At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Martin, Fornham St Martin

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Fornham St Martin

Fornham St Martin north porch (early 16th Century?) porch niche

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    Fornham St Martin parish has been largely subsumed into north Bury St Edmunds suburbia, but the church sits in the old village centre, half a mile away across the fields with the village pub and a few old houses for company, the Bury to Brandon road forced to slow down and behave itself for a few moments. The church sits end on in a relatively narrow churchyard. Geoffrey Bressele, early 15th Century rector here, must have been a fairly wealthy fellow, for he left a remarkable twenty marks in his will of 1425 to the tower of Fornham, the result being what we see today. The church must be broadly contemporary, or perhaps a little later given the conservative nature of the East Anglian masons.

Externally the shape of the church is striking, for the plan is made square by a wide 1870s south aisle as large as the nave, under its own roof. It was the work of Sir Arthur Blomfield, who was busy at work on the nearby Culford estate at this time, and it replaced an earlier aisle, although it seems unlikely that it was as large as the new one. The north side of the nave points a delicious early 16th Century red brick porch towards an avenue of yew trees which leads diagonally towards the street. There is an image niche set deeply into its western buttress which seems likely to have been designed to hold an image of the Blessed Virgin, the niche above the entrance being reserved for the church's patron saint. Within the porch, the south doorway looks to be contemporary with it, and perhaps even the door is too.

Fornham St Martin church is open every day, and the church you step into can be dark on a dull day. Every window except one is filled with a half a century's range of stolid 19th Century glass from a variety of major workshops. The exception is that on the north side of the nave nearest the door, for this is the 1970s work of Robert Ashmead for Abbott & Co. It illustrates the Benedicite, the canticle traditionally sung in Anglican churches during Lent:. O all ye Works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him for ever. O ye Angels of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord (RF Ashmead for Abbott & Co, 1974) O ye Sun and Moon, bless ye the Lord (RF Ashmead for Abbott & Co, 1974) O ye angels of the Lord, bless ye the Lord (RF Ashmead for Abbott & Co, 1974)

The earliest glass here dates from well before Blomfield's 1874 restoration. The east window in the curiously narrow chancel is by WIlliam Wailes and depicts the Ascension. It was installed in 1846, and if you look carefully you can just make out Wailes's signature peeping above the inscription in the middle light. The best glass in the chancel is on the north side, St Genevieve and St Elizabeth of Hungary, I think by Heaton, Butler & Bayne. Incidentally, you may be wondering about the Fornham St Martin and St Genevieve banner in the south aisle. Fornham St Genevieve was an adjacent parish, but the church there fell into ruin in the 18th Century and after the reform acts of the 1830s the civil parishes were joined, although the living of Fornham St Genevieve was joined with that of nearby Risby. The glass in the south aisle is mostly by Wailes & Strang, the Newcastle firm that grew out of William Wailes's workshop. The window on the north side of the nave depicting the women at the empty tomb is by Clayton & Bell, I think.

There are a couple of curiosities. Two 15th Century misericords have been built into the lectern and reading desk. One depicts the martyrdom of St Thomas of Canterbury, the other St Martin himself. Up in the chancel there is an imposing 1840s hatchment depicting the arms of the Duke of Norfolk. Most of the memorials are on the north wall of the nave. One remembers Vice Admiral James William Rivett-Carnac, winner of the Legion D'Honneur and the Croix de Guerre, who was a man greatly loved. Nearby, Henry William Claughton was HM Inspector of Schools in this county for 38 years. When he died in 1924, his memorial was erected to the memory of an unselfish sportsman, by his wife and hunting and cricketing friends.


Simon Knott, February 2022

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looking east looking west
St Genevieve St Genevieve and St Elizabeth of Hungary (Heaton, Butler & Bayne? c1910) font south aisle Fornham St Martin Parish Church M U
the women and the angels at the empty tomb (Clayton & Bell?, 1870s) Ascension of Christ (William Wailes, 1846) St Martin cuts his cloak to share with a beggar and is welcomed into heaven by the Risen Christ (Wailes & Strang, 1870s) 'If I may but touch his garment I shall be made whole'/'Thy faith hath made thee whole' (Wailes & Strang, 1870s) David shows Saul the cloth he has cut from his cloak (Wailes & Strang, 1870s)
an unselfish sportsman George II Sir William and Lady Elizabeth Gilstrap, 1891


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