At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Nicholas, Landwade

At the sign of the Barking lion... - a journey through the churches of Suffolk


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The way in.

text-book perp door.

The sanctuary, and St Nicholas.

Looking east: the screen.

The south chancel aisle: Cottons within.

Sir John, 1620.

Sir John Cotton.

Sir John, 1593, in the north chancel aisle. Note the hatchments.

Anonymous Cotton tomb in the sanctuary.

Another south chancel aisle Cotton.

Hic Jacet... another Cotton.

Image niche in the north west corner of the nave.

Memorials to the Cottons' successors.


Deep peace near the Cambridgeshire border.

Hmm, Landwade. Well, I wasn't sure whether I should go and visit it or not. It sits beside the remains of Landwade Hall, which was partly destroyed by a German bomb during the Second World War. Pevsner isn't very kind about the bit that was left, but it looks lovely to me. However, if you want an argument with Sir Niklaus you are going to have to reach for the Buildings of England volume for Cambridgeshire, not Suffolk. Historically, Landwade Hall is part of the Ely Diocese's parish of Fordham in Cambridgeshire, although the church has long been included in the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese's parish of Exning. Exning and the part of Newmarket north of the town centre were an island of Suffolk within the county of Cambridgeshire until as recently as 1895, when the Cambridgeshire parish of Newmarket All Saints was moved into Suffolk to join the two bits together. The join is the width of the A14.

One of the options at the time of the revision of English Counties in 1974 was to move Newmarket and Exning completely into Cambridgeshire. This idea has quite a lot going for it, particularly in terms of children in the local villages being able to go to high school in Newmarket rather than having to travel into Soham or Bottisham. However, it was voted down in a local referendum, and Newmarket and Exning remain semi-detached parts of Suffolk.

In 1994, the border between the two counties was tidied up north and south of Newmarket. The changes affected a large number of parishes, but the amount of land changing hands in each case was actually very small, in most cases no bigger than my back garden. In total, two people were moved from Suffolk into Cambridgeshire (oops, sorry about that Council Tax, folks) and ten people came the other way. They were all living in the former grounds of Landwade Hall, and with them came their church. I could have maintained a state of denial, but Simon Jenkins included it under Suffolk in England's Thousand Best Churches, so I thought I'd better go and take a look.

One of the curiosities here is that you can sense the border, new as it is. Landwade Hall is secret and wooded; you can hear the call of pheasants and the impatient whinney of horses in the adjacent paddock. Back on the road, you cross the railway bridge into Cambridgeshire and are immediately confronted with the vast distribution warehouses of Turners of Soham, and beyond that the hideous A11. No county in the British Isles has been affected so much by human habitation as Cambridgeshire; 92% of the land area is under farming, industry or habitation. Of the remaining 8%, hardly any of it is covered by trees, since Cambridgeshire is also the least wooded county in Britain. Even Greater Manchester and the West Midlands have more wild areas. It is even less wooded now it has lost Landwade.

Canon Simon Pettit, the cheery Rector of Exning and all-round Rural Dean, had encouraged me to go and take a look at Landwade on Historic Churches Bike Ride day, even though the church, like several in the Newmarket area, was not actually participating. He pointed me in the right direction, but I don't think I could have found the church without my trusty OS map. The lane through the woods up to the cottages is not sign-posted, apart from one reminding Turners' drivers that it wouldn't be a terribly good idea to go up there, and when you get up to the cottages the driveway to the Hall is also not signposted. Incidentally, you need to be aware that from this point you are on a private road. There is also a public footpath which runs up to the church from the road; it leaves the main road about 100m further north from the lane to the cottages. Beside it is the former gatehouse; but I am told that the gate there is quite often locked.

Reaching the Hall is like stepping out of time. The church sits behind the Hall, but you must collect the key from Simon Gibson at the Hall first because this church is in private ownership. This is an unusual state of affairs, but not unique; in Suffolk the same is true of the Estate churches at Ickworth and Hengrave. The Gibsons have lived in the Hall since the 19th century, along with the Glenelies, until their line ended during the Second World War. But before that, and for centuries, Landwade Hall was the home of the Cottons, and that is why you will want to come here, for the church is also their mausoleum.

The exterior of the church is not particularly stunning, since it has been cemented over, but it is interesting as an example of a small church that was all built in one go. It dates from the mid-15th century, but is not ennobled with clerestory and nave aisles like its contemporary at Denston. The window tracery is Perpendicular, but that is about it. The doorway in the south porch, which is a textbook example of the mid-century, is heavily graffitied, which I thought rather odd considering how remote the church was, and when I visited there was a garland of leaves and plants above the arch which was also curious, though lovely too. This church is one of three in the Exning parish, and takes part in the round of services, so it is regularly in use. I let myself into an open, light aisleless space. Ahead of me was a small image niche, and turning to the east I saw the 15th century benches installed when the church was built. They have nice poppyheads, but that's about it; nothing exotic. I noticed that several pieces of furniture had been covered with sheets, presumably to protect them from bat poo.

The rood screen is interesting. It retains its rood beam, and rises full length to it. However, it is hard to see where a rood loft might have been, and there is no surviving evidence of a stairway up to it. Indeed, because there are two chancel aisles, it is strung between two pillars. Further, there is very little clearance space between the rood beam and the ceiling.

The windows have several good 14th century figures in them; none of them are complete, and there must once have been more, but they are rather striking in their surroundings of clear glass. Perhaps the loveliest window of all is the modern east window, an image of St Nicholas on his boat, with the children he saved at his feet. I'd be interested to know who the artist is. There are images of three of the windows below; click on them to see them enlarged.

St Ethelberta detail. The east window of St Nicholas.

All this provides the setting for the Cotton memorials, some of the best in Suffolk (or, indeed, in Cambridgeshire). They are in the chancel and in the chancel aisles; the most dramatic are in the chancel aisles. In the south aisle is the biggest, to Sir John Cotton, who died 1620. His inscription reads: Here lyeth the bodye of Sir John Cotton knight the son and heire of Sir John Cotton he married three wives the first Elizabeth daughter to Sir Thomas Carrell esq of Warneham in Sussex, the second Elizabeth daughter to Sir Humfrey Bradburne knight of Bradburne in the county of Darby, by whome he had noe issue, the third was Anne daughter to Sir Richard Haughton Baronet of Haughton Towre in the county of Lancaster by whom he had issue, James, John and Katherine, which James and Katherine died in the life time of there father, he departed this life in the 77th year of his age Anno Domini 1620 and lieth in a vault in the south ile of this church made by himself. Sir John lies in front of it with one of his wives, presumably Anne. The monument is surrounded by its original iron railings, as is the one to its right to Sir John Cotton of 1689, presumbly the son of the first Sir John, given that he must have been quite old by the time he married his third wife. Given that the two monuments are from either side of the Commonwealth, they are surprisingly similar. A third Sir John, who died in 1712, is quite different, being very white and classical.

In the north aisle, there is a grand six-poster memorial to a still earlier Sir John, who died in 1593. There are other memorials here too, but like those in the chancel they have mostly lost their inscriptions. The most striking chancel memorial is the long altar tomb endways on to the east, as at Burgate. You have to keep your wits about you so that you don't fall over it. There is also a brass inscription in the chancel, in the south east corner to another Cotton, this one for a change called William. My Latin isn't brilliant, I must confess, but he appears to have been buried in Bury Abbey. There's an image in the left hand column, and I'd be interested in receiving a translation if anyone can provide one.

I wasn't in a hurry to get back on the road, and spent a happy half an hour or so sitting in the church yard, listening to the birds and the distant horses. It was lovely. I was planning to head on to Freckenham, which meant cycling through six miles of Cambridgeshire. I was quite looking forward to visiting Snailwell and Chippenham, but in my mind there was also the nagging thought that I was going to spend the afternoon cycling around Mildenhall, which is never something you can look forward to with pleasure.



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