At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Peter, Little Thurlow

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Little Thurlow

Little Thurlow Little Thurlow Little Thurlow sun dial

Soame Memorial (detail)   The road between Haverhill and Newmarket is busier than I'd like, but cycling this way I was struck by how pleasant the villages are, and how well-off. The road opens out into a village green lined with majestic horse chestnuts, and the church is just to the east, by the infant River Stour. The unusual shape of the north side of St Peter is a tribute to the wealth and enthusiasms of the Soame family, who we have met a mile or so away at Little Bradley. They lived at Thurlow Hall, and were also responsible for the pretty almshouses up on the top road. In the early 17th century, before the triumph of the puritans, they had a family chapel built on to the north side of the chancel. It was, perhaps, intended to echo the chantry chapels of a century earlier; not, I hasten to add, because they shared a pre-Reformation theology, but because it gave a sense of antiquity to the family name. Given that the wealth of families such as the Soames came from largesse distributed at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, there is a certain irony in this. Other families who had built chantries in the Middle Ages continued to use them after the Reformation for the new beliefs and practices of the Church of England. The two main uses were that they were a place to sit for the ministry of the word, out of sight of the common people, and for burying and memorialising the dead.

Here at Little Thurlow, Sir Stephen Soame and his wife Ann lie beneath one of the grandest memorials in Suffolk. Sir Stephen was Lord Mayor of London, and he died in 1619. His memorial, which Sam Mortlock thought was superb, is also rather extraordinary. While Sir Stephen and lady Ann sleep on in their conventional reclining posture, they are surrounded by nine of their children in various poses and facing in different directions. The boys, although child-size in proportion, sport beards, and one of the girls strokes a skull as if it were a pet cat. Intriguingly, all the faces are slightly different - where they based on the life? Old Father TIme on top waits for his chance.

Soane Memorial (detail) Soame Memorial Ann Soame Soame Memorial (detail)
Soame Memorial (detail) Soame Memorial (detail) Soame Memorial (detail) Soame Memorial (detail)

As large as the Soame memorial is, it does not dominate, because the nave and aisles are filled with one of East Anglia's largest and most imposing ranges of 17th Century furnishings, with big scrollwork poppyheads with flowers and leaves in relief. Mortlock pointed out that they are probably the work of the same carpenter as those not far off at Clare.

There are several modern memorials to members of the Frink family. The south aisle east window is a fine work by Geoffrey Webb, and in the arcade of the north side is a sculpture of St Edmund by that most famous member of the family, Dame Elisabeth Frink, in memory of her father. It appears to be a model for the life-size sculpture which now stands in the cathedral grounds at Bury St Edmunds.

St Edmund by Dame Elisabeth Frink St Edmund by Dame Elisabeth Frink St Edmund by Dame Elisabeth Frink

Elsewhere, the church is full of interest. The font is a substantial piece of the 12th Century, an unusual date for Suffolk, and there are some extraordinary corbels in the style of a century or so later, although I think they must be Victorian reproductions, up in the air supporting the nave roof. There is a brass of the late 15th Century in the middle of the nave. There are five hatchments and other Soame memorials, including one signed by John Walsh, that highly-regarded memorial sculptor of the 18th Century. The Ascension in the west window is excellent.

Outside, The narrow churchyard is worth exploring, and is a testament to the wealth of this part of the world in the past. A intriguing detail is an odd little chain which is attached to a tower buttress. I am assured that it was intended for 18th century parishioners to tie their dog to. Above it is the remains of a sun dial.

The area to the north of Haverhill is one I think of as the 'Greats and Littles' - Suffolk doesn't have many pairs of villages which are a Great and Little of the same name, but here along the border with Cambridgeshire there are three pairs, The Bradleys, the Thurlows and the Wrattings, six villages in all and six medieval parish churches. Of the six, Little Thurlow is by far the best village and by far the best church.

  St Edmund by Dame Elisabeth Frink

Simon Knott, December 2011

looking east font 17th Century furnishings from the gallery
Geoffrey Webb, 1937 Geoffrey Webb, 1937war memorial propeller banner
corbel corbel corbel J Walsh London
the raising of Jairus's daughter Lamb and Flag 17th Century furnishings 17th Century furnishings
Geoffrey Webb, 1937: Mabel Eleanor Frink Geoffrey Webb, 1937 Geoffrey Webb, 1937 Lazarus come forth
the raising of Jairus's daughter at the Ascension Ascension suffer the children at the Ascension
feet of Christ at the Ascension at the Ascension at the Ascension
Thurlow Parva family pew all Greek brass
scrolls and drapery Ascension Peter Stephens Geometric 

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