Churches of Suffolk
July 2023
More photos here


This was my first trip with Ace Cultural Tours, lead by Imogen Corrigan, recommended by the friend of a friend on a Courtauld summer school last year. I'd done a Covid-era tour around Medieval Suffolk in 2021, but only one place visited on that tour is included on this one.

Monday 3rd
Travelling in my own country means that I can forget my passport, euros, and travel insurance but I have to remember that the charger in my pouch of leads and batteries has a euro-plug and that I have to pack my home charger. At 4.00 in the morning, when I wake up and realise this.

My comfortable start had been made even more comfortable by the cancellation, notified last week, of my original train, meaning that I needed to take the next train, the 11:00, from Liverpool Street. As this gets me to my hotel around the time the group is due to meet I got my Pret Posh Cheddar baguette, tortilla chips and mango juice before boarding.

All was going well - the cows were standing up, the carriage was quiet and Colchester approached. Then at Colchester we were held up because of a broken-down train at Manningtree, for 42 minutes. Which meant I comfortably missed my connecting train from Ipswich to Bury St Edmunds. Then we got moving, but waited outside Manningtree for ages. By the time we got into Manningtree station we were 64 minutes late, the guard helpfully announced, 85 by the time we got to Ipswich, where a Bury train was waiting, but then we all got turfed off that one onto another one.

I got into Bury 90 minutes later than I shoulda, so I missed the welcome lecture, was able to check in at the Angel Hotel and then snuck up on the group in St Edmundsbury Cathedral. Having bumped into Geoff, the tour manager, I was equipped with my Wispa machine and so looked the part, The cathedral is not so mediaeval, being more Sir Giles Gilbert Scott inside, but undeniably handsome, as is the Abbey gate, which is ruined but very medieval. The Abbey is mostly rubble and ruin, but there's an impressive Norman gateway (see right). Some late time for tea and a snooze followed. Dinner at the hotel
was fine if unspecial.

Tuesday 4th
Breakfast was also fine, but not special. For me fresh juice, good coffee, muesli, a croissant, and Tiptree jam. Properly friendly staff. though, not pre-trained friendly.

With a 9.15 departure our coach, driven by Andre, took us first to St Mary the Virgin Church in Combs, which has one very ugly porch but some nice medieval glass jigsawed back into the windows after a local powder works explosion blew them all out. Then on to the sweet village of Hadleigh, where St Mary’s Church is sideways-on to very handsome orange old town hall with a very turreted red-brick tower nearby (see both right).

For my independent lunch in Hadleigh I patronised a place called Huffers and had an unusually good halloumi burger and chips with a vanilla shake.

To Stratford St Mary in the afternoon, which has some extravagant trees in the churchyard (see right) and some famous stonework lettering on the side facing the road, courtesy of a local family and their desire to get into heaven. These were the Mors, whose merchant mark with an EA monogram (for Edward and Alice) is also to be found carved into a buttress (see below).


Then on to East Bergholt, birthplace of John Constable, and the church of St Mary the Virgin, where his father is buried in the churchyard, which also contains a bell cage - a large wooden structure where some very large bells arre kept and rung, but which process has proven somewhat lethal for the bell ringers. Click below for info and videos.
Inside the church were some fine wall tombs and memorial plaques. Outside you couldn't help noticing a lack of bell tower (see right), hence the need for the bell cage.

Wednesday 5th

Breakfast was taken early because of our 08.30 start, coaching it first to St Nicholas’s Church, Denstone, good for graves outside, tombs inside, and a high rood beam. Next was the far more famous Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford which was responsible for our early start because we had to be in and out before a choral concert began, but when we arrived they were practicing, loudly, singing pop tunes, badly, which they continued to do, blocking our access to the chapel of interest. We managed some time in the (oddly separate) Lady Chapel (that's the view out of its door right) but the raucous choir (mostly old enough to know better) and considerable scaffolding made for a deeply disappointing visit.

For lunch in Lavenham I intended to patronise the place I discovered  on the trip in 2021 but it was closed, so four of us shared a table in The Angel and I enjoyed a bean burger and chips and a half pint of pale ale. We then remained in Lavenham for St Peter & St Paul’s Church, and some stout rain. Then back on the coach, to St Mary’s Church, Brent Eleigh, undoubtedly the day's highlight, providing tea and cake and three fascinating medieval wall paintings behind the altar.

Thursday 6th
Having some time to kill after breakfast I went to photograph outside the Cathedral and around the gardens behind the Norman tower. All very pretty with houses built into chunks of old wall, and some smaller chunks without houses in them.

The first church (of five) today was St Mary’s Church, Thornham Parva, home of the famous Thornham Parva Retable, (see below right) an altarpiece painted for a lost Dominican Priory nearby, the second section of which is in the Cluny Museum in Paris. Faded but evocative wall paintings line the nave too. St Mary the Virgin Church, Yaxley and St Peter & Paul, Hoxne, paled a bit in comparison, but both had large faded wall paintings too, and established the day's other theme of effigies and tombs. The latter had a fine pair with mysterious holes in the wall above two tombs  (see below), which turned out to be where the anchorites confined behind could see the altar and masses taking place. The right-hand tomb has even had a couple of its crenellations shaved off and a hole punched through a quatrefoil moulding.

Then on to Eye and lunch with David and Jenny, two old friends from previous trips who live nearby, sort of. They'd found a place called Caféye (geddit?) which turned out to do an excellent falafel wrap, amongst other Eastern Mediterranean specialities, which was unexpected in such a small town, with eateries you could count on one hand.

Next was St Andrew’s Church, Wingfield and then St Mary’s Church, Dennington, the latter having some fine medieval polychrome screen woodwork and an alabaster tomb with much colour and gilding.

The last dinner at the hotel involved sweet potato soup, a chick pea curry and bread and butter pudding. The latter came with custard but, shamefully, had no raisins.

Friday 7th
For one reason and another I decided to bale on the last day, which was due to end around four, so I would have been lucky to get home before seven. I'm sure that the four churches that I thereby missed would have provided pleasure and stimulation but social exhaustion had set in. I later found out that this phenomenon is also known as getting 'peopled out'.

After a lingering breakfast and checking out, where I found a kindred soul regarding the need for therapeutic solitude, I walked to the station, caught the 10.26 to Ipswich, then waited a mere 10 minutes for the connecting train to Liverpool Street. No probs thereafter, even at the cursed Manningtree, and I was home by one o'clock for lunch.



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