At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary Magdalene, Westerfield

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Westerfield Westerfield Westerfield

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Westerfield sits out on the edge of the Ipswich urban area, a few fields separating it for now from north Ipswich's urban sprawl. It successfully feels like a proper village, despite the busy main road cutting through it. It has its own railway station on the Ipswich to Felixstowe and Lowestoft lines, although in fact the first of these will cut back into the middle of Victorian east Ipswich after leaving town to call here. Ipswich claims thirteen surviving parish churches of medieval origin within its boundaries, but Westerfield's is one of half a dozen more that are not very far outside.

There are traces of the Norman origins of the church in reused carved stonework, but the window traceries show that the body of the church as we see it today was principally the work of the early 14th Century. A bequest of 1443 left a noble to the new tower, and in 1483 there was a further bequest of ten shillings to the making of a bell, which suggests rather neatly the time span for the building of the tower and its completion. In 1521 George Bette left two nobles to the painting of the sepulchre of the same church, so perhaps the late medieval refurbishment of the nave and chancel was almost complete. The hammerbeam roof dates from this time, but it has been considerably restored. You enter through the 1980s meeting rooms which lead into the north doorway. They replaced a 19th Century school room which stood on the same site.

You step into a small and lovely church. There is perhaps a slightly crowded feeling, the furnishings coming in a series of early 20th Century refurbishments at the hands of a local man who was one of the more significant figures in the story of Suffolk's churches. This was the diocesan surveyor and architect Henry Munro Cautley. Although born in Kent, he moved to Ipswich as a young child when his father became the first perpetual curate of the new All Saints church on Chevallier Street. The family later moved to Westerfield for his father to become rector here, and in the early years of the 20th Century Cautley married the widow Mabel Seaman of Swan's Nest on the outskirts of the village. Although they later moved to the house that Cautley designed on Constitution Hill in Ipswich, Westerfield was always dear to his heart. His are the reredos, altar furnishings and lectern, as well as the restored angels in the roof. And there is more, as we will see.

Suffolk is not renowned for its William Morris glass, but Westerfield has a good collection in both the west window under the tower and in the nave. Most prominent is the figure of St Mary Magdalene, designed by Morris himself and identical to the same figure at Antingham in Norfolk. The angels playing musical instruments around her are to the design of Edward Burne-Jones.

Resurrection by William Morris William Morris/Edward Burne-Jones glass Mary Magdalene by William Morris
William Morris angel William Morris angel William Morris angel William Morris angel

The previously mentioned hammerbeam roof is unusual, not just for being small, but in that it continues over both nave and chancel. It is unusual to see this on such an intimate scale, and you almost feel that you could stretch up and touch it. It is offset by the surviving 15th Century rood beam. This was the beam in front of the rood on which candles were burnt, and is even more substantial than the one not far off at Ufford which is also castellated.

The memorials are imposing in such a small space. The traumatic inscription on one is to Lady Deborah Whitefoord, who died at Brussels in 1829. It tells us that her death was occasioned by her clothes taking fire, in consequence of which dreadful accident she languished in extreme agony for eight and twenty days. On an adjacent memorial to her eldest son Major John Whitefoord, who had been severely wounded at the Battle of Waterloo, we learn that in 1825 he died of an accidental shot received from his friends gun while out shooting. Not a fortunate family.

The war memorial is one of several in Suffolk designed by Munro Cautley, who is probably best known today as the author of Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. He wrote a similar volume for Norfolk, but Suffolk was always his first love, and Westerfield of all Suffolk the place he loved best. There are surviving memories of his parents here, for on the chancel door outside there is a small plaque remembering Annie Munro Cautley, born 1842 died 1905, wife of Richard Hutton Cautley rector of this parish 1890-1901. This door was erected as a tribute of affection by parishioners and friends. If you are able to visit the meeting rooms you will see, among the photographs of former rectors, Richard Hutton Cautley MA. I'm told that the hat he wears is a capello romano, also known as a saturno, a sign at the time of very High Church sympathies.

Although Munro Cautley had not lived in the parish for forty years when he died, it is here that his memorial is set on the south wall of the chancel. Beneath a roundel portrait are the words In memory of Henry Munro Cautley FSA ARIBA Architect and Diocesan Surveyor 1876-1959 also of his wife Mabel Seaman 1872-1958 who to the Glory of God and in gratitude for all his mercies left their estates to the Diocese in trust to spend the income therefrom on the embellishment and maintenance of the ancient Churches in this County.

They are buried in the churchyard. Their headstone, with its typical Cautley angels, sits to the north-west of the church by the hedge. Cautley designed it himself.


Simon Knott, January 2021

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looking west font
Westerfield lions a Westerfield angel war memorial by Munro Cautley
Henry Munro Cautley war memorial by Cautley Died of an accidental Shot received from his friends Gun while out Shooting
her death was occasioned by her clothes taking fire, in consequence of which dreadful accident she languished in extreme agony for eight and twenty days

Cautley Annie Munro Cautley wife of Richard Hutton Cautley Richard Hutton Cautley
an angel for Munro Cautley Henry Munro Cautley an angel for Munro Cautley


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