At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Margaret, Heveningham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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www.suffolkchurches.co.uk - a journey through the churches of Suffolk

 

Heveningham

 

    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 church 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. The church of today is largely Perpendicular, with evidence of its Decorated predecessor. The brick clerestory is quite late, perhaps 1530s. It puts me in mind of the fine brick tower of neighbouring Ubbeston. But all in all this is rather a dour building, despite the clerestory. 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. It should all be more attractive than it actually is, and perhaps this is because of the air of neglect. You get the impression that this is not a loved building - the dirt on the windows, the overgrown grills, the filth that has accumulated in the porch.

I have not seen inside this church for years - indeed, the only time I have been successful in getting access was in the years before I started carrying a camera. There is a keyholder notice of a fashion, scribbled on the back of an envelope and now fading, but I have never found the keyholder at home.

Reading from notes made nearly twenty years ago, I find that the interior is largely Victorian. At the time of my visit there were two fonts - the one in the usual place dated from the 19th century restoration, but I also found a medieval font a few yards away by the former north door. I understand that it was brought here from Ubbeston, when the church there was declared redundant in the 1970s. I wonder if it is still there?

The 16th century hammerbeam roof is a good one, or so I thought, and there are some unusual survivals in the form of statues of saints in alcoves in the wallposts. It seems inconceivable that these could have survived both the Reformers' fury at such iimages, and the two-day visit of William Dowsing a hundred years later. 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, or did. The stained glass windows were designed by Ann Owen, wife of the rector in the 1850s and 1860s. They are pleasingly 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? 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.

If I ever manage to get back inside, I will bring you photographs of all these things.

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. 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.

  Heveningham
   

Simon Knott, August 2014

Heveningham aged eleven years dove with flowers graveyard tributes

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