Friday, 24 February 2017

Ufford, Suffolk

Suffolk is a county that just keeps giving; every time I think that I've visited the best church yet along comes another one that makes me think again, St Mary of the Assumption, open, is one such.

A beautiful setting, stunning flushwork, a John Doubleday BVM and inside an astonishing array of bench ends and poppyheads - not hyperbole I assure you -, some very good stained glass, the extraordinary telescopic font cover, a bonkers sarcophagus tomb and some long dead relatives instantly posted it into my top ten and not just of Suffolk. Simon Jenkins gives it a measly two stars, my advice would be to ignore this and visit immediately.

ST MARY. Norman N walling. Re-used Norman doorway in the chancel. The arcade consists of two parts. The two E bays are of c. 1200, with massive round pier and responds; the four-centred arches are Perp. The W bays are later; octagonal pier and two-centred arches. All the arches are double-chamfered. W tower with a little flushwork decoration, S porch with much stars with shields, quatrefoils, a wavy tracery band, and arched panelling. Three niches above the entrance. Clerestory of eight windows against the four bays below. Fine roof with alternating hammerbeams and tie-beams. Chancel roof with collars on long arched braces. The braces are divided in two by pendants coming down from the purlins (cf. Crowfield). The purlins are longitudinally arch-braced, and the wall-plate is richly decorated with battlements and small angels with spread wings. - FONT. The bowl is supported by heads. Against the bowl shields and roses set in quatrefoils and similar fields. - FONT COVER. A prodigious and delightful piece reaching right up to the roof. Munro Cautley calls it ‘ the most beautiful in the world’. Richly crocketed and beset with finials in six or seven tiers, or three, according to how one counts in this thicket of fine decoration. At the very top a Pelican in her Piety. The lower panels slide up over part of the upper. - SCREEN. Dado with painted figures, and rood beam. - BENCHES. With much tracery and poppy-heads on the ends, and to the l. and r. of the poppy-heads animals. - (SOUTH DOOR. With C14 ironwork. LG) - BELL. Of c. 1400 (on the floor at the W end). - PROCESSIONAL CROSS. Said to be C17 Flemish. - CANDLESTICKS and CRUCIFIX on the High Altar, said to be dated 1707 and Italian. - PLATE. Cup and Paten 1671. - MONUMENTS. Brass to Symon Brooke d. 1483 and three wives. 18 in. figures (nave floor). - Sir Henry Wood d. 1671. At the W end of the S aisle big sarcophagus and on it a shrine-like black marble shape crowned by a cartouche with a coat of arms. Free-standing on the sarcophagus an urn. - Outside the W wall of the churchyard STOCKS.

Bench end SS Catherine & Margaret

S chapel E window Ninian Comper 1920 (10)


UFFORD. We walk where Roman feet have been, down deep-shaded lanes to this old place, built on a steep road below which the River Deben flows. It was the ford of Uffa, a Saxon chief, and is said to have been owned by one family for many centuries.

The old flint tower stands by quaint houses with thatched and red tile roofs and tall chimneys; at the gate are the stocks and whipping-post. The church dates from our three great building centuries, the tower added in the 14th and the chancel in the 15th. A little of its medieval colour still shows faintly on the roofs, but the painted figures of martyrs are fading away on the ancient screen, and the wall-painting of St Christopher was almost gone when we called.

There are a few fragments of old glass, an old hourglass by the pulpit, and 15th century stalls carved with saints and queer beasts. The cornice is richly carved with angels, the work of the peasants of Oberammergau. In the memorial chapel to those who did not come back from the Great War is a window with a bluejacket and a soldier helping to bear up the Cross on the road to Calvary. The faces are beautiful.

The 500-year-old font has shields round the bowl resting on heads, but the chief glory of Ufford is its exquisite font cover, a marvellous possession. It reaches almost to the roof, and is crowned with a pelican, and the whole of this mass of woodwork is finely carved and painted. This masterpiece of craftsmanship is 600 years old and the finest font cover even in East Anglia, the home of many lovely ones. It is actually recorded that that breaker of beautiful things William Dowsing, the fanatic who destroyed much lovely work in our churches, was held spellbound at this font and stopped to admire this “glorious cover, like a pope’s triple crown, and gilded over with gold. Towering 18 feet high, it is a mass of lovely pointed tabernacles of open tracery and lacelike pinnacles. It seems to us that Solomon’s temple in all its glory could hardly have had a thing more beautiful than this.

At the font would be baptised old Richard Ballett, whose skeleton is here on a brass with two dragons; and here old Richard Lovekin was baptising the children of Ufford all through the Civil War. He may have heard of Shakespeare, for he was preaching here soon after the poet died and went on preaching 57 years. It is said of him that he was plundered of all his goods except a silver spoon which he hid up his sleeve, and either that or something else brought him good luck, for we are told that he lived to be 111 and preached to his people the Sunday before he died. So did Lovekin love his kin.

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