Clare has. The tower is 13th century, with walls four feet thick, a fine doorway, and a lofty tower arch; but the body of the church was refashioned in the 15th century, and the chancel altered again in the 17th. The nave pillars are the 13th century ones raised on high bases and used again; and above them, below the big clerestory windows, are carvings of heads and angels and foliage. Both porches are 14th century and both have fine old doors richly carved. The south porch has a handsome vaulted roof, and over it is an 18th century sundial telling us rather abruptly to go about our business.

In this light and spacious interior are some interesting things. In Flemish brass, 400 years old, is an eagle lectern, with three dogs at the foot, said to be the gift of Queen Elizabeth and certainly one of the finest we have seen among England’s 50 old ones. In lovely old woodwork are choir-stalls carved in fine black oak, and a screen with beautiful tracery under a cornice of pairs of beasts supporting crowns. A 15th century chapel has a fine Jacobean gallery pew approached by a staircase and held up on posts, and attached to it are three old iron candlesticks. The east window is bright with heraldic glass made just after Shakespeare died, and a beautiful memorial window shows the Crucifixion, St Michael, and St George.

Among the other possessions of the church are a well-panelled 15th century font, a huge old ironbound chest, a 16th century bell, three chairs made of old poppyheads, a Jacobean table and altar rails of the same period, a modern pulpit effectively carved with tracery, and a big earthenware jar which belonged to the bell ringers 200 years ago. A lovely chalice used here is said to have come over with the Armada as a goblet.

The vicarage is an Elizabethan house justly proud of its panelling, and by the churchyard is a beautiful priest’s house built a few years before the Tudor Age began. Its gable is lovely with a traceried bargeboard, and one of the diamond-paned windows has a wooden corbel carved with heraldry. Some of the old houses in the town are finely timbered and plastered, and some have lovely gardens by the Stour. In the marketplace there is a house with a crypt covered by a huge vaulted roof, and on the front of the Swan Inn is a remarkable wooden sign, perhaps a window corbel 500 years ago. It is carved in relief with a swan chained to a tree, and has on the back a tree laden with fruit.

A cottage a mile away by the road at Chilton has the longest history of any house here, for it was a chapel in the 12th century, and still has Norman windows and some signs of the work of 13th century builders. In the Civil War it was used as a powder magazine.


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