All Saints, Little Cornard
|Boxing Day 2000, and the temperature
plummets towards zero, forgets to stop, and heads below.
That evening, a group of us sat in the fierce, dark,
convivial heat of the Ship and Star in Sudbury, escaping
from the bosom of our families, and getting quietly
This has become something of a tradition for us; and, it would seem, for other people too, for the place was heaving. Our friend Stephen (all locals will know his house on Acton Square, the one with lifesize Star Wars characters standing in the windows) was holding court. Jacquie discovered a group of old school friends, and ensconced herself in a round with them; I was pinned in a corner with Sarah, who daily commits the sheer act of lunacy of commuting from Sudbury to Martlesham, Catherine who works in a Seventies retro-clothes shop in Dublin (no, she doesn't commute) and Nancy, who actually comes from Little Cornard.
|The narrow lane climbs steeply between
high hedges, and you hope that you don't meet anything
coming the other way. Soon, you reach the top of a ridge
above the Stour; it is actually the last dying gasp of
the Chilterns as they sink slowly into the east. The road
winds between 18th century houses and 19th century farm
cottages, doglegging alarmingly at one point, the blind
turn not revealing until the last minute that the road
was flooded on the other side. But we ploughed on,
reaching a farm. A sign indicated that All Saints Church
was across the farmyard, so we drove in. But the track on
the other side was a swamp, so the very kind lady at the
farm let us leave our car in the farmyard.
First sight. The lychgate leads into one of Suffolk's mysterious places.
We walked along the track between wild hedgerows and wooden palings, and eventually found ourselves headed towards a handsome lychgate, the tower and 19th century lantern of All Saints peeping up above the wilderness of holly, ivy and yew that surrounded it. Stepping through, we found ourselves in the most delightful of graveyards, with scatterings and groupings of 19th century graves among the wild trees; only the modern graves to the east are organised in rows.
|Looking through the window, you can
see that the Victorians rather ingeniously knocked the
floor out, and opened the whole thing out into the
chancel. It is now an organ chamber, with the character
of a north transept, as at Baylham. The 19th century windows can be seen through
the clear glass of the north side, where you'll also find
a 15th Century roundel of an angel.
A child, who died in 1906. He could be 96 years old if still alive.
The backs of two grave markers. The foundry mark is W.I. Green, of Sudbury.
The same cast as the one, far left. This is late 19th century, for a young man.
|Most movingly, one of the cast iron
markers, to a child who died at the age of 2 in 1906,
still had fresh flowers before it. I found this again and
again in the graveyard; this is a well-loved, well used
place. On other entries I have been disparaging about the
recreational grave-tending of the modern cult of the
dead; family graves seem to have taken over from
allotments as a place you make yourself busy, and
churches that were once considered places of private
prayer have been left behind long ago, their doors locked
and untried. But here, there was still a sense of holy
communion between the living and the dead.
|To the west of the churchyard, a
modern parish room replaces one destroyed in a storm, and
reflects how lively this parish must be.
And yet, what will remain with me is the loneliness, the silence of that beautiful spot. We walked back to the farmyard, wrapped up against the sub-zero wind, wishing the similarly wrapped up Nancy and her Mum a good morning along the path.
We drove back down to civilisation, again being thankful for not meeting another car on the narrow lane. Modern Sudbury engulfed us with its noise, but we carried with us the serenity of lonely Little Cornard.
And so it was, that evening, as I sat happily making a fool of myself in the Ship and Star over pretty young things, that I drifted away from the heat and the noise occasionally, my mind picking its way between the cast iron graves. I will go back there.
Postscript: Since this entry was written, the Ship and Star has closed, and is now a private house.
All Saints, Little Cornard, is lost in the hills above the Sudbury to Bures road. Leave the centre of Sudbury along Cornard Road; as you reach the countryside, look for a sign directing you up a narrow lane to the left. The church is about a mile up this road, behind a farmyard. I am very much afraid that it is locked, without a keyholder.
The Churchmouse website includes lots of information about cast iron gravemarkers.