e-mail: simon@suffolkchurches.co.uk

St Margaret, Heveningham

  Heveningham, pronounced Henningum, is, of course, most famous for Heveningham Hall, the biggest, grandest, stately home in Suffolk. More of the hall in a moment. But it is worth observing that this is not the closest village to the hall. Huntingfield spreads beneath its frontage, and Cookley and Walpole are also close at hand. This is a land of many villages, many churches, but few people.

Heveningham is much older than the hall. St Margaret sits on a hilltop site close to the old Roman road, two facts that suggest great antiquity. Farms of the estate surround the village.

Rather dour, perhaps - St Margaret and its slate roof.

The church of today is largely Perpendicular, with much evidence of a Decorated predecessor. The brick clerestory is quite late, perhaps 1530s. It puts one in mind of the fine brick tower of neighbouring Ubbeston. But this is rather a dour building, despite the clerestory. That may be a combination of the slate roof, and the dull weather on the day I visited. The tower itself is very typically Suffolk; the buttresses taper prettily, and the rendered walls of the nave are more successful than nearby Chediston. The graveyard has been allowed to grow wild, a fashion to be encouraged.

The neat south aisle and Tudor clerestory.

  You step from the little porch down into the interior, another sign of an early site. Inside, all is very Victorian, but some of this work is interesting, as we shall see.

There are two fonts; the one in the usual place dates from the 19th century restoration, but a medieval font will be found a few yards away by the former north door. It was brought here from Ubbeston, when that church fell redundant in the 1970s.

The 16th century hammerbeam roof is a good one, and there are some very unusual survivals; statues of saints in alcoves in the wallposts. It seems inconceivable that these could have survived both the Reformers' fury at images, and the two-day visit of William Dowsing a hundred years later. Maybe they survived through being apostles rather than non-biblical saints. Or maybe they were too insignificant.

A pretty image niche stands beside the 19th Century chancel arch, with some of its original paint surviving.

What at first appears to be a chapel to the north is, in fact, a nineteenth century manorial annex, built for the Huntingfields of Heveningham Hall. Their pews still fill it.

Before you are too harsh on the stained glass windows, they were designed by Ann Owen, wife of the rector in the 1850s and 1860s. They are delightfully sentimental, I think. It is interesting that this church is less than a mile away from Huntingfield, where the rector's wife, Mildred Holland, more famously redecorated the ceilings in the 1860s. Were these two women colleagues or rivals, one wonders?

It appears that the internal windows of the clerestory have also been renewed, perhaps in the 18th century.

The most striking feature of the church is the oaken effigy of a knight, Sir John Heveningham. It dates from about 1450, and supposedly once had a partner, his wife. These two effigies were thrown out into the churchyard during the 19th century restoration, and were consigned to a bonfire. Sir John was rescued, but his wife succumbed to the flames. Only one other wooden effigy of this age survives in Suffolk, across the county at Bures.

Heveningham Hall was built for the Dutchman Gerard Vanneck in the late 18th century. Robert Taylor was the architect, and Capability Brown laid out the Park. Despite falling into disrepair during an inheritance dispute in the 1980s, it now looks magnificent from the Huntingfield road, one of England's stateliest and longest Georgian frontages.


Image niche (right) and the arch of the manorial annex, through the green glass of the south aisle of the (locked) church.

The Hall was built in the grounds of an earlier building, which had been home to the Heveningham family. No trace remains of this, although, as already mentioned, at least one of the memorials of the Heveninghams can be found in the church, the oak effigy of Sir John Heveningham. It is claimed that the Heveninghams are one of Suffolk's oldest families. According to Dutt's Suffolk, the manor was granted to Sir Philip de Heveningham in 1271, and a Galtar Heveningham was Lord of the Manor in the reign of Cnut. Presumably, their castle was near the hilltop site of the present church.

On the day I visited to take photographs, I found the church locked, and the keyholder out. I shall endeavour to visit this church again, and will update this entry when I have done so.

Please also see the entry for this church at Aidan Semmens' Sylly Suffolk.

St Margaret, Heveningham, is located on the B1117 Halesworth to Stradbroke road, just west of Heveningham Hall. It is locked, but a keyholder is listed. See MAP