St Peter, Yoxford
www.suffolkchurches.com - a journey through the churches of Suffolk
If, against all my better judgements, I decided one day to go and live in one of the county's larger villages, and money were no object, then Yoxford would be pretty near the top of my list. It's a great place, big enough to have a couple of decent pubs, some good shops, one of which is one of Suffolk's best second-hand book shops, and even its own railway station. The A12 comes close without actually running up the high street, there are some pretty houses and even a park. And it's still a village. What more could you want?
A day will come when I tire of the shameless hedonistic urban lifestyle I lead, and decide to retire to the country. Until then, visits to Yoxford will keep me familiar with the upside of rusticity.
The name of the village means a ford where oxen can pass (as, of course, does the name of the city without the Y in front). The little stream that comes down from the industrial village of Peasenhall a couple of miles off is referred to locally as the River Yox - in fact, the stream is named after the village rather than the other way around. Yoxford proclaims itself 'the garden of Suffolk' as a result of the intensive fruit farming that began here a couple of centuries ago. It will come as no surprise to learn that Yoxford is alphabetically last of Suffolk's 500-odd parishes.
And St Peter is a fine sight with its grand spire, so unusual in Suffolk. Obviously, given the dedication, there is a cock on top of it. This church is one of the last of what I think of as the large southern Suffolk churches you meet heading north, before hitting the Blythburgh/Southwold/Covehithe group which give a new meaning to grandeur. Although the interior is extremely Victorianised, (you'll not be surprised to learn that Richard Phipson was the culprit) it has one of the largest collections of brasses in Suffolk, one of the largest collections of hatchments, a couple of other interesting memorials, and the 18th and 19th century headstones are fun to explore. The entrance is through the north porch.
I've visited this church many times now, but I've never shaken off the impression inside that this is a town church - it has an urban quality to it. Partly, this is because of Phipson, but it is also because of the monuments and brasses that line the walls. Significant names from Suffolk history can be found on them, for important people seem often to have lived around here.
One of them not buried here was Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, who was the second husband of Henry VIII's little sister Mary (she had previously been married to the King of France, no less). Their grand-daughter was Lady Jane Grey, who for a brief, teenage week in 1553 was proclaimed Queen of England by the desperate Puritan advisers to Edward VI, aghast at having a dead King on their hands. Their cunning plot to impose extreme protestantism on England was foiled by the popular acclaimation of the accession of Mary I, who was staying a few short miles away from here at Framlingham. Mary's reign would prove to be short and unhappy, and young Jane paid with her life for the treasonable actions of those scheming old men. But if the Puritans had succeeded in their plan, England would have been quite different today; there certainly would not have been a Church of England, for instance.
With that sobering thought, let us to proceed to examine the brasses. And here, I would like a little moan. They really should not be mounted on the walls. I realise that this is done with the best of intentions, to allow them to be displayed, and to protect them from being walked on. The trouble is, if there was a fire (and these do happen in churches from time to time) the brasses would melt, and run down the walls. Floor-mounted brasses set in stone do not melt (the heat rises away from them).
Yoxford's brasses are ancient and facinating. You can see some of them by clicking on the images to the left. My favourites are to Thomasina Tendrynge and her seven children. She died in 1485, the year of the Battle of Bosworth Field. That was an end to the Wars of the Roses, of course, but the accession of Henry Tudor would lead to a turbulent couple of centuries for the English people. Thomasina was the daughter of William Sydney, himself an ancestor of the family who would find favour with Henry's grand-daughter Elizabeth a century later, being given Penshurst castle in Kent.
Thomasina is wrapped in a shroud, a striking if not unusual style for brasses at the time. Two things make this one rather uncommon, however. Firstly, she is stunningly beautiful, and she gazes out at us with wide eyes from the elegant curve of her winding. My young son said that she looks like a mermaid, and so she does. Secondly, although two of her daughters stand beside her in Tudor robes, her five other children are also in shrouds, indicating that they died before she did.
A fine pair of brasses nearby are to John and Matilda Norwiche. We know very little about them, except that they are responsible for St Peter's being here. John was probably a member of the Norwiche family of Mettingham castle. Matilda died childless in 1417. John succeeded to the Lordship of Cockfield Manor in Yoxford in 1422; he never took up the reins however, preferring to remain elsewhere, possibly Mettingham. The Manor was sold, and the proceeds were used to completely rebuild this church in the prevailing Perpendicular style. John himself died in 1428, and these brasses remain as a sign on their patronage.
Two hundred years later, the Manor was in the hands of the Brooke family, and Joan Brooke survives in the form of a very characterful brass in the south aisle. There are several others, all worth a look.
Later, the Manor would come to the Blois family, who are also remembered in the name of one of Yoxford's pubs. St Peter remembers them too, with a splendid array of ten hatchments, mostly beneath the tower. There are also a couple of fine wall monuments to the family, one of them to the long-lived Sir Charles Blois, which has been very clumsily relettered at some point. Mortlock tells us that the sculptor was Thomas Thurlow, whose work can be found widely in this part of Suffolk. Sir Charles was ever feelingly alive to the duties of his station, apparently, as well as being faithful and earnest in the discharge of them.
My favourite memorial is a very simple one, but it remembers one of the great and often unsung heroes of churchcrawling. This is David Elisha Davy. The agricultural depression of the 1820s pushed him into an early retirement, which he spent travelling around Suffolk, sketching and taking an inventory of the exterior and contents of medieval churches.
It is no exaggeration to say that he rediscovered Suffolk's churches, which had mostly been in a state of neglect since the early 17th century. His vast body of research is still largely unpublished, although it is available for examination in the British Museum, and his lively account of his journey is available in a Suffolk Records Society publication. This is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in Suffolk's churches - Suffolk Library Service has loads of copies. Davy created a priceless record of the county's churches on the eve of their Victorian restoration. In many cases, his record is the only one we have of the churches between the Reformation and the modern age.
His inscription tells us that he died sincerely regretted, a mark of how the language has changed in the last century and a half.
White's Directory of Suffolk tells us that, in 1844, Davy had already headed off to his other house in Ufford. But Yoxford could still boast no less than five tailors, four milliners, and even a staymaker. The Directory also reveals that this large village (1500 people even then) could sustain a lifestyle considered so harmonious that Anglican ministers of surrounding villages thought it worthwhile abandoning their parishes and living here instead. The Vicar of Ubbeston for example (although that church is now a private house), but also the Rector of Middleton, Fordley, Westleton and Peasenhall (the splendidly named Reverend Harrison Packard). The current incumbent at Yoxford, the affable Richard Ginn, also takes these parishes under his belt, so he might be pleased to learn that history is on his side.
Finally, if you come here, and I hope that you do, you will probably find the church open. But be aware that nearby Sibton is equally worth a visit, and one of the keys is at Yoxford Rectory.
St Peter, Yoxford, is located in the centre of this splendid village, on the A12 between Saxmundham and Blythburgh. I have never found it locked.