Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Cockfield, Suffolk

I knew St Peter was going to be locked the moment I saw it - on its south side are two houses, to the east a barn and errrm that's it but to my not inconsiderable amazement it was open. Oh and it's very large and seems incongruously placed - perhaps the village moved away leaving it stranded with its two companions.

Even though, for a church this big, there's not a huge amount of interest I loved it just for being open and I think that's reason enough.

ST PETER. Quite big. Dec W tower with flushwork chequer pattern on the buttresses. Dec N aisle. Early C14 chancel, see the outlines of the windows inside, the buttresses with ogee headed niches, the Piscina, and the splendid, if grossly over-restored EASTER SEPULCHRE. Niche with three stepped steep gables with blank quatrefoils. Cusped and sub-cusped arches with crockets. Angle buttresses. Hardly any ogee forms yet (cf. e.g. Edmund Crouchback, Westminster Abbey). Perp S aisle and clerestory. Elaborate S aisle battlements. Fine S aisle roof with carved beams. S porch with a front with flushwork panelling. Three niches round the entrance. Doorway with fleurons and shields. The battlements are different from those of the S aisle. Tall Perp chancel windows. Arcades of five bays with octagonal piers and double-chamfered arches. - PULPIT. Jacobean. - STALLS. Not much survives, but it includes ends with tracery and poppy-heads and some minor MISERICORDS. - COMMUNION RAIL. With twisted balusters; late C17. - STAINED GLASS. (In the easternmost S aisle window four original heads.) -  E window by Kempe, 1889. -  PLATE. Two Flagons 1743; Alms dish 1759. - MONUMENT. James Harvey d. 1723. By N. Royce of Bury St Edmunds. Standing wall-monument. Coupled Corinthian columns against coupled Corinthian pilasters. Pediment. Bust on a short black sarcophagus. The quality is not high.

CHURCH COTTAGE. A handsome C15 cottage along the churchyard. Timber-framed with brick infilling. One original doorway.


NE aisle window (1)

St Peter (3)

COCKFIELD. It has an irresistible appeal to lovers of Robert Louis Stevenson, as the scene in which his genius was first called into activity. Scattered near a stream flowing to the Bret, it has a windmill, a gem of a farm, old houses with rare woodwork and fine chimneys, and near the peace memorial in the lane to the church two wonderful 14th century cottages, with massive beams supporting their low roofs.

The handsome clerestoried church, with its 15th century tower rising above the trees, has little heads watching warily above the doorway of the porch, fine pillars with moulded capitals carrying the nave arcades, a new font copied from the medieval one whose bowl is still here, and a handsome nameless tomb of the 14th century.

Keeping fragments of its ancient glass, the church has a beautiful window with New Testament scenes in memory of Churchill Babington, a kinsman of Macaulay who, after a brilliant career at Cambridge, where he was professor of archaeology, made notable contributions to scientific literature and came here to spend the last 22 years of his life as vicar. He won Mr Gladstone’s approval of his essay traversing the famous third chapter of Macaulay’s History dealing with the clergy of Stuart England, but his main delight was in nature and antiquities. He wrote on the birds and flowers of Suffolk, and collected such a host of antiquarian treasures as to make the vicarage a little museum. His wife was a cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson, who came here on a visit which had memorable results. He met here another guest, Sidney Colvin, who gave him his first introduction to a London editor, revised his first writings, and set him on the path to fame. The old vicar witnessed the first handshake of the two new friends, neither dreaming that one was to write his way to fame and the other to edit his works and write his life. Host, hostess, and guests are all gone now, and the little museum has lost its treasures, but the old vicarage in the fields is a place of pilgrimage to those who hold dear the author of Treasure Island and the imperishable essays.

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