At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Ashfield-cum-Thorpe

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Ashfield-cum-Thorpe

Ashfield-cum-Thorpe

   
   

They seem to have been a pragmatic lot in the two villages of Ashfield and Thorpe over the centuries. After, the Reformation, the two parishes were consolidated into one. The church of St Peter at Thorpe quickly fell into ruins, and by 1602 it was quite unusable. So, the people of both villages came here. In 1739, the Squire at Thorpe rebuilt St Peter, retaining its late Saxon round tower; the novelty of a new church seems to have been a bit of an attraction, because now it was St Mary at Ashfield which entered a period of neglect. By the late 18th Century, the church here had become ruinous, so it was the turn of the Ashfield villagers to make the trek across the fields to Thorpe, to attend divine service there. In return, the dead of both villages came here to be buried. In 1823, someone stole the bell from the cage at Ashfield, so presumably it had still been in use for funerals. It must have been a curious place, because cemeteries were virtually unknown at the time, and the ruins of the old church must have cast a haunting presence.

This went on until 1853, when Lord Henniker of Thornham Magna paid the Long Melford architect William Woollard to design a new church for Ashefield. All that remained of the old building by now was the stump of its square tower, and this was completely removed, a wholly new St Mary being built in its place. It is an unusual building in some ways. Although Suffolk doesn't have many newly built Victorian churches outside the four main towns, there were lots of heavy restorations. Generally, these are all in a traditional Suffolk style, but St Mary is wholly mid-19th century and was equipped for Tractarian worship, which must have been quite a sensation.

The cost of the church was 2000, about half a million in today's money, and this substantial building has faired well. Red brick is usual in Suffolk buildings of this period, but Woollard banded it here with expensive blue bricks, which gives it a strangely industrial feel, especially when coupled with the chimney-like bellcote at the west end.

Inside is neat and crisp, thanks to a recent restoration which has removed old wood and exposed the fine brick floors. Thanks to the lack of stained glass, the church is shot full of light, a pleasant place. Outside, it is interesting to find several gravestones dating from the early years of the 19th century, when this was but a cemetery, before the great philanthropist of Thornham restored it to its former glory.
  The Foundation Stone of this church was laid
   

Simon Knott, September 2017

   

looking east looking east
sanctuary looking west
in grateful remembrance of the following men organ Gipping Rural District Council Best Kept Village Competition 1967 1969 Ashfield cum Thorpe crucified
The Royal British Legion Earl Soham and District

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