Friday, 8 March 2013

Kersey, Suffolk

St Mary is perched high over its pretty village and is, despite to my eyes a rather heavy handed Victorian restoration, magnificent. From north aisle bosses, tower corbels, rood dado, a dodo lectern (at least it looks more like a dodo than eagle to me), a fantastic font along with an even older one in the north chapel, some great niches, remnants of medieval stonework, damaged but still good roof angels and a south porch to die for this is a must have church and I forgot to mention the badly preserved wallpaintings.

Kersey is the most picturesque village of South Suffolk. The view from the church over the tiled roofs of the houses dipping down to the ford of the river Brett and climbing up the other side is not easily forgotten. The church lies on its own at the S end of the village, which is just one long street with an extension by the stream.

ST MARY. Dates are recorded for the completion of the N aisle (1335) and of the W tower (1481). Both fit the stylistic evidence. Dec N aisle - see the windows under their almost straight-sided arches and the four-petal motif in the tracery, and the fine, broad, ogee-headed niche between two of them inside. Niches also flank the E window. The chancel windows are Dec too, but the chancel was rebuilt in 1862. Are they correctly renewed? Lying between the two are the Sedilia and Piscina of the aisle, one straight-headed composition with four ogee headed vaulted niches. One of the vaults has miniature ribs. The backs of the three Sedilia niches are open in windows to the chancel. Can this motif be original? The N arcade is also of the same period. The piers are octagonal, the arches have one chamfer and one double-wave moulding. Hood-moulds to nave and aisle with pretty fleurons and leaf trails. Finally the aisle roof resting on a uniquely elaborate stone wall-plate, unfortunately ill-preserved. It clearly tells a long story, but what story has not yet been recognized by any student. The roof of the E chapel is ceiled with four big Elizabethan or Jacobean stucco panels. In spite of all these contributions of the early or mid C14, the effect of the church is Perp, thanks to the big W tower, the porches, and most of the windows. The tower has diagonal buttresses with four set-offs. On them long flushwork panels. Battlements with flushwork tracery. Big W doorway. Three-light W window with transom, flanked by fiushwork panels. Also niches l. and r. Bell-openings of three lights with transom. S windows Perp. S porch of two bays with flushwork and pinnacles. Inside the S porch ceiling with sixteen very delicately traceried panels. N porch similar but a little simpler. Perp clerestory, the roof with alternating long arched braces meeting at the collar-beam and hammerbeams.

FURNISHINGS. FONT. A slightly elongated octagon; Perp. Stout stem with quatrefoils. Bowl with four demi-figures of angels. - SCREEN. Dado of the screen to the N chapel, with six painted early C15 figures, not of high quality. - LECTERN. Wooden shaft with thin buttresses and flying buttresses. - WEST DOOR with tracery and a trail border. - SCULPTURE. Fragments of an alabaster altar, e.g. Trinity. Also good bearded heads probably from a reredos (cf. St Cuthbert Wells). From the same perhaps the seated figure of St Anne. - WALL PAINTING. St George and the Dragon, high up on the S wall. - PLATE. Paten 1711 ; Cup, Paten, and Flagon 1791.

Dado (1)

Font (1)

South porch ceiling

KERSEY. We go down into Kersey and up out of it; it lies up and down its two hillsides, set in something like a natural letter V, with the church looking down from one hill and lovely timbered houses creeping up the other, a brook rippling between, and gardens everywhere. No traveller can be disappointed here, with all these legacies from Tudor England and this superb piece of country-planning by Nature herself.

Kersey lives in literature without any literary reason why, for it has given its name to a cloth which was famous centuries ago. It is mentioned in an Act of Parliament of Edward the Sixth, which fixes the standard of this cloth, and Kersey cloth comes into poetry more than once or twice and three times into Shakespeare, who twice mentions it as cloth (in Love’s Labour’s Lost and Measure for Measure) and once pays this village a high compliment by saying that he will express himself “in russet Yeas and honest kersey Noes.” Up and down this steep street, and over the stream which crosses it, the villagers of the great wool days would bring in their packs, and in these timbered houses would weave it into the enduring ribbed material which made them rich and gave a word to our language.

At the top of the street, facing the hill crowned by the church, is a wood the old weavers must have loved. Under the lofty trees in front of Priory Farm are the ruins of the tower, an aisle, a transept, and the west wall of the great church of the 12th century priory.

The church of today is 14th and 15th century. It has handsome buttresses, many of them niched and pinnacled, balancing an exterior over which rises a noble 15th century tower with battlements adorned with traceried and flinted panels. The south porch has a fine old roof carved with tracery and flowers. The nave reminds us of a tragedy which ended an architectural epoch, for it was left unfinished when the Black Death of the 14th century carried to the grave so many of the men who built the exquisite churches of those days. The nave arcade, with its delicate arches supported by slender octagonal pillars and its capitals with moulding and daintily carved foliage, was left unfinished when plague carried off the old artists at their work. The richly carved font, with angels on its panels, probably served at the christening of those craftsmen, for it is 600 years old, as is the impressive stone frieze, with scenes from the life of Christ, running under the roof of the north arcade. Under trefoil panelling in a chapel are fine 15th century stone seats which, like the piscina, have pinnacled arches with birds in the spandrels ; and here, under a plaster roof showing roses and sheaves of corn, is a wall recess in which is a broken alabaster sculpture. Vaulted niches by the window, one with St Anne sitting in a gilded robe, have traces of ancient colour.

The men who carved the birds and vines on the modern lychgate may have found inspiration for their work from the timber within. With a stout old chest banded with iron the church has two rare treasures of the woodworker’s art, a 15th century lectern with a beautifully carved eagle, as prim as a parson, holding the Bible on its upturned wings and tail. The eagle rests on an orb supported by graceful flying buttresses; and the lower panels of a grand old screen have three sceptred kings in ermine capes, and three prophets in ermine gowns. In the tracery above them are hanging flowers.


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