At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Edwardstone

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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


Edwardstone Edwardstone Edwardstone

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


The summer of 1984 was long and hot. I can remember this, or at least it seems so in my memory, because this was the year that I met the woman, just a girl then really, who was to become my wife. She came from Sudbury, and so it was that I got to know the country lanes in the south of the county, the woods and fields that can still make this seem quite the most remote part of East Anglia. You don't have to go far off of the Sudbury to Ipswich road to find yourself in forgotten backwaters. There are some notable villages, Boxford and Kersey for example, but mostly the parishes straggle. Hamlets cluster at road junctions, churches sit in fields. There are steep valleys and rolling hills, because south Suffolk is where that ridge of high land which further west forms the Chilterns finally comes to die. This can make the landscape secretive and hidden, unfolding before you and closing behind as you walk or cycle across it. Sometimes I have cycled aimlessly along backroads from Ipswich to Sudbury, and have been quite unable afterwards to exactly trace my journey on a map.

Not far from Boxford, as you climb up towards the Waldingfields, you enter the parish of Edwardstone. There was once a big country house here, but Edwardstone Hall has now gone. Still, the gatehouse and walled park remain, and you walk through the archway to the middle of the park, where, tree-surrounded like a secret, is the church of St Mary. We first found it walking those lanes in that long hot summer, and perhaps that is why I think of it so fondly. But it is such a beautiful place that I think perhaps I would have loved it anyway.

You are welcome here at all times, says the sign at the gate, and this was true until very recently, although coming back here in the September of the 2020 Covid Pandemic I found the church locked for the first time in perhaps a dozen visits. In spring, the wide, sloping graveyard is fresh and green, the last snowdrops competing with the crowned heads of the new daffodils. From the north side the church can appear fortress-like, the battlemented north aisle wall without a clerestory. But on the south side this is a simple country church. Even so, there is enough of late Medieval grandeur about it to guess exactly where in England you are. This was the cloth country, and Edwardstone was a wealthy parish in the 15th Century.

If you can, you enter into a light, wide space which is home to one of the best 19th Century restorations in Suffolk. It was the 1870s work of George Bodley, and it was done with restraint and an eye to quality and integrity, leaving a beautiful rural atmosphere with a sense of the centuries that came before it. And yet, this is Bodley talking as much as Suffolk vernacular. His benches have a hint of chinoiserie about them and Burlison & Gryls made the glass he himself designed for the nave, including St Martin and St George. All in all you sense his eye for everything working together in the Bodleian fashion.

The nave is cleared of clutter, with pammented stone floors. A simple 13th Century octagonal font sits on a 19th century collonade at the west end, domed by a Jacobean font cover. Matching the simple, rural feel of the nave is the roof above, an array of kingposts lit by art nouveau candelabras. The wide north aisle with its elegant 15th Century arcade creates the square feeling to the nave, making the chancel seem a room off in one corner. At the west end the decalogue boards have been incorporated with a benefaction board to make a triptych above linenfold panelling behind the font, a pleasing juxtaposition. It makes you wonder just how much 17th Century panelling was ripped out elsewhere by 19th Century restorers. Here, Bodley positively seems to celebrate it.

Up in the north aisle chapel, beneath Bodley's beautiful organ case, are Edwardstone's memorable brasses. They are to the Brand family of Edwardstone Hall.

Benjamin Brand Elizabeth Brand
six sons of Benjamin and Elizabeth Brand six daughters of Benjamin and Elizabeth Brand
all nursed with her unborrowed milk he was religiously affected, a friend and lover of pious and Godly minsters

On the wall is John Brand, who died in 1642. His inscription tells us that he was religiously affected, a freind and lover of pious and godly ministers. This part of Suffolk was a hot bed of puritanism, and John Brand's friends were likely among those who left England for the New World in the first decades of the 17th Century to escape rising persecution of those unwilling to conform to the Established Church, giving the New England states the reputation for puritanism that they retain to this day. The most famous of these exiles was born in 1588 at Groton Hall on the edge of Edwardstone parish. He was John Winthrop, and he would be one of the leading figures in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, becoming the new state's first governor and the founder of the city of Boston. He and other Winthrops are remembered in nearby Groton church. John Brand must have known him well.

The best of the memorials is the extensive brass to Benjamin and Elizabeth Brand, John's parents. They may well have been puritans too, but their inscription reveals an elegance, a flowering of sentiment, that is touching in any age:

Memoriae Sacrum.
To ye Precious Memory of Benjamin Brand, of Edwardstone Hal, Esq, and Elizabeth his wife:
whom, when providence, after 35 yeares conjunction, divided; Death, after 12 dayes divorcement, reunited:
who, leaveing their rare examples to 6 sonnes and 6 daughters, (all nursed with her Unborrowed Milk)
Blest with pooremens prayres: embalmed with numerous teares; Lye, here reposed.

Stepping into the chancel, Burlison & Grylls had renewed the tracery of the east window at the time of Bodley's restoration and they came back and replaced the glass at the end of the century with depictions of Abbot Samson of Bury Abbey, the high priest Melchizedek and St Etheldreda of Ely. This was the start to a general refurbishment of the chancel, the centrepiece of which is the 1910 reredos by Cecil Hare, Bodley's assistant at the time of the 1870s restoration and by now in charge of the practice. You get a sense of that moment when Anglican triumphalism was reaching its peak before the long, slow decline after the First World War. Beside it the late medieval piscina speaks of another remote time when triumph and confidence of a different kind was in the air.

Back on the south wall of the nave there is a memorial that had only just been put in place when Bodley came along. It is to Richard William Magenis who died in 1863. His inscription gives an account of his long military service at various engagements, concluding that he lost an arm at the Battle of Albuhera and received a medal with three clasps. You can't help hoping that he had someone to help him pin it on. Other war memories lie out in the beautiful churchyard. Major-General Henry Cole Magenis, grandson of Richard, was mentioned in dispatches in the Afghan War of 1878-80, while near him lies another old soldier who served in the Crimea at the Siege and Fall of Sebastapol also in India at Defence and Relief of Lucknow. Even more impressively nearby is the 1985 memorial to Commander Gerard Alfred Holdsworth DSO, OBE, Croix de Guerre avec Palme, Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur. Holdsworth was one of the foremost secret service agents of the Second World War. He ran the Special Operations Executive in Italy. Before this, during the days of the Soviet/German pact he had escaped from behind the enemy lines of both the Communists and the Nazis, possibly a unique feat. All hard to imagine now in the deep peace of this wild ground in the heart of south Suffolk, home to the simplicity and quietness of one of the loveliest churches I know.


Simon Knott, January 2021

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

looking east altar and reredos font
St George and St Martin Annunciation and Crucifixion Abbot Samson, Melchizedek, St Edith
Bodley furnishings Bodley organ case Bodley furnishings
St Martin St George Melchizedek St Etheldreda by G F Bodley
the dove descending Adoration of the Magi Baptism of Christ he lost an arm at the Battle of Albuhera and received a medal with three clasps

Commander Gerard Alfred Holdsworth DSO, OBE, Croix de Guerre avec Palme, Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur Afghan War 1878-80 mentioned in dispatches
My trust is in the tender mercy of Christ the Lord served in the Crimea at the Siege and Fall of Sebastapol also in India at Defence and Relief of Lucknow

Edwardstone lodge


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.