St Margaret, Thrandeston
www.suffolkchurches.co.uk - a journey through the churches of Suffolk
|Thrandeston is a lovely village,
with that illusion of remoteness which East Anglia does
so well. I like coming back here. We are less than a
hundred miles from central London, but we might as well
be in the Middle Ages. As with several villages in this
part of Suffolk, what looks at first sight as if it
should be the village green is in fact unenclosed common
pasture land, with the result that it is a nature reserve
of some significance. The few houses of the village are
scattered around this large triangle, and most of them
This was, I suppose, my half-dozenth visit. Away from the main roads, you can cycle for miles in this part of Suffolk without meeting a car, or even another human being. On one occasion as I cycled into Thrandeston, my eye was caught by a large adult male muntjac deer, watching me from beneath a tree in the hedgerow. Captivated, I stopped to watch. It looked like a tiny cow. It didnt run, but stared at me insolently for a moment, before turning and trotting off towards the embankment, the white scut of its tail bobbing all the while.
Today, a big rabbit bolted across the common as I cycled past. This was all at ten oclock on a Saturday morning, and such a contrast with the bustle I had left behind in Ipswich town centre. People who live in Thrandeston are very fortunate. The serenity of the village is reflected by the church and graveyard, which stand a little way from the green.
In fact, I had been here a couple of weeks previously, on the Sunday morning, hoping to revisit and rephotograph the church. But the Sunday morning service had just started and I must admit that I had been a bit disappointed (yes, I know that's what the churches are here for). But standing outside reminded me how lovely this church was, and so it was hard to resist coming back so soon.
The 15th century tower has a dedicatory inscription. It remembers that the Sulyards and the Cornwallises had it built. At the other end of the church, the chancel weeps more dramatically than that of any other Suffolk church, which is to say it is at a slight angle to the nave. This will be even more apparent inside, of course. It is a reminder that naves and chancels were built at different times by different people, often on the site of earlier ones. It should be more of a surprise to us that so few weep, rather than that any do at all. The porch and clerestory are typical Suffolk perpendicular, but on a small, intimate scale. Inside the church, the silence is punctuated only by the birdsong from the churchyard and the occasional passing car.
A 17th Century poor box stands in front of the late 15th Century font, symbols of the evangelists alternating with Tudor roses. The view east is to the rood screen, rough and rustic with little figures in the spandrels - crowned angels, two other angels blowing the wind, while yet another angel holds a spear, which you might think an instrument of the passion were it not for the fact he is defending himself against a dragon creeping up from the other spandrel. The nave benches are low and narrow, and it is easy to imagine the 19th century citizens of Thrandeston huddled together in them. The benches at the west end of the nave have lovely medieval carvings. St Peter holds his key, St John his poisoned chalice, and what must be a crouching St Bartholomew holding a flencing knife (or is it St St Simon, holding the tail of a broken fish?
These bench ends are
somewhat overshadowed by those in the chancel, though.
Here, parts of the rood loft and pieces of 17th Century
panelling have been cobbled together to make a stall. In
the central entrance stand two most extraordinary
figures. They are female. One hitches up her skirt, and
they both carry animals. One has a cat, the other what
may be an owl. Mortlock says that it is hard to resist
the notion that they are witches. But where do they come
from, and why are they here? Almost certainly, they are
17th Century, and originally from a domestic setting. A
similar figure is carved on a wooden mantelpiece at
Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich, and I have come across
several others on similar furnishings.
With this rather sobering thought it is pleasant to turn to a window on the north side of the nave which contains a collection of fragments of medieval glass. Lots of churches have some like this, but these here are particularly pleasing. The feet of a bird, possibly the eagle of St John, the forked beard of God the Father, an angel hand plucking strings, a group of 15th century cockerels that might easily be roaming Thrandeston common but are probably from a heraldic shield, and below them part of an inscription that was once so common but is now so rare that you wouldn't know about it if it didn't exist in places like this: Orate pro Animabus, it reads, 'pray for our souls...'
Right on the eve of
the Reformation came a 1533 inscription in brass, now
reset on the chancel wall, for Elizabeth Cornwallis. It
begins Of your charitie, pray for the sowle of
Mastrys Elizabeth Cornwaleys. Within a few years,
such a sentiment would be anathema. It was missing from
this church for three hundred years, thanks to vandals or
collectors, but was returned here in the mid-19th
century. There are a couple of other, later, brass
inscriptions in the chancel.
Looking down on all
this, the 19th Century corbels to the roof depict a
diverse array of heads. A Moor and a Negro are perhaps
tributes to the Victorian empire, while the woman in a
wimple harks back to the 14th Century. By the chancel
arch, a man whose arms seem to grow out of his head
cackles manically. At the other end of the nave, an ugly
man gurns, perhaps suffering from toothache, a popular
late medieval depiction.
Simon Knott, September 2018
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