At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Gregory, Hemingstone

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Hemingstone

Hemingstone late medieval window time and a niche south doorway Hemingstone

I always seem to visit this church in deepest winter. It was a couple of days after Christmas 1999, one of those crisp, bright days you love in winter, and remember it by, that I had last come here. My friend Jo and I had set the day aside to cycle across Suffolk, from south to north, to meet up with our families at the lovely Three Horseshoes, Thornham Magna. We'd taken back roads, the ones which cars avoid wherever possible. The lattice of lanes around Hemingstone converge on St Gregory, and it was directly outside this church that her bike got its puncture. We repaired it, and waited to see if it would go down. Wandering around the churchyard, I was struck again, as I had been on previous visits, by how noble this building is, on its green mound in the middle of nowhere, with only a farm for company; how ancient the raised site must be, and how curious the north side of the building is.

Arthur Mee, Mortlock and others record a delightful laxity in religious observance in this parish after the Reformation, the entire parish being hauled before a church court in 1597. Perhaps the villagers were encouraged by their local Lord of the Manor, Ralph Cantrell, who was a recusant Catholic, as many such were. Mortlock recounts a story about him which explains the apparent pair of porches on the north side, one now used as a vestry.

The story goes that, wary of the monstrous fines imposed for failure to toe the Anglican line, and the prison sentence that would follow for a second offence, Cantrell built himself a little chapel on the side of the parish church. Here, he would repair with his family and servants during divine service, presumably saying their devotions quietly while the Word was preached in the main body of the Church. A squint enabled him to see what was going on, and would technically mean that he and his family were in attendance. And the vestry is known as 'Ralph's Hole' to this very day.

I came back here on a wild and wooly day late in the year of 2007. As I pottered about the churchyard, and gazed out across the surprisingly hilly vista, the guns started up. A pheasant shoot was working its way across the neighbouring fields, an intensely rural, ritualised affair. I stood and watched for a while, and it occured to me that it was happening barely eight miles from the busy Cornhill in the centre of Ipswich.

I have never found this church locked. You go in through the north porch, past the WWI Roll of Honour proudly bolted to the wall. You step into a light, airy, entirely rural interior. There are a series of texts in neat little panels around the walls. The one by the south door is dated 1753, pointing to a restoration of the church at that time by a pious churchwarden (a rare thing at that date, one imagines). These Biblical texts are chosen to point out the significance of features and furnishings of the church, which is rather good.

There are plenty of medieval remains. The font is 15th century, and the rood beam survives to delineate the transition from nave to chancel. And, intriguingly on the north side of the nave, William Cantrell's tomb of 1585, looking alarmingly like an altar; although this is quite impossible at such a date (and yet, given what else we know about the history of this parish...) There are loads of interesting memorials on the south walls, and three hatchments, and a piscina - this is really a fascinating church.

Back in 1999, the tyre had not gone down, and so we returned to the road, the late afternoon sun beginning to blur down in the sky; the frost sparkled below us as we spun across it, the ice cracked in the ditches, a roaring log fire at Thornham, fifteen miles distant, calling us now. In 2007 I braved the gloom, the rapidly descending sky and impending rain to thread my way back through Barham and Claydon into the heart of Ipswich.

Simon Knott, 2000, updated 2008

   

look east roll of honour west window war memorial plaques
looking west font memorial window dark sanctuary    
accidentally killed war memorial 1753 how dreadful is this place late major general
plaques pelican memorial austerity plaque
window WR Brand a tour of the Hebrides the survivor of his family 
suffer boats be of good cheer Brand curtains
them do not be afraid it is I be not afraid be of good cheer
Brands Minton 14th century glass of this parish

oasis, flowers, rubbish late autumn scary tree the shoot

 

 

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