Monday, 18 February 2013

Eye, Suffolk

Last Thursday didn't go quite as planned due to the stupidity of relying on Google and TomTom - a combination that is always going to end in disaster. My intention was to take advantage of the eldest being back from Uni (thus freeing me from having to be back home for the youngest at the end of the schoolday) to knock off 11 churches in the Ickworth area starting with St Mary Denham.

Having Googled Denham for the postcode - no I didn't notice that the church was called St John the Baptist nor that every other church was in IP29 and this was IP21 (who knew Suffolk was so big) and not even the fact that Tom reckoned it would take 1hr 35mins to get there alerted any alarms - I set off into the depths of Suffolk missing my intended first visit by almost 35 miles.

Happily this overshoot took me through Eye so I stopped off at SS Peter & Paul. One of those spectacularly massive wool churches that Suffolk is known for, the exterior is lovely but inside it has had a good scrubbing and is not the interior it could be. Having said that the rood screen and dado are amazing and there's enough interest to make this well worth a visit.

ST PETER AND ST PAUL. The W tower of Eye church is one of the wonders of Suffolk, 101ft tall and panelled in flushwork from foot to parapet. A frieze of shields at the base. A frieze of shields above the W doorway, which is also flanked by niches. A four-light window with transom, then a small two-light window, another above that, and then the bell-openings, two of two lights side by side in each direction. The parapet is of stone, very tall, and panelled also. It carries battlements and pinnacles. Among the shields is that of the de la Poles. The ground floor of the tower is fan-vaulted. The first floor opens with a stone gallery towards the nave (cf. Mildenhall). Perp S aisle with battlements decorated by flushwork emblems, Perp S chapel with a flying buttress supporting the wall in front of the priest’s doorway (cf. Blythburgh, Yaxley). Chancel with buttresses decorated by flushwork. Clerestory with double windows in the chancel, single windows in the nave. In the chancel flushwork panelling between them. Perp S porch of two stages. The sides are panelled all over, and it certainly adds a piquant touch that at some restoration the flint has here been replaced by brick. The front is all stone-faced. Big polygonal buttresses, left incomplete. Above the entrance a frieze of quatrefoils, then one of lozenges, then a two-light window. The interior was vaulted, but only the angle-shafts remain. All this is Perp, but the s doorway is a survival from a preceding building, a good piece of the C13, with one order of shafts carrying crocket capitals and a finely moulded arch. The inner order has a band of dog-tooth. The nave walls inside cant towards the tower. The arcades are of five bays, with octagonal piers, finely moulded capitals, and arches of one chamfer and one hollow chamfer  - rather disappointing after the external display. Chancel chapels of two bays, C14. The N arcade has quatrefoil piers and arches with two hollow chamfers, the S arcade piers are quatrefoil with fillets on the lobes and spurs in the diagonals. The arches have three hollow chamfers. The capitals also differ a little. In the N aisle is a big recess with cusped and sub-cusped arch and crocketed ogee gable flanked by buttresses carrying finials. That also must be c. 1350 at the latest. So the whole arcades and the walls of S as well as N aisle are really pre-Perp . Arch-braced nave roof springing from wall-posts. They alternate with arched braces springing from the apexes of wide wall arches made of arched braces running W-E. - SCREEN. The only screen in Suffolk restored with loft and rood. On the dado fourteen paintings of c. 1500, all bad. Rich cusped and sub-cusped entrance arch. Carved foliage trail on the rail above the dado. The rest in a bad state. Ribbed coving supported in front by traceried pendant arches. Above this an upper tier of ribbed coving. A cresting on top. Inscription commemorating John Gold. - Interesting C17 stone SHELF for charity loaves (S porch). — MONUMENTS. In the N aisle to Nicholas Cutler, 1568. Tomb-chest with three shields in lozenges. On this two poor columns and a flat Perp arch with straight top. Quatrefoil frieze and cresting above this . The columns are the only indication of the Renaissance. - William Honyng, 1569, in the S chapel. A copy of the former. - John Brown d. 1732. Unsigned. At the foot an excellent relief of the Good Samaritan.

Rood screen


North aisle window

EYE. It is a quaint town of delightful byways with many fine old houses, a castle on a hill, and a grand old church. The Romans knew it, for many of their coins and fragments of one of their houses have been found. On the hill where the Saxons had a fortress the Normans built a castle, and in the Conqueror’s day a priory was also founded here; we can still see one of its archways, and fragments of its broken walls, in a charming garden. The castle crowns a remarkable hill from which Romans, Saxons, and Normans have looked far over the county, as if it were indeed the eye of Suffolk. It is very small and now a little forlorn, but it has a courtyard protected by eight strong buttressed walls with Roman brick among the stones, and a tower built by Robert Malet, whose father fought at Hastings.

The church is a noble building with 13th century fragments, but much of it was rebuilt five centuries ago by John de la Pole. His shields are on the splendid tower with striking buttresses and a magnificent parapet soaring over 100 feet. The medieval builders of Suffolk delighted in their glorious porches, and the south porch here is a great example of their fine achievements. It shelters a lovely 13th century doorway with rich moulding and capitals, and has a magnificent carved door believed to be as old as itself. The curious dole table close by is a monument to Henry Cutler, who died in 1601 and left money for the poor. Both nave and aisles have battlemented parapets, and the modern oak roof of the nave has fragments of old work richly painted and gilded, with a host of saints, elaborate bosses, and queer old heads, smiling and ugly, supporting the wall-posts.

The spacious nave has 14th century pillars and a 15th century clerestory, and the old arches of the tower and the chancel enhance its dignity. The chancel also has a clerestory with fine flint arcading between its 12 windows. The buttresses of the east wall are panelled, and one of the little surprises is a buttress cut away to make room for a chancel door. The south chapel was built about 1410, the north chapel with its ancient altar stone a century later. The 15th century font has a remarkable cover like a lantern, with eight shafts, a white dove emblazoned on its ceiling, and a canopy rising about 20 feet.

There is an Elizabethan monument to Nicholas Cutler, whose helmet hangs here; another to his friend William Honying, and a beautiful 14th century recess which has lost the tomb of a knight. One of the Windows is in memory of General Kerrison, who fought at Waterloo and was for 28 years the town’s MP; another is to George Herbert, who died in 1873 after having been parish clerk  since the close of the 18th century. The lovely chancel has a remarkable reredos with a sculpture of the Ascension designed by a vicar of our own time. The iron handle on the vestry door is a fine bit of smithwork, and beautiful silver lamps hang from the roof.

The chief glory of the church is its screen, owing its splendour to old artists and modern craftsmen. The new in it is beautiful, the old is priceless. One of the outstanding roodscreens of Suffolk, it has been much restored this century; the top part is all new, but it is all admirable. The great roodbeam and the Crucifixion group is a triumph of modern carving which would enrich any screen; it has 11 angels praying high above the nave. The old craftsmen’s work has 11 panels with exquisite canopies, their spandrels full of flowers, the rich cornice boldly carved. The lower panels are as fine as any in the famous Devon screens, and here, among a quaint collection of portraits, are St Agnes, St Cecilia, St Edmund, St John, Edward the Confessor, and Henry the Sixth. One lovely panel shows St Ursula with nuns gathered under her cloak and St Helena carrying her cross. But perhaps the most interesting painting is of William of Norwich, the boy said to have been crucified by the Jews in the 12th century. He is shown with wounded hands and feet, a heavy cross on his shoulder, and three nails in one hand.

Next door to the church is a charming old timber house with an overhanging storey carved with shells and oak leaves, and a corner-post with a canopied niche sheltering the angel Gabriel. It is a bit of pure Suffolk delight, one of the lovely old houses which seem to whisper that they are well content.

A famous citizen of the town was William Hoare, RA, the son of a well-to-do farmer who afterwards lost his money in the South Sea Bubble. Here early in the 18th century he drew his first pictures, forerunners of fine portraits which were to make him famous. Most of his days were spent at Bath, but it was here that he first saw beauty.

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