Saturday, 12 May 2012

Great Saxham, Suffolk

St Andrew has, apparently, been described as 'one of the prettiest churches in the county, both in itself and in its setting' - I agree with the setting but not the church. To me this is a fairly run of the mill building...particularly when compared to its neighbour at Little Saxham...but it has some interesting flint work and the setting is beautiful.

The real interest here is in two extraordinary windows and the John Eldred brass and monument.

To quote from the church guide:

The most important monument in the church is that of John Eldred who died in 1632. He was a fabulously wealthy Tudor merchant, the first to import nutmeg into England, returning in 1588 ‘in the richest ship of English merchants’ goods that ever was known to come into this realm’. Shakespeare alluded to him in Macbeth - ’Her husbands to Aleppo gone, master o' the Tiger'. His  painted portrait bust is set in the south wall near the altar and his tombstone is now on the floor of the chancel, having originally formed the top of an altar tomb beneath his bust. It has a brass effigy of him in his furred gown and ruff as an alderman of London. The inscriptions under his bust and on the floor which record his life and extensive travels, notably to Babylon and the Middle East, are well worth reading. The coats of arms are those of his family, his wife’s family and the city of London, as well as the cloth-workers, East India, Levant and Russia Companies, of each of which he was a member. He was also a founding member of the Virginia Company.

The church has important sixteenth- and seventeenth-century glass in its east and west windows, brought back from former French and Swiss monasteries by William Mills in 1815 and installed by his father. The large scenes in the east window include continental heraldry and medieval costumes. There are various New Testament scenes, notably in the centre Christ taken down from the cross and his circumcision with a priest holding a knife. Below that a newly married young couple are receiving a bishop’s blessing.

The west window under the tower contains exquisitely coloured glass pieces from the former monastery at Raperswil on Lake Zurich, which are well worth close inspection. There are miniature shields of merchant guilds around a Virgin and Child. Below them a male figure in seventeenth-century dress is speaking to the nimbed figure of a monk in brown habit. To their right is the date 1632. The main scene below them shows the baptism of Christ.

Pevsner: ST ANDREW. Rebuilt in 1798, and gothicized since. The tower and the S porch are medieval, the tower below perhaps pre-Perp, the front Perp. In addition two humble Norman doorways were preserved, N and S. - FONT. Octagonal, Perp, simple. - PULPIT. Jacobean with two tiers of the usual blank arches. - BENCHES. Some, with  poppy-heads. - STAINED GLASS. In the E window some extremely good German early C16 glass, mixed up with much that seems Flemish and Swiss. Swiss glass of minor value in the W window. - MONUMENT. Monument and brass to John Eldred, 1632, a merchant who, as can be read in the inscriptions, had travelled to Syria, Arabia, Egypt, and - as it is called - Babilon. The monument has a frontal bust in a circular niche and no date of death inscribed. The brass is of the traditional medieval composition.

East window (6)

East window (5)

John Eldred 1632 (4)

John Eldred 1632 (3.1)

GREAT SAXHAM. From this tiny place, a few miles from Bury, John Eldred, the merchant whose travels are in the Hakluyt records, set out at 80 on his last great voyage into the Unknown. We see his grave and his brass portrait in the church in the park, where, near the rectory turned farmhouse, is the old tree he used to sit under, Eldred’s Thorn; but the home he built and named Nutmeg Hall (proud that he was the first to bring back nutmegs in his cargo of spices) was burned down over 100 years ago, and the stately house grown up near its site disdains the Nutmeg and prefers the name of Saxham Hall.

An avenue of limes brings us through the park to the 14th century church mostly made new two centuries ago, but with two Norman doorways in walls inlet with panels of crosses and keys, with a porch and a tower 500 years old, with an old nave roof, with new and old poppyheads on the pews and life like pelicans on the chancel stalls, with a pulpit and a font both carved, and with richly glowing windows. The west window is crowded with miniature scenes from the Bible, with four saints, and 50 small coats-of-arms in vivid colours, beautiful 16th century glass brought from a German abbey. From France and Switzerland in Waterloo year came the glass in the east and south windows, the east showing figures in medieval dress, the south with medallion scenes in the life of Christ.

They are the glory of the church, but in the end it is the ancient mariner John Eldred who draws us again, for here by his grave is his bust in ruff and pointed beard over a brass skeleton on a black stone, and in front of the altar is his portrait in brass. He wears his fur-lined gown and has round him six shields, including those of the Russia and Turkey Merchants and the East India Company, with just such a ship as he set sail in to Babylon, Egypt, Arabia, and Holy Land, and a verse beginning:

Might all my travels me excuse
For being dead and lying here
He was one of the leading commercial figures in London and arrived home after five years of travel with "the richest ship of merchants goods that ever came into this realm."

No comments:

Post a Comment