All Saints, Hawstead
www.suffolkchurches.co.uk - a journey through the churches of Suffolk
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|The rolling landscape south of
Bury St Edmunds once contained some of Suffolks richest
estates. The copses and fields are still studded with the
large houses that were home to the landed gentry, and the
villages that huddle near to them relied very much on the
patronage and employment of the Big Houses. The best
known of these is probably Ickworth House, home to the
Marquesses of Bristol, but nearby is Hawstead Place,
historic home of the powerful and influential Drury
family. Not far from the house is Hawstead's parish
church, up a narrow lane and in a churchyard hidden by
tall trees and a high hedge. It comes as some surprise to
step through the lychgate and see quite how big Hawstead
church is compared with most around here, and this is in
no small way due to the wealth and influence of the Drury
family. The church was substantially rebuilt in the late
15th and early 16th Centuries, and the Drury shields line
a pediment above the west doorway. High at the top of the
tower, facing east, their symbol of a Pelican in her
Piety feeding her chicks with her own blood is picked out
Despite the size of the church there are no aisles, and no clerestories. Instead, the powerful walls of the nave support a roof which is fully 30 feet wide, the low windows reinforcing a fortress-like appearance rather than Suffolk Perpendicular's more familiar walls of glass. It must have been rebuilt at about the same time as the tower, for bequests survive to the building of both from the 1440s onwards. As late as 1552, Alice Semar left ten shillings towards the bilding of the roufe, which likely refers to the topping out of the tower. The chancel survives from the early 14th Century, but we know there was a church here long before that because, surprisingly perhaps, the Norman south and north doorways survive in the nave. Even so they were probably moved from their original positions and reused, because it is unlikely that the Norman church was so wide.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the church you step into feels wide and open, but perhaps a little gloomy thanks to the low roof and disproportionately small windows which are mostly filled with glass of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. What will strike you first though is the sheer number of memorials in the nave. This is a taste of things to come, and the church historian Clive Paine memorably described Hawstead church as the Westminster Abbey of Suffolk. No church in the county has more memorials. Most of those in the nave are to members of the Metcalfe and Cullum families who succeeded the Drurys at Hawstead Place, but to see the original family in all their glory, and at least one of their predecessors, you step through into the long chancel.
The oldest of the Hawstead memorials is the effigy of a 13th Century knight. He was probably Sir Eustace FitzEustace, who died in 1271, and he lies on the north side of the chancel within a tomb recess and under a canopy which dates from about a century later. Above him in the recess is a disc with a moon on it, and Mortlock thought it might have been an emblem looted from an Islamic cemetery during one of the crusades. To the east of it, in the sanctuary, is the first of Hawstead's three most significant memorials. This remembers Sir Robert Drury who died in 1615, and was the work of Nicholas Stone. A stark black coffin sealed with a skull stands on the base while up above a bust of Sir Robert's father Sir William Drury is praised by cherubs with scrolls. Secondly, on the other side of the sanctuary, his daughter Elizabeth reclines in alabaster under an elaborate cartouche, a seated figure above her apparently holding an apple, in which case she might well be the allegorical figure Pomona. Finally, to the west of this memorial is Hawstead's grandest memorial of all, that to Sir Robert Cullum who died in 1664. Cullum's coffin is dwarfed by the great pillars rising above it like a gigantic four poster bed which then opens out into wings with cartouches on both sides. Pevsner pronounced it extraordinary, and James Bettley, revising the Buildings of England volumes for Suffolk, recalls the late John Blatchly's observation that the towering arms and crest at the top seem to threaten the viewer below like some frightful monster rearing up in the semi-darkness.
Sir Robert Drury was a powerful military and political figure who packed a lot into his short life. He was knighted at the age of sixteen while at the Siege of Rouen, and a few months later on his seventeenth birthday he married Lady Anne Bacon, the daughter of the puritan Sir Nicholas Bacon of Redgrave in Suffolk. In the early 17th Century he served as the MP for Suffolk and then for the Eye division, before his death at the age of forty in 1615. Drury was a favourite of Elizabeth I, and his daughter was probably named after the Queen. Drury was also a friend of the poet John Donne, at that time a fellow MP, and Donne wrote the epitaph on Sir Robert's memorial. He was the last of the Drurys, dying without leaving a male heir. Indeed, his daughter Elizabeth appears to be the only one of his children to have survived infancy, and she died at the age of fourteen, five years before he did.
Her short life spanned the transition from the Tudors to the Stuarts, and found the new King James I trying to keep sweet all the conflicting interests in his new Kingdom. His attempts to reintegrate into society the Catholic families who had suffered under Elizabeth I, to find favour with the puritans running the show in the House of Commons, and to attempt a lordly keeping of the peace in Europe, would leave him branded the wisest fool in Christendom, who never said a foolish thing, but never did a wise one. He planned to marry his eldest son Henry to a Catholic princess, either the Spanish Infanta or the French Princess Royal. Meanwhile, to cement feelings at home, his younger son was promised in marriage to Elizabeth Drury. But before any of this could happen, Henry died. The younger son was kicked upstairs into a marriage with the French Princess, and he would go on to become the ill-fated Charles I, eventually beheaded at Whitehall by the Puritan parliamentarians that his father had tried to placate. Elizabeth's epitaph is also likely to be by John Donne.
The sober puritan dignity of the two Drury memorials only serves to emphasise the blowsy exuberance of Sir Robert Cullum's tomb. It was commissioned from Diacinto Cawsey in 1675, and as James Bettley points out it is largely made of painted plaster, although the sarcophagus includes panels of scagliola patterns, a rare occurrence in late C17 England. Mortlock recounts a curious story that the parts of the tomb were shipped from Italy by Sir Robert's son Sir William to grace Hawstead Hall, but that they were then used for his father's memorial, although as the commission was some ten years after the death of Sir Robert this seems unlikely.
The chancel memorials put those in the nave somewhat into the shade, but they are still an interesting collection commissioned by a single family over a relatively short space of time. They were the Metcalfes, a wealthy family of politicians and gin distillers who purchased the Hawstead estate. They gave their name to the Metcalfe Almshouses in the village, and also to the former village pub. The memorials date from the late 18th Century to the early 19th Century, and as James Bettley notes they are variations of the same theme, of the urn with or without mourning allegorical figures.
Yet a third group of memorials in Hawstead church are to the Cullum family, and these were mostly enthusiastically installed at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century, some detailing several generations of the same branch although the best are for contemporary burials in the early 20th Century. Two others remember three French soldiers, descendants of the Cullums, who were killed in the First World War.
As you might expect, there was plenty of money here in the 19th Century for a considerable restoration, and apart from the memorials very little that is older has survived. A 13th Century font was set a little awkwardly in the large space under the tower to form a baptistery, and several brasses have been reset in the nave and chancel. These include those to Sir Robert's father Sir William Drury and his two wives, which are now on a tombchest at the east end of the south aisle. They were returned to the church in 1909 having been sold off to a collector at the time of the restoration. The chancel was restored for High Church worship which must have had the Drurys spinning in their tombs, and it is nice to think that the ceilure above the sanctuary with its Marian monograms might have replaced a similar original.
The screen was not replaced in the Victorian makeover, the 15th century original being heartily restored instead. Thomas Pye had left twelve shillings to the painting of the rood loft of the same church in 1477, which probably gives the date for the completion of the medieval screen. The rood group at the top were added in 1906 at the expense of some Cullum descendants. Although not much of the screen is original, it has one intriguing historical survival. On the southern upright to the arch you can see that an attempt has been made to saw it through. When I first visited in the 1990s, the church guidebook of the time blamed this on the iconoclast William Dowsing, but there is no record of Dowsing visiting Hawstead, nor any mention in his journals of breaking down a roodscreen in any of the hundreds of churches he visited in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. Indeed, any attacks on screens would have happened a century earlier at the Reformation. There was some confusion as to whether or not roodscreens were to be considered idolatrous or not, and while official proclamations generally said that they should stay, we know that in some places local hotheads in the 1540s and then again at the accession of Elizabeth I in 1557 went to work to break them down. Possibly a churchwarden had a go at it, and then was stopped by changing circumstances halfway through.
The lavish 19th Century restoration at Hawstead brought plenty of coloured glass, but there are also some older pieces, although everything is not quite as it seems. A delightful crowned Virgin and Christchild is set high in a chancel window, and on the north side of the nave are several roundels and panels. One is a fragmentary St Catherine. It has been restored by King & Son of Norwich, and you can see that the original section which includes her wheel is lighter than the part containing her head, which is modern. It was common when restoring glass like this not to match the pieces too closely, but it must be said that King & Son showed that they would not be incapable of a spot of forgery if it proved necessary! The apparently medieval roundel depicting the head of St Edmund guarded by a wolf under an oak tree is entirely theirs, a 20th Century copy of a faded panel now on display a few miles off in St Edmundsbury Cathedral. The roundels of the four evangelists are also theirs I think.
There is what appears to be a fragment of marriage glass with the names Drury and Bedyngfeld, presumably 16th Century. There are also two panels of Swiss glass from the same century, both with a few interloping fragments. One depicts St Peter and St Paul under a papal arms flanked by a bishop holding a church and St Catherine, with the donor and family at the bottom. The other is more complete, depicting a crucifixion, the angels collecting the blood of Christ in chalices, The Blessed Virgin and St John standing at the foot of the cross. Above Samson carries away the gates of the City of Gaza and then languishes in Delilah's lap while she cuts his hair. At the base, the donor and his family kneel under an inscription dated 1530, Elsberg. The largest group of Swiss glass panels in East Anglia is a few miles off at Great Saxham, and it seems likely that these panels were once part of the same collection.
Of the 19th and early 20th Century glass, the most interesting is probably that in the east window, which depicts the Ascension of Christ in an almost pre-ecclesiological style. It is signed and dated Heaton & Butler, 1856 and I'm led to understand that it is the earliest glass recorded by the workshop. Within ten years they would be joined by the genius Robert Bayne who would transform their style and their fortunes, but here is the firm at the very outset of its journey. Much of the other glass is by Powell & Sons, including two windows by Henry Holiday depicting Faith, Charity and Hope, and Christ with the children. Another Powells window depicts the archangels St Raphael, St Michael and St Gabriel.
Probably the most interesting of the modern glass is the window of 1899 which is set above the north doorway into the nave. Its central subject is a crucifixion flanked by two former rectors of Hawstead. A plaque on the wall below tells us that they are Joseph Hall, later Bishop of Exeter and of Norwich, incumbent here at the start of the 17th Century, and Sir Joseph Cullum, an antiquary and the Hawstead rector in the late 18th Century. James Bettley records that it was made by AA Orr for the firm of AJ Dix to a design by Edward Warren. The most recent glass is by AK Nicholson, 1923, depicting St George and St Géry, remembering yet another Cullum descendant.
As with most medieval churches, we are seeing inside the church that the Victorians restored, but it is possible to get a snapshot insight into the parish here before the 19th Century restoration. The return for Hawstead at the 1851 Census for Religious Worship is a good illustration of the state of the rural Church of England in the middle of that century, and a reminder of why the Anglican revival was such an urgent one. The population of the parish at the time was 556, but only 30 people attended morning worship, along with the scholars who had no choice but to be there. However, there was an attendance of 250 at the afternoon sermon. The Sunday afternoon sermon was always more popular in East Anglia than morning worship, but even so the differential at Hawstead is striking.
Thomas Bligh, who described himself as Minister, recorded that these were the average attendances for the two services over the previous three months, and he probably preached the sermons himself, in which case it can be assumed that he was good at it. East Anglia was a stronghold of dissenters, but there was no non-conformist chapel in Hawstead, and perhaps the influence of the Metcalfes had prevented there from being one. It may be that for many of the parishioners it was simply preferable to listen to a sermon than to pray with the Established Church.
However, Bligh was not the rector. This was one Reverend Edward Gosling, who had been installed as Rector of Hawstead a remarkable fifty seven years previously in 1794. Gosling was a non-resident rector, which is to say that he did not live in Hawstead and he did not conduct the business at the church there. In fact, by the time of the Census he was living in Bath. He would have paid a stipend to Thomas Bligh for his work out of the almost £600 he received annually for being the Rector of Hawstead, about £120,000 a year in today's money. These were the kinds of abuses that the wave of energy surging through the Victorian church intended to do away with.
Simon Knott, August, 2022
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