At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Margaret, Stradishall

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Stradishall no entry

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    A small church, though with two aisles and a clerestory, rather hidden away in a sheltered churchyard at a bend in the busy Newmarket to Clare road near to where it crosses the even busier Haverhill to Bury St Edmunds road. If the tracery in the nave and chancel windows is original, as seems likely, then this an unusually early complete church for Suffolk, an early 14th Century rebuilding and elaboration of what must have been a substantially Norman nave and chancel. The tower and porch also date from this rebuilding, though the latter is largely restored, and a surviving bequest of a pyx, canopy, cloths of altar, 2 pairs censers and a pair of chalices to the church by Thomas Scrivener in 1493 suggests that there was nothing else to be done.

This is a church I had got used to revisiting every five years or so, but I'd never found it open. On a visit in 2018 there had been a keyholder notice which gave me hope, but the keyholder had been out and since then of course the Great Covid Panic had engulfed the Church of England and its buildings. However, coming this way in the summer of 2021 I was surprised and pleased to discover that the south door was open. The churchwarden was attending to two visitors who had beaten us to it. She wasn't terribly happy about us coming in as well, citing Covid precautions, but with the agreement of the earlier visitors and a promise not to be too long we stepped inside.

The aisles make a squarish place of the nave, a contrast to the narrow and relatively long chancel off to the east. There is no coloured glass and so despite the gloomy day outside the clear light fell across old wood, stone, and brick. There are traces of wall paintings, some decorative and an indistinct St Christopher, and the dado of the screen is pleasingly carved with foliage motifs which might suggest a fairly late date. One of the panels has three holes bored in it. The font is Perpendicular, so must be later than the rebuilding of the nave. Best of all, the royal arms reset above the tower arch are dated 1788 but are actually those of James I of almost two centuries earlier. They carry one of that first Stuart monarch's mottos, Exurgat Deus Dissipentur Inimici, ('Rise up o God and scatter my enemies') from Psalm 68, as well as the words Vivat Rex which I thought might have been added later, perhaps at the Restoration in 1660.

The church should have pleased me more if we had not been a cause of such anxiety to its guardian I think, and if we had not had to scoot around it so quickly. I always like rough and ready churches, which Stradishall certainly is. But there was also a sense of sadness, even neglect. It was not hard to think that it will not survive for much longer as a working church. I was glad I'd seen inside before it was too late.


Simon Knott, September 2021

looking east chancel looking west
James I royal arms: 'Exurgat Deus Dissipentur Inimici' screen (early 16c?) Rayners of Stradishall Place

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