incongruously rendered tower of St Nicholas looms
through the rain.
||Suitably refreshed, I left the
King's Head at Bildeston, and
headed back up into the hills. The day that had
started so crisply was melting into overcast
mistiness. The freshly ploughed fields exuded
their late autumn smell; rooks scattered and
gathered miserably across the ridges. The year
was once again headed irrevokably for its end.
Two miles out of Bildeston, the rain
began to fall. I had no coat, but didn't mind too
much, knowing that St Nicholas was only just
ahead. And there it was, lifting its
incongruously rendered tower above the
encroaching trees. The dampest summer for 100
years has left Suffolk wild and fecund; even the
autumnal branches were bold and thrusting.
I hauled my bike off the road,
and through the stair-rods. The rain was
hammering it down now, so I abandoned my vehicle
among the graves, and scurried around the church
to take shelter in the porch.
Well, it was locked. Now, I
hadn't assumed that the church itself would be
open, but making the porch inaccessible seemed
mean and petty. It deprived it of one of its
original functions, a place of hospitality to
I shook the handle hard in
frustration, but it didn't open. I pressed myself
against the church wall as the heavens opened
onto mid-Suffolk. The overflowing guttering
forced me into the elements, and I was soaked,
the graveyard dissolving like tears around me. I
thought, I could die out here...
Seeing it on a website rather than in
real life, you'll notice that St Nicholas church is
essentially a work of the 14th and 15th centuries, with
much detail surviving, but the heavy hand of a Victorian
restoration rather overwhelming it.
|The tower reminded me of the
one at Claydon.
Looking westwards, I was particularly fascinated
by the dormer windows, on both sides of the
These sit above
the place where the rood screen would have been.
You can see the same thing at St
Nicholas in Ipswich.
They are like a cheap version
of a clerestory, but are very attractive, and one
can't help wondering why they weren't added more
often - or perhaps they were, and many churches
which are now clerestory-less actually had them
at one time.
The church was declared
redundant as part of the Diocese of St
Edmundsbury and Ipswich PLC's lunatic act of
corporate downsizing in the 1970s.
This is despite its distance
from any other CofE parish church; indeed,
Wattisham itself is a remote place, apart from
the adjacent airbase.
Fortunately, St Nicholas did
not fall into the hands of property speculators.
It was, uniquely in Suffolk, taken over by a
charitable trust, who use it for concerts and
exhibitions, ploughing profits back into caring
for the building.
Although this situation is
clearly not ideal, it is better than that of any
of the churches that are now private houses -
they are lost to us for ever.
tower, rood loft dormer windows, and a very
Of course, just because a redundant
church is not a private house doesn't mean you can go
inside and have a look, as I was now discovering.
dormer window in full.
||As you can imagine, I wasn't
feeling terribly charitable towards the trust,
huddled under a bush in the ditch on the far side
of the graveyard, cursing and swearing and saying
things that my mother certainly wouldn't have
approved of. I wasn't feeling anything, except
miserable, frustrated, and very, very wet.
Eventually, the rain stopped, as it
always does. As an act of mercy, the sun came
out. I shook myself like an old dog, gingerly
removed my camera from its case, and took these
What is St Nicholas like
inside? Can't say, I'm afraid. The glass in the
windows is all frosted Victorian; I could just
about make out rows of modern chairs. In the
1930s, Cautley found little to interest him except an
He abhored the repainted
roodscreen, with its melodramatic Victorian
Saints. I've no idea if it still exists, although
I do know that the reredos is now at Little
Finborough, and many of
the other fixtures and fittings are at Bildeston, where the south aisle chapel has been
rededicated to St Nicholas.
In the 1950s, Dickinson's
revision of the Dutt guide found an 18th century
memorial to six people of the same family who all
lost their feet because of gangrene, which would
have cheered me up at this point, I think.
However, I didn't get to see it.
Why was this church not needed?
I suspect that, as at Rishangles, a thriving Baptist church in the
village had something to do with it. So I cut my
losses, and went and had a look at that instead.
Nicholas, Wattisham, is just to the east of the B1115
Stowmarket to Hadleigh road, not far from Bildeston. I
found it firmly locked.