At the sign of the Barking lion...

Our Lady of Grace, Aspall

At the sign of the Barking lion...

home index e-mail what's new? - a journey through the churches of Suffolk


Aspall north porch overgrown

Follow these journeys as they happen at Last Of England Twitter.


You leave Debenham, and you enter a land of apple orchards, mile after mile of them. This is the Chevallier estate, home of the Aspall Cyder Company, until fairly recently still owned by the Chevallier family of Aspall Hall. The family came here from the Channel Islands in the 18th Century to make cyder, and were using the same apple-crushing wheel until fairly recently. The company has undergone something of a revolution in the last ten years though, being launched as a national and even international brand, and an industrial-scale cyder plant now rises incongruously above the Debenham to Eye road. The family name is remembered by Chevallier Street in Ipswich.

A long straight road cuts westward through the orchards, and leads into a gentle dip. This is the tiny hamlet of Aspall, not to be confused with the larger Stonham Aspal on the far side of Debenham, and the church sits there with a few attendant houses and cottages. The setting is intensely rural. On the occasion of my first visit in the 1990s, the little lodge beside the church gate had a brace of pheasants hanging from its door. Not much can have changed here in the last 150 years.

The tower and windows of the nave are Perpendicular, suggesting a 15th Century date, but perhaps an early one because in a surviving bequest of 1448 Richard Anneys charmingly left money to the buying of necessary books, suggesting there was nothing more to be done. The chancel is of an earlier age judging by its Y-traceried windows. This poor little church has been subject to a certain amount of neglect in recent decades. When I first came here twenty-five years ago there was ivy climbing high up the walls and the church appeared to no longer be in use, but coming back in 2011 I found there had recent attempts to rescue it, dead ivy still clinging in upper reaches as evidence of this. Coming back in March 2022 I found that one loss since my last visit was the elegant 1860s lychgate with its painted zinc texts that stood to the north of the church. In the September of the previous year someone had told me that a couple of boards were now missing from its roof, but it had succumbed to the high winds of February and was now entirely roofless, its texts hanging forlornly. And I'm afraid that the church too still has an air of neglect in comparison with its neatly kept near-neighbours. There are holes in the roof at the west end of the nave, but it remains in use, as you find as you step through the charming 1860s porch into an unexpectedly lovely interior.

There was a major restoration here under the hands of the Chevallier family, who as well as being Lords of the Manor presented their own sons to the living. One of the 19th Century incumbents was Charles Henry Chevallier, perpetual curate here for 36 years in the second half of the 19th Century. The makeover of the church was to his design and expense. One of the delights of it is the small collection of bench ends that depict amongst other things a man binding a sheaf of wheat, a woman washing at a tub, a rat and an impressively oriental wyvern or dragon. James Bettley, revising the Buildings of England volume for East Suffolk, wondered if they might be by the great Henry Ringham.

a man binding sheaves (Henry Ringham? 1860s) a woman at a wash tub (Henry Ringham? 1860s) wyvern (Henry Ringham? 1860s)
rat (Henry Ringham? 1860s) fox? (Henry Ringham? 1860s)

Charles Henry's father and predecessor as incumbent was John Chevallier, who also acted as the village Doctor with a clinic in the Hall. Wearing his farming hat he cultivated Chevallier barley, a high-yield variety, which it was taken out into the Empire, and provided three-quarters of the world's barley crops by the century's end. The 1860s glass remembering him in the east window is the early work of Powell & Sons, featuring quarries made by their pressed pattern process and surrounding lozenges depicting the Raising of Lazarus, Christ welcoming the children and the Ascension. Indeed, the patronage of the Chevallier family is writ large throughout the church in the form of memorials, either to them or to families their daughters married into. Charles Henry Chevallier is remembered by an impressive brass plaque behind the lectern, and there are a fair number of other Chevallier memorials arrayed in the chancel. Above the chancel doorway is a memorial to Harriet Cobbold, a Chevallier daughter who married John Cobbold of Holywells Park, Ipswich and the Cobbold Brewery fame. The loveliest memorial is on the north wall of the nave, a terracotta relief of 1966 by Edwin Russell. It remembers Raulin Guild, son of Peronnelle, another Chevallier daughter. Guild was a close schoolfriend of the writer Bruce Chatwin. He went to live in Northern Rhodesia, contracting the illness from which he would later come home and die. He was just twenty six years old.

Immediately opposite, and perhaps a little absurd in comparison, is a plaque remembering Horatio Herbert Kitchener. Anne Chevallier, sister of Charles Henry, married into the Kitchener family, and her son became Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War at the start of World War One. Arthur Mee recalls that the young Kitchener was so lazy at school, his mother threatened to withdraw him from it and apprentice him to a hatter. You wonder if the world would have turned out differently. Three of the boys sent off by Kitchener to die are remembered on the parish war memorial. It expresses thanks to those who went to fight and then reverent memory of those who died for their country. At the bottom it adds that the parish has at the same time contributed to the extension of the East Suffolk and Ipswich Hospital.

In the churchyard, just to the north-west of the church, you will find the last resting place of the film producer Emeric Pressburger. Pressburger's biography, The Life and Death of a Screenwriter by Kevin Macdonald, notes that he had expressed a wish to be buried in the village church at Aspall. It was a cold dreary day and a small funeral, a few friends from the village, the Schopflinns, my brother and I and our father. Michael was unable to come. Martin Scorsese sent flowers. At the last minute a long-forgotten Yugoslav cousin rang from Belgrade to ensure we gave our grandfather a Jewish burial. He assured us that Emeric had been a practising Jew. No one else could remember him going near a synagogue. As a concession, the liberal Anglican vicar allowed a Star of David to be engraved on his grave stone. And there it is today.

Pressburger's inscription comes from Sir Walter Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel which is read at the end of the film A Matter of Life and Death. It reads Love rules the court, the camp, the grove, And men below and saints above, For love is heaven, and heaven is love.

Simon Knott, March 2022

Follow these journeys as they happen at Last Of England Twitter.


looking west looking east font
Horatio Herbert Kitchener of all sorts enchantingly beloved Charles Henry Chevallier, 1885
buried in the cemetery at Melbourne Australia buried in the family vault at Streatham in reverent memory
Harriet Cobbold, 1851 Raising of lazarus/Suffer the Children (Powell & Sons, c1860)

Emeric Pressburger Emeric Pressburger


The Churches of East Anglia websites are non-profit-making, in fact they are run at a loss. But if you enjoy using them and find them useful, a small contribution towards the costs of web space, train fares and the like would be most gratefully received. You can donate via Paypal.