At the sign of the Barking lion...

St George, Wyverstone

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Wyverstone Wyverstone

William Glasby's Ascension   If neighbouring Bacton is firmly in the valley of banal civilisation, then Wyverstone is very much in the foothills of a vanishing rural idyll. To cycle to it through late summer fields that swell on either side of the lane is like coming up for air. And Wyverstone is a lovely village, and one of its delights is St George, a quirky little church, with none other in Suffolk quite like it. The setting is super; whoever it is that lives in the cottage to the south is very lucky indeed.

The 14th century tower has a wide eastern face, and the high clerestory lifts against it. However, there are no aisles, and so the main impression you get is one of height. This is a tall, thin church, but on a small scale. The wooden porch and gargoyles make it atmospheric, thoroughly gothic. You step inside to light; not surprisingly, given all the windows.

The star attraction here is the 16th century roodscreen. At first sight, it is a bit battered, and everything above the dado has been destroyed. But this is the only rood screen in situ in Suffolk where the figures are carved in relief. And what a fascinating sequence they are! On the north side are the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin, and what was probably the Nativity of Our Lord, although this last panel has been particularly vandalised by Anglican or Puritan vandals in the 16th or 17th century. On the south side, the southern panel is a gorgeous Visitation, with Mary and Elizabeth both voluptuously pregnant. These three scenes were part of the common medieval rosary sequence - as, indeed, they are today. The fourth panel, the left hand one on the south side, is probably the most interesting of all, since it portrays the medieval legend of the Mass of St Gregory, which was used as a comfort to those who found their faith in the Eucharist shaken.

Annunciation ghost of an angel Adoration Mass of St Gregory/Visitation Mass of St Gregory Visitation

Although this screen is remarkable, there are several other features which are of great interest. Wyverstone has two sets of royal arms, and neither of them are run of the mill. On the west wall of the nave is a richly carved and ornamented set of arms for William and Mary, dating probably to the very first decade of the 18th Century. Cautley thought it was the best set for them in the country. Meanwhile, on the north wall there is another set, obstensibly for George III, and dated 1802. But look closely: The G is floriated, and was almost certainly a C originally. A couple of miles off at Westhorpe there is a similar set, which, although clearly painted by a different artist, have the same triangular pediment, There, the arms are dated 1751, and are charged for George II, but showing through the overcoat of paint are the letters C R and the date 1602. I suspect that this set, too, are an overpainted set for Charles I, although they may be for Charles II.

The screen is not the only medieval survival here. High in the south window lights are four ghostly figures, damaged composites so vague as to hardly be there, until you notice that the second one points with a finger at a missing symbol, perhaps the instrument of their martyrdom. In much better condition is a fragment of a panel, probably continental, depicting the Adoration of the Shepherds.

Rather less vague and fragmentary is the splendid 1926 east window by William Glasby of the Risen Christ adored by angels. Aidan Mcrae Thompson tells me that the central figure of Christ is a design Glasby reused in many of his windows, including one at Ilston on the Gower Peninsula identical to the centre light here. Another version is at Colney Heath, Herts. Aidan notes that his style is heavily indebted to Henry Holiday's, having worked under him initially at James Powell's & sons and latterly in Holiday's own studio. I thought it boldly sentimental, and quite late for such confidence; it tugs against the strings of cultivated uncertainty that so much of the Church of England restrains itself with today.


Simon Knott, February 2009

look east look west sanctuary font sanctuary
Adoration of the Shepherds organ Steggall CR not GR William and Mary


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