At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Hinderclay

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Hinderclay Hinderclay

blocked skulls balancing hour glasses on their heads under the bell of heaven (1714) John and Mary Knott (no relation)

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We are among the working villages of north Suffolk in what is above all else an agricutural landscape. The countryside is marginalised beyond the fields, but as you head east away from the Brecks it begins to roll gently with the promise of copses and meadows, lanes zigzagging along margins, perfect cycling country. Now, the villages are hidden as surprises, and church towers peep over distant hedgerows. A glorious sight near Thelnetham is the grand sail-mill, which on working days dominates the scene, her great sails at a crazy angle, turning impossibly across the fields. An 18th Century Suffolker dropped back into the modern landscape would probably find this the biggest change, that nearly all these graceful giants have disappeared. And then, the road coasts down into Hinderclay.

This is one of just a handful of Suffolk parishes that I know of that which has a recorded Knott family living here in the 17th and 18th centuries. They are not my Knotts, for mine came from Kent, but it felt like a connection. There are Knott graves in the churchyard, a quiet little place almost entirely surrounded by mature trees, making the church difficult to photograph.

The tower is pretty and perpendicular, with little chequerboard patterns set into the bell windows. The letters SSRM in the battlements probably stand for Salve Sancta Regina Maria, which the Catholics amongst us will instantly recognise as the opening words of the Hail Holy Queen. This suggests that the medieval dedication of this church was to The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. This was perhaps the most common late medieval Suffolk church dedication. The tower appears off-centre, because the south aisle hides the unclerestoried nave.

Stepping into this building is a delightful surprise. The interior, with its uncarved font, pammented floors and simple furnishings is almost entirely rustic,. But as it opens beyond the south aisle it is flooded with extravagantly coloured light. This comes from the glass in the south aisle mostly installed here in the 1980s. It is the work of the great Rosemary Rutherford, an artist whose glass can be found at a number of churches in Suffolk and north Essex, as well as further afield. She was the sister of John Rutherford who was rector here from 1975, and after she died in 1972 he adapted her designs to be installed in this church. These are therefore her last works, and they are perfectly poised in their simplicity and abstraction. There is a Baptism of Christ, a Nativity scene and the Annunciation, while a Crucifixion is flanked by Mary at the empty tomb and the Resurrection. One scene depicts Mary Magdalene, tiny at the bottom, anointing Christ's feet. The last window to be installed, at the west end of the aisle, depicts the Baptism of Christ paired with the Visitation, and came in 1994 thanks to the participation of Rowland and Surinder Warboys, two well-known Suffolk stained glass artists.

Mary Magdalene anoints Christ's feet by Rosemary Rutherford, adapted by John Rutherford, 1975 Angel, Marys at the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene meets Christ in the garden by Rosemary Rutherford, adapted by John Rutherford, 1975 Resurrection flanked by, Mary at the Empty Tomb and Ascensionby Rosemary Rutherford, adapted by John Rutherford, 1975 Baptism of Christ and Visitation by Rosemary Rutherford, adapted and made by Rowland and Surinder Warboys, 1994

These windows are the best of her work, I think. They are a remarkably successful foil for what is a very lightly restored church, the brick floors and plastered ceiling transfigured by Rutherford's unearthly light so that you might well think yourself back at the start of the 17th Century when the benches towards the west of the nave were made, a time when Anglican divines were trying to fill their churches with beauty again. Their hopes, of course, would be dashed by the rise to power of the Puritans. These bear the date 1617 and sets of initials, probably those of churchwardens. I was interested to see that one set was SK, my own initials. It wasn't until after my visit that a researcher, seeing my name in the visitors' book, wrote to me and told me that they were probably the initials of a member of the Knott family. Pleasingly, the range was added to in exactly the same style at the restoration of 1849.

JSF SK 1849 TW RL 1617 TC

In a bigger, noisier church, the 1711 memorial to George Thompson would not stand out, but here the cherubs are startling. Thompson was from Trumpington in what are now the southern suburbs of Cambridge, and the inscription tells us in elegant Latin that he died at the age of 28. There is a comprehensive record of the Guild here, dedicated to St Peter. The alcove in the north aisle probably marks the site of their chantry altar, although there is a large opening from the south aisle chapel, like the ones at Gedding only oriented north-south, which suggests that there was an altar here, too.

Hinderclay is known for its gotch, a large, leather beer pitcher used by the bellringers. It has a dedicatory inscription, and the date 25 March 1724, which as tLady Day, the first quarter day was celebrated as New Year's Day at that time. It tells us that From London I was sent, As plainly does appear, It was with this intent, To be fild with strong beer, Pray remember the pitcher when empty. It was on display at the Moyse's Hall Museum in Bury St Edmunds when I last visited.


Simon Knott, January 2021

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looking east font and royal arms looking west
Resurrection flanked by Mary at the empty tomb and the Ascension (Rosemary Rutherford) south aisle and Pentecost (Rosemary Rutherford) south arcade
piscina gloomy cherub devoted nurse and faithful friend George Thompson
two aging cherubs


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