||One of Suffolk's longest
dedications in a parish with the joint
shortest name - and even more than that,
this is one of the most sparsely
populated parishes in the entire county,
with barely twenty people living in it.
Not surprisingly, Hoo church was
threatened with redundancy in the 1970s,
but has ridden that storm to survive
today, with regular services in
conjunction with the church at Charsfield, a
mile or so off, with which Hoo has long
formed a joint ecclesiastical parish.
tower is 16th century red brick, the top
a rather harsh modern restoration, and is
most singular. If it looks familiar, it
might be because this was the church in
the film Akenfield. Although the
book was based on neighbouring Charsfield,
the graveyard of the church there was too
small to allow for filming.
Despite the fact
that this building is not particularly
historically significant, there is something very
special about it. Come here on an afternoon in
winter, with the shadows creeping in across the
fields. Gaze out southwards across the gentle
valley, with Charsfield tower peeping through the
mist below. Or on a sunny day in late spring,
with the hedgerows all about burgeoning, full of
flowers and birdsong.
St Andrew and St
Eustachius is remote in the fields, with only Hoo
Hall and the old rectory for company. And there can
be few plainer, simpler interiors than that of St
Andrew and St Eustachius. As at nearby Campsea Ashe and
Easton, the nave and chancel running together
form a tunnel-like effect, opening out into the
light of the large east window. There is no
coloured glass. The furnishings are similarly
simple and homely, and all in all the effect is
of the peace of a rustic space which cannot have
changed a great deal since the Victorian
refurbishment, apart from the addition of a
couple of icons. The building seems to rest easily
in the dim quietness, as if this solitude suits
it. you feel that services can only be a
distraction from such serenity.
The dedication is
unique, but I am afraid that it is not authentic.
The medieval dedication may have been to
St Eustace, or it may have been that there was a
shrine altar to that minor saint here. After the
Reformation, church dedications fell into disuse.
But the Enlightenment of the 18th century saw a
renewed interest in history. The modern
dedication arises from a double (possibly triple)
error of those days. Firstly, a misreading of 'St
Eustace' by the antiquarian Browne Willis,
working in the records office at Norwich
Cathedral in the 1720s, and a confusion by him of
Hoo in Suffolk with Hoe in Norfolk, where the
medieval church was dedicated to St Andrew. He
may have missed the actual dedication completely,
and many of these documents are now lost. So, he
conflated the two Saints into an undeniably
attractive and interesting combination. When the
dedications of Anglican parish churches were
restored to them through the enthusiasm of the
Oxford Movement in the 19th century, this was
based on the work of these well-meaning but
inaccurate antiquarians; Willis had published his
results as Parochiale Anglicanuum in
1733. Some errors were corrected by the 1780s,
when Bacon's Liber Regis was published.
But not this one.
idiosyncrasies complement the dedication. One
panel of the otherwise typically East Anglian
font features a standing figure on a shield - who
could he be? Also, the rood loft stairs are in a
window embrasure as at Whepstead, Shottisham, Oakley and elsewhere - but here,
they head westwards rather than eastwards.
|I was struck by the number
of names on the First World War roll of
honour. How could such a tiny parish have
sent off so many of its young men?
Pondering this, I came outside and found
an old boy cutting the grass. We got
chatting. I told him about the flooding
of the ford at Marlesford, but that was
nearly six miles back, and so I suppose
that I might just as well have been
talking about something which had
happened on Mars.
is an insular county, despite its
proximity to London. But its people are
almost always quietly friendly, and this
little church is open to strangers and
pilgrims every day. And, indeed, there's
no other real reason for coming here.