At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Horham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Horham: deep peace
wild flowers wild graveyard Norman doorway looking up

this ancient glass   The first time I ever approached this village, it was across the fields from poor, battered Denham; typical agricultural high Suffolk, wide spaces with the hedgerows gone, fields of barley and rape. Just short of Horham, I crossed a long concrete expanse which stretched away from the road at an angle. This was, I realised, the former runway of the large WWII American airbase, all that remains of one of the biggest. It was the home of 95th Bomb Group; from here, the cities of Germany were bombed, and St Mary is one of several Suffolk churches that have become shrines to the memory of the former American presence here. Apart from that, you'd never know today.

I remember Horham with affection, because when I started exploring the county's churches in the 1990s, this was one of the first places I visited. North Suffolk seemed fairly exotic and foreign to me then, and I did not even know that Horham is pronounced, for an obvious reason, Horrum, rather than to rhyme with quorum. Having since found myself in just about all the backwaters and byways of East Anglia, it was a pleasure to come back and find that this is still a pretty and remote place, just as I had thought it then.

On the first entry for this church, I suggested that anyone interested in exploring the graveyard should beware of Horham's famous beehives, which stand among the graves. On this day in early June the graveyard was a riot of waist high wildflowers, and at first I couldn't spot them. I wandered out to the south-east corner. The weatherbeaten hives were still there, crumbling quietly. I didn't see any bees, and the only local honey sold at the shop across the road came from far off Cockfield.

Despite being some way off the pulse of medieval industrial Suffolk, this is a typically fine tower of the period, immediately on the eve of the protestant Reformation. The Jernegans were patrons, which may explain the extent to which no expense was spared. Simon Cotton has uncovered a large number of bequests: a 1489 bequest to "new" tower "when begun"; a 1496 bequest to the tower; in 1499, 10s bequeathed to the making of the new steeple; further bequests to the tower in 1503, 1504, 1510 and 1512. There was a bell bequest in 1514, which may link up with the earliest of the current bells, of which more in a moment.

A blocked Norman north doorway reveals the true age of the nave walls. The chancel is all Victorian, but the rest reveals evidence of 14th century rebuilding. The white rendering of the nave gives it an air of being a cottage with a tower and chancel built on. Rather lovely, in fact. Most curiously, it has been heightened without the introduction of a clerestory. Because of this, my eyes took some time on this sunny day to adjust to the interior. It is small, and rather charming; thoroughly Victorianised, but with a strong sense of continuity, of the Horhamers of the past.

The porch is placed towards the middle of the south wall, and you step into the middle of the nave to face the font set in a floor of pamment stones. No two village church interiors are identical, of course, but Horham is rather more idiosyncratic than most. There was a lot of money spent here in the 1630s - was this a particularly Laudian parish, one wonders? From this date, or more precisely November 29th 1631, came the screen, for this is inscribed on it. It has been reset, and behind it is a contemporary pulpit, not as elaborate as some Stuart pulpits, but in this small church it is quietly beautiful. A19th century replacement screen sits to the east.

churchwarden's secret stash   A great curiosity is the tray which slides out underneath the seat of the 4th bench from the front on the south side. The guide says it is for candles; Mortlock thought that perhaps it was for the churchwardens' clay pipe. Although candles seem an unlikely option given their prohibition at the time for liturgical uses, we must remember that tapers were used for lighting (hence the prickholes in the bench ends) and were therefore a necessity.

However, it seems unlikely that the churchwarden would need to keep them under his seat (and if he did, why do no other churches have this tray?) and so perhaps Mortlock is right. There is a small hole in it, as if for cleaning, perhaps of ashes.

Horham is famous with bellringers, because it has the oldest ring of eight bells in the whole world. An 18th century graffito on the chancel arch reminds the ringers what is due to the Sexton for keeping them in order. A wooden roundel on the north wall depicts the Annunciation, and St Dunstan, the patron Saint of bellfounders. It remembers the American donations which paid for the restoration of the bells.

Another American touch is the straw eagle set in a glass case, two flags in its mouth, which is simple and moving. The 95th Bomb Group memorial is across the road from the church, in the shape of a plane tail. It stands on a pedestal marked with the runway layout, like that at Knettishall. I stood by it in the quiet sunshine, thinking about the terrible accident on the airfield here during the war, when two planes collided on the ground, resulting in more than thirty deaths. And I remembered reading about the armaments being transported here on the now-vanished Middy, the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway, which had a station here.

Hard to imagine all that now, in this peaceful place.

  straw eagle

Simon Knott, 1999 (updated 2007)

   

looking east font sanctuary looking west
font Exodus XX pulpit and screen 
Annunciation bench ends Nove 29 1631

west end Rebecca wild flowers three headstones

 

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