Water for the public

WE TAKE IT FOR GRANTED that when you turn on a tap in your bathroom or kitchen, fresh water will flow. And when, usually for maintenance purposes, the mains water supply is turned off temporarily, we can be truly inconvenienced. There are still many parts of the world where piped water is not available to domestic users, but the UK is no longer one of these.

During a recent (May 2023) trip to Lavenham in Suffolk, my wife noticed something next to a pavement. It was a now obsolete bit of plumbing, which has been preserved to demonstrate that even as late as 1936, the small town did not have a public piped water supply for its dwellers. I suppose that before that date, the people had to rely on springs and wells.

The object that can be found on the east side of Church Street, south of Water Street, is a public standpipe. A notice near it explained that piped water came to Lavenham in 1936 to 1937. Several standpipes were erected to give the public access to the water. At that time, people had to collect water from the standpipes and take it to where they required it. However, they did not yet have the luxury of having taps that supplied water in their own homes. The standpipe, which we saw, is now non-functional, but is one of nine such items still to be found in Lavenham.

Lavenham is full of small reminders of how different life was many centuries ago. The standpipe is a small souvenir that makes us realise how different life was less than 100 years ago.

Alas, poor little Clopton

THE GLORIOUS GOTHIC CHURCH in Lavenham (Suffolk) attests to the prosperity that the town enjoyed many centuries ago when it was involved in the then extremely lucrative wool trade. In those far-off days, infant mortality was far from uncommon amongst people from all social classes. Related to this, there is something quite unusual on the floor in front of the chancel of Lavenham’s large early 16th century church of St Peter and St Paul.

The strange object in the floor is a funerary brass. These are commonly found in mediaeval churches, but differ from the one in Lavenham. At first sight, the small brass looks a bit like a fish. However, on closer examination, it can be seen to be a depiction of a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes or chrism robes.  At one end, the babies small face is visible. The brass is curious because it is, if not the only, one of the few, surviving examples of a funerary brass depicting an infant, rather than an older person. The brass marks the grave of Clopton, the first-born son of the antiquary and politician Sir Symonds d’Ewes (1602-1650). His son died in 1631 only 10 days after being born, and 4 days after having been baptised.

The prominent position of Clopton’s grave probably relates to the fact that his father had married Anne, the daughter and heiress of Sir William Clopton, and in so doing had become very wealthy. In 1636, he was appointed the High Sheriff of Suffolk. He was also Lord of the Manor in which Lavenham was located. Clopton was not the only of their offspring to die young. In the “The autobiography and correspondence of Sir Simonds D’Ewes, bart., during the reigns of James I. and Charles I”, we read about Clopton’s demise in 1631:

“Our sweet infant was a little ill, Thursday, July the 7th, but we had no suspicion or fear of his approaching end till Saturday, July the 9th, when he was surprised with a violent and little intermitting lask [i.e., looseness] or scouring; with which he having been grievously afflicted and disquieted all the day, he had some intermission about four of the clock in the afternoon, and so lay quietly breathing out his last and innocent breath till near upon six of the clock the same evening, when he rendered up his blessed soul into the hands of his eternal Creator. I had attended him, fasting the greatest part of the day; and when he had given up the ghost, my dearest and myself could not refrain from many tears, sighs, and mournings…”

Two sons followed Clopton’s death – Adrian and Geerardt. Both died early in their lives. Sir Symonds wrote that in 1633, Adrian:

“… was interred, March the 14th, Thursday, in Lavenham chancel, also in the same grave with Clopton D’Ewes, his elder, and Geerardt D’Ewes, his younger brother.”

From this, it seems that the unusual brass not only marks the grave of Clopton, but also the final resting places of Adrian, and Geerardt. And in 1634, we learn:

“Between two and three of the clock in the afternoon of the same day, she [i.e., Symond’s wife] was safely delivered of her fourth son, who was baptized in Ixworth parochial church, on the 1st day of August, and named Clopton. For though we had lost the eldest of the same appellation, yet my dear esteem of my wife and her family made me once more bestow her surname on this son, who was at this time, his three elder brothers being dead, one heir-apparent.”

Alas, the second Clopton never lived long enough to inherit his father’s baronetcy. In about 1650, about 9 years after Anne had died, Symond’s second wife, Elizabeth (née Willoughby) produced a son – Willoughby D’Ewes, who inherited the baronetcy.

Although I have visited St Peter and St Paul in Lavenham several times before, it was only during my most recent visit that I noticed the unusual ‘baby brass’. Many of Lavenham’s charms – notably its abundance of half-timbered houses and its Guildhall (built 1525) – are obvious. In addition, the town is full of fascinating less prominent details, such as Clopton’s brass I have just described.

A surprise in Suffolk

I FEEL SURE THAT I visited Ickworth House in Suffolk at least 25 years ago. Apart from remembering the external appearance of its wonderful central rotunda, I could not recall anything else about it when we revisited it yesterday (13th of May 2023).

Ickworth House was built between 1795 and 1829 by the Hervey family, who became the marquesses of Bristol in 1467. Now maintained by the National Trust, it contains a remarkable collection of paintings. Unlike the often-indifferent paintings that can be found hanging in many English stately homes, Ickworth possesses many works by top-rated Western European artists of yesteryear. These were collected by the 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, Frederick Hervey (1730-1803), who inherited the fortune that allowed him to finance the construction of Ickworth. A frequent visitor to mainland Europe, he amassed a fine collection of art – both paintings and sculptures.

By Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Visitors to Ickworth can view a painted sketch by Velasquez, a portrait by Titian, five paintings by Johann Zoffany, a picture by Angelica Kauffmann, a sculpture by John Flaxman, and many other works by artists including Reynolds, Romney, and Gainsborough. And this is not all. There are also plenty of paintings by artists whose names are less familiar to me.

In one room there are two paintings by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842), who was court artist to Marie-Antoinette. One of them is an interesting self-portrait, in which the artist depicted herself painting a portrait of her daughter. She and her daughter fled from France after the arrest of the French royal family in 1789. She met Frederick Hervey, the Earl-Bishop, in Italy twice in 1790. Both in Rome and in Naples, she painted his portrait. The one painted in Naples hangs at Ickworth, facing her self-portrait.

We visited Ickworth yesterday as apart of a drive around Suffolk. As we had done no advance planning or research on the place, what we found inside – the amazing collection of artworks – was a delightful surprise.

Queen of Hearts maybe?

HOLY TRINITY CHURCH in the Suffolk Town of Long Melford is a grand perpendicular gothic affair built in the 15th century when the town was prospering because of the then thriving wool trade. Fortunately for us today, several of the original stained glass windows have survived in reasonably good condition.

On one of these mediaeval windows, which survived the iconoclastic behaviour instigated by Henry VIII, depicts Elizabeth Talbot, the Duchess of Norfolk, who was born in about 1442. Her daughter was married as a child to Richard, one of the two princes murdered in the Tower of London in about 1483.

It has been suggested that John Tenniel, the Victorian illustrator of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, might possibly have visited Long Melford, seen the portrait of Elizabeth Talbot, and then modelled his illustration of the Queen of Hearts on that image on the window. Whether this was actually the case or just pure coincidence is up to the viewer to decide. I remain undecided.

Small but beautiful: deserves a visit

WHEN PEOPLE CONSIDER picturesque places in the eastern English county of Suffolk, the following places usually spring to mind: Bury St Edmunds, Clare, Southwold, Lavenham, Long Melford, and Sudbury. All these places deserve their reputation as sites worth visiting. Kersey is another place, which is exceptionally attractive. I had never heard about it until someone in a museum (in Essex) told me about it recently. It is far less visited than those mentioned above.

Kersey, Suffolk, England

Kersey is about 9 miles west of Ipswich. The village lies on the steep slopes of the valley of a small stream, a tributary of the River Brett (which feeds the River Stour). The main road running through Kersey crosses the stream not over a bridge but by a ford (known as ‘The Splash’). The village’s name, Kersey, means a ‘wet area with cress’. It is likely that this refers to the part of the place around The Splash. The heyday of the village was long ago: it was during the 14th century when Kersey was important in the then flourishing woollen cloth production industry. The church overlooking the village, St Mary’s, dates from that prosperous era. Likewise, with many of the lovely half-timbered houses. Although their construction began in the 14th and 15th centuries, they have undergone modifications over the centuries. However, they have a picturesqueness that easily rivals that which has made the better-known places (listed above) so famous.

Apart from the church and the half-timbered Bell Inn (about 14th century), one building stands out in Kersey. This is a large building with an impressive 16th century two storeyed red brick entrance structure projecting from the rest of the edifice, which was constructed in the 15th century. Above the main entrance, there is an inscribed stone plaque set into the brickwork. It bears the following: “Ye Olde River House 1490”.

After the Black Death (1346-1353) and later the decline of the wool industry in that part of Suffolk (in about the 17th century), not much happened in Kersey between then and the present, so I was told by a local inhabitant. Nothing much replaced the textile trade, and this led to the village remaining much as it was during its best days. This is lucky for those, like me, who enjoy the charm of England’s older and eye-catching vernacular architecture. Neither I nor the inhabitant with whom I spoke could understand why Kersey, unlike places such as I mentioned at the start of this piece, is not as frequently visited by tourists. Although smaller than all the other places, it easily matches their beauty.

Look, no hands

WE VISITED TWO churches in Suffolk, and inside them we spotted three things that particularly interested us. The first church is in Cavendish, The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin. Standing on a hill above the village, its construction dates from 1300 and was largely completed by 1485. Some restoration work was carried out in the 19th century. One of the two things that fascinated us in this church is affixed to the inside of the north wall. It is a bas-relief depicting the Crucifixion. It is a reredos of Flemmish make, created in the 16th century. It is framed in a Victorian surround designed by Ninian Comper (1864-1960) in 1895. The sculpted reredos was brought to the church from the private chapel of the hymn writer Athelstan Riley (1858-1945) in London, following his death.

Cavendish church

The other curiosity in this church, which has memorials to the philanthropists and local parishioners Baroness Sue Ryder and Baron Leonard Cheshire, is on a wall just behind the 19th century wooden pulpit within arm’s reach of the preacher. It is an hourglass, looking like a large egg-timer, which the priest could use to time his sermon. I had never seen such a thing in a church. Less curious but also fairly unusual are the 13 wooden crucifixes on the interior walls of the bell tower. These were made from wood salvaged from the Western Front during WW1 and each one commemorates one of the men from Cavendish who were killed in the conflict.

The other church we visited on our recent trip to Suffolk was St Mary in Stoke by Nayland, which was sometimes painted by John Constable (1776-1837), who was born nearby in East Bergholt. Built in Perpendicular Gothic style between 1300 and 1481 it is very majestic, like a small cathedral. The church is full of interesting monuments including many fine brasses. It was one of the funerary monuments that particularly intrigued us: the Lady Anne Windsor monument. Anne lived from about 1568 until 1615. A stone carving depicts her lying with her head on a pillow. At her feet, there is a carving of a kneeling man, Anne’s son. By her head, two carvings depict a pair of kneeling women, Anne’s daughters. Look closely at this pair and you will notice that their hands have been broken off. Their arms are merely amputated stumps. What is going on here?

Stoke by Nayland church

The answer is that in 1643, Parliamentary Commissioners visited the church in Stoke by Nayland and destroyed 100 religious images and 7 funerary items. Part of this over-zealous iconoclastic behaviour was the removal of the four hands of the two women on Lady Anne’s monument, as well as those of the recumbent figure of the deceased. All the hands of females on the monument were removed but those of the kneeling male figure were left untouched. Apparently, the female hands were removed because the Commissioners considered them to have been in “a superstitious attitude of prayer”, whatever that meant during the Reformation.

The three items I have described are but a few of the things worth seeing in the two churches. I have chosen to describe them because I have not seen such things in the many other parish churches I have visited in England.

A delightful detour

ONE OF THE JOYS of travelling around in one’s own car is the ability to go almost anywhere one wishes and by any route, direct or indirect. Recently, we were driving along the A1141 between the Suffolk wool towns of Lavenham and Hadleigh when we noticed a small brown and white sign directing tourists to “St James Chapel”. We turned off the main road and drove along a narrow, winding by-road, which threaded its way through cultivated fields and small clumps of trees. We had no idea where the chapel is located and it was almost by chance that we noticed the small building, which is located well away from the lane. The best view of this tiny edifice is through a farmyard next to which it stands, otherwise it is well concealed by tall hedges.

Maintained by English Heritage, the chapel is approached via a narrow L-shaped passage between it and the hedges. A board close by gives the history of the place.  The tiny 13th century chapel served the nearby Lindsey Castle, which was abandoned in the 14th century and now exists only as earthworks (www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=384905&resourceID=19191). During the 13th century, a lady called Nesta de Cockfield (c1182-c1248; https://our-royal-titled-noble-and-commoner-ancestors.com/p5161.htm#i154959), who was born near Lindsey Castle at Kersey, established a tithe (tax) to maintain the chapel of St James. Along with all other chantries (usually, chapels on private land), St James was closed in 1547 as part of the religious reforms instigated by King Edward VI.

The chapel was used as a barn from 1547 until the early 1930s, when it became designated as a historic monument. The building is built with roughly cut flints held together with mortar or cement. The entrance with its gothic archway and the windows are trimmed with well-cut stone blocks. The interior walls are not plastered and look the same as the exterior. On the south wall there is a niche or ‘piscina’ (used for draining water used in the Mass in pre-Reformation church services), which, like the windows, is topped by a gothic arch. Apart from the piscina, there is nothing else left within the chapel apart from the ghosts of those who prayed there many centuries ago.

The ceiling of St James is formed of the exposed timbers that support the roof, which is attractively thatched, and looks well-maintained. The north wall of the chapel faces the road across the car park of the farm next door to it.

Without a car or bicycle or horse, reaching the tiny chapel of St James would involve a tiring walk. Without a car and plenty of leisure time we would most likely never have visited this delightful remnant of East Anglia’s rich mediaeval heritage.

Station with no trains

THERE ARE NO MORE trains running to the picturesque town of Clare in Suffolk. Between 1865 and 1967, trains running on the Stour Valley Line between Marks Tey (in Essex) and Shelford (in Cambridgeshire) stopped at Clare Station. In 1961, you could leave London’s Liverpool Street Station at 8.30 am and reach Clare at 10.44 am (www.disused-stations.org.uk/c/clare/).  

On a recent visit to Clare in August 2021, we decided to take a look at what remains of Clare Castle, which was built shortly after 1066 by Richard fitz Gilbert (1035-c1090), who took part in the Norman invasion of England (1066). To reach the remains of this structure, we walked across a large car park, at the far end of which is the attractive Clare Castle Country Park. The north side of the park is occupied by a tall conical mound, the motte of the former castle. On top of this, there is a short length of ruined, curved walling. Running east from the base of the motte, is a length of wall with one archway, presumably a wall that formed part of the castle’s bailey. These features are all that can be seen of the former castle. Exciting as this might be for historians, the park contains some other structures of historic interest. They are not as old as the castle, but fascinating, nevertheless.

Clare railway station

The Country Park contains the platforms, station buildings, and the goods shed of the former Clare Station. These have all been preserved well and employed as leisure facilities for visitors to the park. The main station buildings on platform 1 contain a waiting room with its old fireplace and ticket office. Built in 1865 to a standard design used in 30 Great Eastern Railway stations, this building now serves as an eatery and café. Across the grassy strip, where the tracks used to be laid, is platform 2, with its own waiting room, now used as a visitors’ centre and souvenir shop. A short distance away from the old platforms, the former goods shed still stands. With an old-fashioned goods crane outside it, the shed contains toilets and other facilities for visitors. Clare’s signal box no longer exists as it was destroyed by fire in the late 1960s.

The line that used to run through Clare was closed in 1967 as part of a plan devised by Dr Richard Beeching (1913-1985), who became Chairman of the British Railways Board in 1961. Beeching was instructed by the British Government to devise a plan to increase the efficiency of British Railways. This was eventually executed and involved the closure of many stations, including Clare, and of many miles of track, including the Stour Valley Line. The last passenger train to stop at Clare was on the 4th of March 1967. Although trains used the line for a short time after this, none ever stopped at Clare again.

A visit to Clare is worthwhile because it is small town with many historic buildings and an attractive parish church. We visited recently on a Saturday morning when a small street market was in full swing. The town has several shops selling antiques and a few cafés, apart from that in the former railway station. We had visited Clare several times before, but it was only on our latest visit that we came across the old railway buildings. In this period when there is great concern about global warming and ‘saving the planet’ seeing the station and its platforms reminds us that Beeching’s plan to close so many lines was short-sighted because a good network of mass rail transport could contribute to reducing the current dependence on road transport and might reduce pollution. Thinking back to the 1960s, the time of Beeching’s plan, I do not recall that there was much concern about the future of our planet in those days.