At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Higham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Higham St Mary

Higham St Mary Higham St Mary

Rich in Faith   Ooh, but Higham's posh. If I can ever afford to live here, you won't find me cycling around lonely lanes visiting medieval churches. No sir. I'll have my feet up on a large settle, and I'll be eating truffles and pate de fois gras, and drinking champagne to the sound of trumpets. Until then, visiting St Mary is probably as close as I'm going to get to the high life.

St Mary is not a big church; however, its restoration has left it cavernous, and it seems big inside. A long north aisle lies on the village side, and you step down into it from the north porch, a simple affair. It contains a memorial to Robert Hoy, who died at the age of 10 in 1811. It is charged with the sentimental piety one expects of the time. The artist was Charles Regnart, and Mortlock thought it not his best, pointing out that the awkwardly posed woman clasps an urn which she seems to have caught just in time; which rather endeared it to me, actually. The churches in this part of Suffolk were, for the most part, enthusiastically scoured by the Victorians. Sometimes, the results were good; I think particularly of Great Wenham and Layham, where low-church restorations left us with fine, bright, neat interiors. It is harder to do this with a big church, and something similar was tried on a grander scale at East Bergholt, which is now rather gloomy, I'm afraid; but to be fair, Bergholt had already been seriously distressed by the Anglicans and Puritans in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The other wing of the 19th century church was brought to bear at Stratford St Mary, which is internally indistinguishable from a thousand Tractarian temples from Coventry to Calcutta. Higham also underwent a Tractarian remodelling, and it was of good quality, as you'd expect for the clientèle. The chancel is a gorgeous confection of 1880s Anglo-catholic piety. It must have cost an absolute fortune - but then, they could probably afford it. The elaborate reredos is tiled in the manner of the 19th century churches of North London that Betjeman loved so much, and the high roof allows it to be full of light, otherwise it would be overpowering.

Indeed, the high chancel arch, a Victorian replacement in wood, saves this church from aesthetic suicide. It gives scale to the east end, and allows the nave to retain something of its former barn-like quality, despite the heavy 19th century furnishings. It gives proper scale to the stained glass, much of which is good, particularly Faith and Charity by Henry Holiday for Powell and Sons. This is as good as their early 20th Century glass gets, and there are earlier survivals - note the beautiful carvings on the capitals of the arcade, and the stone corbels beneath the roof also look medieval. Well, Mortlock thinks so, anyway.

Mortlock also indicated to me what appears, at first, to be a second font, but is in fact almost certainly an ancient holy water stoup, from the lost days of Catholic England. He wondered if it had come from the now-demolished south porch. It might seem awkward to us today that the main entrance of this church was once on the other side, but it is a good reminder that, however old the villages of Suffolk look, they are never as old as their parish churches, turned as they once were towards long-vanished communities.
  Rich in Good Works

Simon Knott, July 2015


looking east chancel altar and reredos
St George Richard the Lionheart Charity Faith Charity's child
Suffolk Regiment Bedfordshire Regiment Essex Regiment greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends
tiles: Lords Prayer and Creed Helen M U Higham St Mary filii dilectissim et desideratissimi tiles: Ten Commandments

Marianne Helen Maria aged 14 years

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