At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Cavendish

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Cavendish Cavendish Cavendish
Cavendish gable cross remains the Cavendish dead

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The River Stour forms most of the border between Suffolk and Essex, and on either side are some of England's loveliest villages. On a hot summer's day, Cavendish with its wide green, its medieval cottages and ancient inns, its pretty church in its tight tree-lined churchyard, is a fine place to be. This is the antithesis of the copses and fields which form the setting for so many of Suffolk's churches, for this is England tamed and civilised, and the sheer Englishness of the setting, especially when seen from behind a pint outside the pub, can inspire mild feelings of patriotism in even the dourest globalist. No wonder Americans love Cavendish so much. One American who loved Cavendish was John Appleby, whose book A Suffolk Summer has become more elegiac as the years go by. He was an American serviceman stationed near Cavendish, and in the year the Second World War ended he made a series of journeys around Suffolk while he waited to be demobbed, and it is worth reading if only to see how busy these quiet Stour Valley villages were in those days.

There was great wealth here in the late Middle Ages, and this built the substantial exterior of St Mary. The church we see today began to come together in the early 14th Century, when the great tower was erected against an earlier church. In 1381 Sir John Cavendish left the enormous sum of 40 to the building of a new chancel, which presumably was enough to pay for it in entirety. As it turns out this was one of the less likely, and perhaps more fortunate, outcomes of the Peasants' Revolt, for Sir John had been lynched on the grounds that it was his son who had Wat Tyler put to death, the parishioners of Cavendish reaping the benefits of his demise.

This was only the first of a number of bequests recorded by Peter Northeast and Simon Cotton, which in their way tell the story of the church's construction. In 1471 Richard Cagge left money to the fabric of the new aisle to be made on the south side of the church, while in 1483 John Smyth left 20 to the making of the coorce of the said church of Cavendish, thus the nave was being rebuilt at this time. Thereafter there are a number of bequests for furnishings, suggesting that the church was structurally complete by then, with the icing on the cake being Thomas Goldyinge's bequest in English of 1504 which states that I bequeth of my goodes and catalles asmoch mony as conveinently will serve to the beiyng of a newe tenoure belleto be according in true musike unto the iiii belles nowe hangyng in the steple of Cavendiish aforesaid.

You step into a church which is bright, neat and full of light. It is larger than you might expect when approaching the south porch through the tight churchyard. There is very little coloured glass, and the crispness of an early 21st Century makeover allows a real appreciation of the structure. It is a fine setting for several interesting details. The 15th Century font came as part of the new nave, but the most striking feature which faces you across the church from the north aisle was not originally from this church at all. This is a large canopied reredos by Ninian Comper, made in 1895 for the private chapel in London of Athelstan Riley and brought here after his death. The central part of the reredos is a 16th Century Flemish panel, presumably once part of an altarpiece, depicting an animated Crucifixion with plenty of figures milling around beneath including Roman soldiers casting lots for Christ's garments. The gilded figures beneath are Comper's.

reredos: crucifixion (Flemish, 16th Century) in frame and under canopy by Ninian Comper, 1895 for Athelstan Riley's private chapel in London soldiers casting lots for Christ's garments at the foot of the crucifixion (Flemish, 16th Century) angels collect the precious blood
virgin and child by Comper foot of the cross harrowing of hell by Comper

The reredos is one of several reminders of an Anglo-Catholic enthusiasm here in the early part of the 20th Century, and the late Sam Mortlock bemoaned that the reredos was no longer in use in the chancel, considering that it had been reduced to the status of an artifact by being placed on display in the nave, but it must be said that the clean, clear space of the chancel manages well without it. Another reminder of that early 20th Century enthusiasm is across in the south aisle where a very good window of 1922 depicts the Blessed Virgin and Christchild flanked by angels. It remembers Emmeline Fanny Edmonds and asks in Latin for prayers for her soul. It's the work of Clement Skilbeck and is, I think, his only work in Suffolk although there is some over the border in Cambridgeshire. The Journal of Stained Glass Glass House Special notes a letter which survives in the archives from the Glass House at Fulham quoting for a three-light window but commenting that the sketch is rather vague as to how much background painting there will be. Fortunately, in the event there would be hardly any, leaving us with this charming period piece. It is interesting to note from the inscription in the glass that Miss Edmonds had died on the 6th February 1922 and the letter, which is obviously a reply to a commission, is dated 9th March 1922. This seems a remarkably short period of time, so perhaps she had left instructions in her will for the window having previously arranged its installation with the parish.

angel holding a pierced heart  (workshop unknown, 1922) Blessed Virgin and Christchild (workshop unknown, 1922) Blessed Virgin and Christchild flanked by angels (workshop unknown, 1922)
pray for the soul of Emmeline Edmonds

At the east end of the south aisle is the tomb chest for Sir George Colt, who died in 1570. At this time, our English churches were still in a ferment, and until the late 1530s a chantry altar had probably stood here, perhaps for a guild. You can still see the squint that allowed the celebrant in the chapel a view of the high altar, necessary because a side chapel Mass could not begin until the high altar Mass was underway. The canopied niche to the right of the chest contains a modern image of the Madonna and child, and may very well have contained something similar until the 1530s. Colt's tomb, and its placement in such a sacred space, must have sent a clear message to the people of Cavendish that their old religion was over. Stepping up into the light of the chancel, you can look up to see Cavendish's best medieval survival. This is the canopy of honour over the sanctuary dating from the end of the 14th Century and carefully restored in the 1860s. Silvered oak faces stare out from panels decorated with wild flowers.

sanctuary canopy (detail, 15th century, restored 1860s) sanctuary canopy (detail, 15th century, restored 1860s) sanctuary canopy (detail, 15th century, restored 1860s)

A large roundel memorial in the south aisle remembers the two most famous recent residents of this parish, Baroness Sue Ryder and Baron Leonard Cheshire. They are best known for their war relief work in the years after 1945. Cheshire had won the Victoria Cross for his bravery as a bomber pilot, whilst Ryder had worked as a young woman in the ruins of Nazi-devastated Warsaw. They were extraordinary people who gave themselves completely to the relief of the suffering of others, living Christ's command to welcome the stranger, care for the sick and comfort the dying. They received their honours quite separately, Ryder becoming Baroness Ryder of Warsaw in 1979 and Cheshire becoming Baron Cheshire in 1991, an event which made his wife a baroness twice over. Their most visible legacies are the Sue Ryder charity, Sue Ryder Homes and Cheshire Homes. The Catholic Diocese of East Anglia (Ryder and Cheshire were both Catholics) has recently begun a process with a view to Cheshire's beatification.


Simon Knott, December 2021

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looking east chancel looking west
font (15th Century) chancel Group Captain Leonard, Baron Cheshire VC OM DSO DFC and Sue, Baroness Ryder of Warsaw and Cavendish CMG OBE tomb chest


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