Monday, 23 January 2012

Nayland, Suffolk

Onwards to St James in Nayland and the discovery of a church that I would undoubtedly put in my top ten list. There's not a huge amount to see but what there is is stunning; the setting is lovely, the exterior is intriguing and beautiful and the quality of some of the fittings is extraordinary. I can't do it justice and recommend the Suffolk Churches Site's (mentioned before) review.

ST JAMES. A surprising sight from Church Street owing to the rich SW porch attached to the W tower and entered from the W. The porch was built of stone by a clothier, William Abell, in I525, and rebuilt in 1884. It is panelled and castellated and has a (new) vault with many tiercerons but no liernes. The unbuttressed W tower is C14 (but with a brick top of 1834 - a terrible pity), and so are the chancel with its five-light E window displaying flowing tracery, the W window of the N aisle with intersected tracery, and the shape of the former S window. The rest is Perp. Handsome S aisle front with rood-stair turret. This seems the aisle referred to in a will of 1492-3. Arcades of six bays with finely moulded piers. Attached shafts with capitals only towards the arch openings. From shields in the spandrels of the arcade rise shafts which divide the clerestory into pairs of windows. The chancel has a clerestory too. No chancel chapels. - SCREENS. Eight painted panels of c. 1500 from the former rood screen are hung up in the S aisle. Indifferent quality. (Also early C16 screenwork below the W gallery. LG) - FONT COVER. By R. Y. Goodden. - WEST GALLERY. Simple C18 work. - NORTH DOOR. With linenfold panelling and a border of vine trails. - ALTAR PAINTING. Christ blessing bread and wine. By John Constable, 1809 and much less tied to the well-tried-out mannerisms of the late C13 than his picture of 1804 at Brantham. - STAINED GLASS. N aisle W window by Kempe, c. 1908. - PLATE. Cup 1562; Paten and Flagon 1825. - BRASSES. Large double canopy (N aisle), c. 1440. Upper half of a Lady with butterfly head-dress under a canopy (Mrs Hacche), c. 1485. Original size c. 3 ft (nave). - Civilian and wife under double canopy, c. 1500 (nave). The figures are 3 ft long. - Civilian and wife with pedimented head-dress, probably Richard Davy d. 1514 (N aisle); 18 in. figures.

St James (2)

South West Porch (1)


NAYLAND. Constable, who was born a few miles away at East Bergholt, delighted in this village of old houses, and in the church is the altarpiece he painted for Nayland. With it are eight more pictures, curious faded portraits on wood 500 years old. Close to the church is an old little house with an overhanging storey and miniature windows; and in the meadow called Court Knoll is the site of an island village of the Saxons, only a memory now and with nothing to show.

A goodly company of Nayland’s clothiers and their wives once had their portraits in brass in the church, but most of these are gone, and it is William Abell, the 16th century clothier who built in stone, who left the most lasting memorial. He set up the bridge which here crosses the Stour into Essex, and added to the 14th century church (where he lies) the porch with three canopied niches over a pinnacled doorway, a king’s head on each side of it, and a face with a vine sprouting from the mouth as a boss for the vaulted roof. The other porch has a 15th century linenfold door carved round with vines.

Strange gargoyles stare from the 600-year-old walls, and queer heads look down from the windows of the 19th century tower on the flowerbeds and rose paths of the churchyard. Other odd faces, one with its tongue out, are on the old hammerbeam roof which stretches with carved spandrels the whole length of the nave and chancel; there is no chancel arch. Floral bosses dot the aisle roofs. Yet two more faces are at the small priest’s doorway. Pews, pulpit, and font with the winged creatures of the Evangelists and emblems of the Passion are all of our own day. Several Bibles in a case belong to the days when they had to be chained, and with them are books from the old church library. Of the brasses only a 16th century man and his wife are left, fine portraits under a double canopy.

Through 30 clerestory windows the light streams in, but we must strain our eyes to make out some of the paintings fixed to the nave wall, for 500 years have faded them. Saints, priests, and kings are portrayed on eight panels from the medieval screen, other bits of which are in the pews at the west end. Cuthbert we can see, the head of St Oswald, Edmund with sceptre and arrow, Pope Gregory holding a cross; and then comes the best of all, Edward the Confessor, followed by a royal figure thought to be Charlemagne. Several of the windows have modern pictures in glass, one by Kempe in the north aisle showing in radiant colours the Madonna with Luke and John. But the masterpiece here is Constable’s painting, let into the carved stone reredos over the altar, a beautiful picture of Our Lord blessing the bread and wine. A few years earlier he had painted an altarpiece for Brantham, another of his beloved Suffolk villages, but after Nayland’s picture was finished he rarely strayed from landscapes, for he had now found his place in art.

Here we remember the immortal Constable and here we discover a man whose fame is lost. In the vestry is the tomb of a man who was known in his day all over England as Jones of Nayland. While he was here from 1777 to 1800 the vicarage became the centre of that small circle which, in the early 19th century, expanded into the High Church party. It was this William Jones who wrote the hymn sung at so many baptisms, "In token that thou shalt not fear"; and Nayland has to thank him for the nucleus of its organ, parts of which are believed to be the work of Bernard Schmidt, organ-builder to Charles the Second.

William Jones was a descendant of Cromwell’s brother-in-law, Colonel John Jones, who was executed at the Restoration as one of the judges of Charles Stuart; William set apart the anniversary of the king’s death as a day of penance. Educated at the Charterhouse and Oxford University, he filled various church livings, and in 1777 arrived here as a scholar and a talented musician. The vicarage became the centre of a little circle from which sprang the High Church party of the age, with Jones as its leader. It was here in 1784 that his Treatise on the Art of Music was published, giving him a foremost place in musical scholarship; it was for this church that he wrote his Ten Pieces for the Organ, various anthems, and his famous hymn tune, St Stephen. Reduced to poverty with advancing years, he was overwhelmed with the death of his wife and followed her to the grave in the last year of the 18th century.


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