St Mary, Brome
www.suffolkchurches.co.uk - a journey through the churches of Suffolk
|When I first visited Brome back in
the 1990s, this church had been a rather run-down and
most often inaccessible building. But in the following
decade there was a massive programme of restoration at St
Mary, coupled with what felt like a reawakening of the
Church in this part of Suffolk. The church is in
excellent condition now, and open every day.
Brome, pronounced broom, sits just to the north of the pretty little town of Eye, and St Mary is essentially a Victorian rebuilding of an early medieval church. It must be said that it was somewhat unappreciated by the church explorers of the last century. How times have changed, especially with regard to our understanding and appreciation of what the Victorians did! For the church here is the work of none other than Thomas Jekyll, now recognised as one of the most innovative designers of the Victorian era. Jekyll almost completely rebuilt St Mary between the 1850s and the 1870s, and it would seem that little expense was spared. All that survives from the earlier church is the lower part of the tower, the font now beneath it, and a magnificent late medieval south porch which now acts as a vestry. This is easily missed, as the only view of the church is from the south, and you need to go around the tight churchyard to see it.
Jekyll's work was augmented by the largest known collection of the work of the Ipswich sculptor James Williams, whose workshop produced the long stone reredos, altar rails, prayer desk and now sadly battered pulpit. The project was bankrolled by two millionaires. One was Lord Kerrison, whose name is inescapable in this part of Suffolk, and the other was the Rector here for forty years, George John Mapletoft Paterson. Best of all, the church has one of the best collections in all England of the stained glass work of the great Robert Bayne, part of the Heaton, Butler & Bayne partnership.
To start in the east, the great window is Bayne's sumptuous depiction of the Last Judgement, a rather unusual choice of subject at the time perhaps. Christ sits holding his orb near the top, flanked by Disciples laying down their crowns, and angels holding open the books of judgement. Below, there are two images of St Michael, one of Mercy, showing him with his sword killing a dragon, and one of Justice, showing him with his scales. On the left, a smiling angel ushers the saved into Heaven. On the right, a frowning angel directs the damned into the mouth of hell. The intense colours of Bayne's design must have made quite an impression in those days before electricity, colour photography and the like. You can't help thinking that it would have had a rather sobering effect upon the 19th Century farmworker nursing his Saturday night hangover through the Reverend Paterson's sermons.
Apart from the window depicting
Christ the Good Shepherd flanked by Mary Magdalene and
Martha in the north transept, which appears to be by
William Wailes, almost all the rest of the glass in the
church is by Heaton, Butler & Bayne, except for the
curious window on the south side of the sanctuary, which
is said to have been designed by Lady Kerrison.
I was so glad that I'd come back to Brome. I wandered around the graveyard, finding the elaborate memorial to George Paterson immediately to the east of the church. Thomas Jekyll would eventually go mad and die in a lunatic asylum, but not before pioneering the Chinoiserie revival in England. Lord Kerrison remained one of the most significant figures in Suffolk politics until his death, and his mark has been left all over the north of the county. If the three of them could come back to St Mary today, they would immediately recognise it. This is a wonderful church, an extraordinary labour of love, one of the finest documents in East Anglia of the piety, energy and wealth of mid-Victorian Anglicanism.
Simon Knott, October 2018
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