At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Edmund, Bromeswell

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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south doorway Bromeswell rectory wall
Norman door arch Saxon-style cross with the Four Evangelists

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          The top street of this village is the busy road from Woodbridge to Aldeburgh and Orford, but once you get down into the valley it is a surprisingly lovely and peaceful place, a twin to the village of Ufford which faces it across the water meadows of the Deben. You reach the church down a quiet lane, on a mound suggestive of an ancient site. It is dedicated to the patron saint of East Anglia. I first visited this church on New Years Day 2000, and was pleased to be the first of the new century to sign the visitors book. In fact, this church has few visitors. Possibly because it is hidden from view, and, perhaps, that it has none of the glories of its near neighbour Ufford. This is a pity, because it is a lovely little church and deserves to be better known.

The tower is typically East Anglian of the 15th Century, but not large. The tower was built in the second half of the 15th Century. Stephen Osbern's will of 1450 gave 40d to the building of the tower, while Thomas Austen ten years later hedged his bests a little, giving 3s 4d (that is to say, half a noble) to be paid when the tower completely finished. Most likely he wanted to contribute to the new bells, and indeed the following year Robert Sarle left 10 marks for a bell.

The most striking thing about the church as you approach is that there are hardly any windows in the north wall of the nave. A strange brick course extends upwards from the blocked north door. It is the outside wall of a chimney flue. An unusual modern vestry adjoins the 19th Century chancel. I am told that, when it was built, a number of skeletons were found; but, because this is the north side of the church, and those in charge thought them either suicides or the unbaptised (a popular modern misconception), they were reburied without ceremony.

The south porch is a handsome red brick affair, and it shelters a Norman doorway. You tep into an interior that is almost entirely Victorian, strikingly narrow under a high pitched roof. The Victorian skylights at the east end make up for the lack of windows. The angels are mostly fibreglass copies of the two at the far east. These were carved in the 1920s by the carpenter-vicar of Eyke, the Reverend Darling. The story goes that they were originally made for the church at Rendlesham, but turned out to be the wrong scale, so were presented to this church instead. You can see much more of his work in his own church. The angels carry shields, and a key to these is on the wall.

The late medieval font also carries the iconography of power, of both church and state. Behind the font, below the tower, there are two curious holes about two metres from the floor, one in the south wall and one in the north. The one to the south has a 12th century head below it; although shallow, it looks as though it might have been a decorated corbel of some kind. The holes are about 15cm square, and go back a long way into the wall. The packing at the far end suggests that they might once have gone through to the outside. If they were directly opposite each other, you would instantly guess that they had held the two ends of a beam, perhaps supporting a floor. But they are not. Mortlock thought they might have been squints, but it is hard to think this likely.

The East window remembers Caroline King, wife of the rector Robert King. She has a very fine Saxon cross memorial in the churchyard. The King family provided a number of 19th Century rectors here.

The greatest treasure of this church is not generally available to see. This is the famous Mechlin bell. A plaque in the nave tells is that the bells were rehung in 1933 to commemorate 25 years of service by the Reverend F and Mrs Shadwell. The diocesan surveyor who would have overseen this work was Henry Munro Cautley, who was at that time writing his epic and influential Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. Bromeswell church gets a fairly lengthy section in the work on the strength of the bell that Cautley saw rehung. It is decorated with two scenes of rosary mysteries, the Annunciation and the Presentation, as well as the flight into Egypt, and St Michael confronting a dragon. On it, in old Flemish, is written Jesus am I, cast by Cornelis Waghevens in the year of Our Lord 1530. The churchwardens contacted me and asked me if I would like to go up the tower and see it. We climbed the winding stair, the steps renewed since the tower was built, up a narrow ladder, on to the medieval bell-frame. This frame of narrow planks sits about 15 feet above the bell-chamber floor, perhaps 50 feet above ground. I balanced myself precariously on a timber to examine the gorgeous bell. The side of the bell that I'd climbed up beside features the Annunciation panel, and the end of the inscription, including the date.

The Mechelen bell, 1530 Annunciation scene on the Mechelen bell, 1530

The bell frame contains two bells, although the tower contains space for a third. The other bell is perhaps 200 years older than the Mechlin bell, but it is, unfortunately, cracked. Cautley deciphered a request for St Paul to pray for us, in Lombardic script. On the floor of the bell chamber below, a crumpled length of dusty metal turned out to be, on inspection, an old decalogue board. It was one of a pair, the other now vanished. These boards listed the Ten Commandments, and often the Creed and Our Father as well. They were found at the east end of every Anglican church throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries, and many still survive today. This particular board was an painted zinc sheet, commonly found in Suffolk, but more often transferred to the west wall after the influence of the Oxford Movement had encouraged a more sacramental approach to worship. The wooden base of this sheet stood beside it, and was presumably removed from the chancel at the time the King family led a makeover in the 1870s.


Simon Knott, December 2020

looking east sanctuary Good Shepherd with the Blessed Virgin and St John
font font angel
Agnus Dei for Caroline King by William Wailes, 1860s Blessed Virgin by William Wailes, 1860s Good Shepherd by William Wailes, 1860s St John by William Wailes, 1860s censing angel (William Wailes?)
Pelican in her Piety by William Wailes, 1860s St Barbara (William Wailes?) St Stephen (William Wailes?) St Stephen (William Wailes?)
the Rev F & Mrs Shadwell laid down decalogue

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