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About this site
to the Suffolk churches website. This site is an
independent guide to the Anglican, Catholic and
non-conformist churches of the county of Suffolk,
Actually, there's a bit more to it than that. This site is a journey, a travelogue. It is an act of art terrorism. This is churchcrawling as guerilla warfare. Or so they tell me. Between January 1998 and November 2003 I gradually made my way around this county, visiting all its Anglican and Catholic churches. Mostly, I cycled. Sometimes I walked, and I even went to some of them by car. It began as a kind of pilgrimage. On the way, the website took over, being featured on television and in the national press, and even becoming a BBC local radio series. In 2009 I started visiting them all again, this time taking in the non-conformist churches as well.
So, what will you find if you explore the site? Well, I've tried to describe each visit, partly as a way of keeping a record, partly as a way of documenting the county, and partly to enable you to experience something of the same thing yourself. I rarely phoned ahead, rarely said who I was, rarely made my intentions clear. The visit you will read about is pretty much the one you would make yourself. I took hundreds of thousands of photos, and many of them are here on the site. If you go to the main index, you'll find links to the individual churches. Read them in whatever order you like.
I found myself following the footsteps of Cautley and Mortlock, Dowsing and Phipson. You may not know who any of these people are, but that doesn't matter. If you read enough of the entries, you'll get to know them all very well.
Eamonn Duffy's majestic The Stripping of the Altars was the original catalyst for this journey. I blame him. If Hilaire Belloc, P.J. O'Rourke, William Dalrymple and Bill Bryson had not written about journeys in the way that they did, I suppose that I would not have done the site like this. Someone wrote to me recently and suggested that I should also have acknowledged the influence of the writer Simon Inglis, and of course they are right.
Don't imagine for one moment that any of the parishes had anything to do with the entry for their church. They didn't. Mostly, I've been able to celebrate these churches, but not always. This isn't a religious website, but I hope it has a spiritual dimension, of sorts. I'm afraid that it isn't a family history website, either, but there is a page that explains how to contact individual Suffolk churches, for those of you who want to know what is in the registers.
Since I started the site in 1998, both the internet and churchcrawling have both increased greatly in popularity - the former more than the latter, obviously. I hope this doesn't sound immodest, but this site has generated a huge amount of interest, and not a little controversy. As of January 2012 it's had more than ten million unique daily visitors through the front door alone, not to mention the ones directed round the back by search engines. This is very humbling. On my second sweep through the county's churches I found many more of them open than I had ten years previously. If any of the heat generated by my site has been the cause of this, I am again humbled.
People used to ask me what I was going to do when I finished Suffolk. The answer was curt and simple: Suffolk will never be finished. Even though I'd visited every Anglican and Catholic church and written about all of them, there would always be improvements to make, updates to write, new or discovered features to go and photograph. I imagined it all a bit like an old man in a rocking chair, occasionally stoking an otherwise blazing fire, before going back to the excellent book he is reading. However, this didn't stop me occasionally popping over the border into Norfolk, and you can also see my photographs of several hundred churches in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Kent and Lincolnshire on my flickr pages.
If you come across any mistakes, any misrepresentations, any broken links, please let me know. I'll put them right. If you come across any opinions you don't agree with, you can let me know about that as well, if you like. I probably won't change anything, but it would be good to hear from you.
The running costs of the site are not insurmountable, but it will never make any money. However, it is a tremendous help to receive Amazon commission for items bought via the site - this offsets costs like web space, bandwidth, train fares, etc. If you have enjoyed using the Suffolk Churches site, and you were going to buy something from Amazon anyway, please do click through from a banner - there's one at the bottom of this page.
At hundreds of churches there have been random acts of kindness. There were churchwardens who gave up an hour or more to show me round; a few of them were delightfully indiscreet about their Vicars. There were Vicars who invited me in for a cup of tea; a few of them were delightfully indiscreet about their churchwardens. There were keyholders who brought the sacred object to the church, so that I wouldn't have to cycle off and find it. They are too many to thank individually, and, in any case, they are sometimes mentioned on the entries (although I have been rather more discreet than some of them). In addition, thousands of people have e-mailed me from all over the world, with suggestions, photographs, information, anecdotes and outlandish requests. Again, the number obviously precludes me naming them all.
However, several entries lean heavily on the enthusiasm, time and interest of particular people, so I thank Nick Balmer for help at Badley, Valerie Langfield for Bawdsey, John and Wendy Colles for Bromeswell and Wantisden, Robin Lee for Culford Heath, Olive Reeve for Darsham, Brenda Gamlin and Arthur Rope for East Bergholt Old Hall, The Sisters of Jesus and Mary for Felixstowe Chapel of Jesus and Mary, Mgr Peter Leeming and Anne Parry for the old and new churches of Ipswich St Mary, John Barbrook for Ipswich St Mary at Stoke, John Blatchly and David Kindred for various medieval Ipswich churches, Mrs Doreen Rope for Kesgrave Holy Family, Father James Mather for Kettlebaston, Mark McCaghrey for Lowestoft St Andrew, Sam Newton for Walton Castle, Maggie King for Wickhambrook and Gerard Melia for Withermarsh Green.
This is not to mention, of course, the complaints the site has had, especially the threats of legal action.
The burden of travelling alone in Suffolk was lightened on occasions by my wife Jacqueline, and on various others by my friends Peter Stephens, John Vigar and the much-missed Tom Muckley. I must also mention Sam Mortlock, who has been a constant companion on my travels through more than 500 Suffolk churches, because of his majestic book A Guide to Suffolk Churches. I would be lost without him.
I thank my dear friends of the Catholic Parish of St Mary, Ipswich, who sustain me with their love and faith, and nurture an ecumenism in my cynical old heart.
That the site has survived the most tiresome years of my mid-life crisis is due in no small way to the persistence of Tom Muckley who, as Dr Pusey once said of Hadleigh's Dean Hugh Rose, when hearts were failing, he bade us stir up the gift that was in us. In Tom's case this bidding consisted of a good kick up the backside, and convincing threats of his own mortality. Despite his incomprehension that I would be exploring Suffolk before his beloved Norfolk, his patience extended to me visiting, photographing and writing about just about every church in both counties before his death in the spring of 2009.
And the dedication? That the site exists at all is largely because of the incomprehensible tolerance of my long-suffering and saintly wife Jacqueline. It is all for her. I should also mention the energy and enthusiasm of my children Jimmy and Martha, without which this site would be finished in half the time.
ubi bene ibi patria
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