CAG PROGRAMME 2019
The Group welcomes reports and photographs on any of our events for inclusion on the Website or in the Newsletter. Please send to moc.yksnull@2nilpahcnala
Dates for your diaries
See Winter Talks & Lectures for this year
Friday 9th Aug. 2019. All-day coach trip to Cambridgeshire
We left Colchester by coach and reached Elton Hall, near Peterborough, at about 11.00pm. We were met by Guides who split us up into two parties and then we toured the Hall with them telling us of it’s history. The Hall contains work from the 15th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and has an exceptional collection of art collected by the family, these including Constable’s view of Dedham Vale and vast Library of books including Henry VIII’s bible.
On the way to visit Cambridge, we stopped at the busy Peterborough services for Lunch. On arrival at Cambridge we walked to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Amongst the fascinating exhibitions were items collected from the prehistoric Star Carr site. Time was limited and we would have liked to spend more time there, but had to returned to the coach and were home by 6.30pm. Thanks to Anna and John for organising this interesting trip.
Tuesday 13th August, A talk from Professor Nicolas Balbi at RCH
Professor Balbi talked of his excavation of an unknown Inca temple in the Andes. The history of the Inca people, their beliefs and their road system and their relationship to the site. He also talked of the the techniques he had to employ in digging in temperatures up to 50°C (122°F). The Event was well attended and there was a plenty of interest from the audience and a number of questions were asked when the talks finish. CAG are grateful to Professor Balbi for the time and effort he put into Lecture.
Tuesday July 23rd 2019. Fordham Dig open evening
The members visit was one of four that had occured that week and the week before. including Fordham History Society and friends of the Colchester archaeological Trust.
Monday Evening 29th July: Beeleigh Mill Visit
The progress of the restoration of a victorian steam engine used at at the Mill by volunteers
Tuesday July 9th. Summer party at Roman Circus House (RCH)
31 Members attended this annual event.
Friday 21st June: CAG Crop Mark Study Group. Summer Solstice Watch
This event was mared by bad visability
Saturday June 29th. Walking tour of Sudbury
A walking tour of Sudbury including St Gregory’s vestibule led by Pam Pudney. See the Summer Newsletter for a full report on this excellent visit.
CAG Weekend Coach Trip 10th to 13th May 2019
On Friday 10th May a group of 38 CAG members and guests left Colchester for a long weekend in South Wales. We spent the afternoon in Avebury, where we had plenty of time to explore the Neolithic henge and stone circle, The West Kennet Avenue of paired megaliths, the Alexander Keiller Museum and Avebury Manor. We then continued west to our destination, the Aberavon Beach Hotel at Port Talbot
On Day Two, we travelled further west to St Davids, famous as the United Kingdom’s smallest cathedral city. The huge and very impressive Norman cathedral was built on the site of the monastery founded in the 6th century by St David (Dewi Sant), the patron saint of Wales. Close by is the 13th century Bishop’s Palace. A few of the group walked down to the spectacular Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, en route visiting the chapel commemorating the site where St Non gave birth to St David in AD 500. Further along is the very pretty little stone-built port of Porthclais, where he was reputedly baptised.
During the afternoon, we went to Pembroke, where most of the group chose to visit the 11th century castle, birthplace of Henry Tudor, impressively perched on a rocky promontory to the west of the town. On our way back to the hotel, we had time to pause for a look at Carew Castle.
On Day Three, we headed out into the Black Mountains to visit the Dolaucothi Gold Mines, which for many of us were the highlight of the trip. Although gold had been extracted from the streams near here by panning, possibly as early as the Bronze Age, it was the Romans who exploited the area using hydraulic mining technology. Water was stored in huge tanks fed by aqueducts and then released, the wave of water sweeping away the soil to reveal the bedrock and any gold-bearing veins beneath. The site was protected by a fort which was occupied from c.78AD to c.125AD but the mine was being worked until at least the end of the third century. We were led by our excellent guide into one of the Roman adits (tunnels) through the hillside to see the outcrops of gold-bearing ore and the marks left by the tools used to extract it.
We spent the afternoon in the small market town of Carmarthen, where some of the party were able to find the remains of the Roman amphitheatre and the site of Merlin’s Oak, before returning to Port Talbot.
On Monday we returned to Colchester, en-route visiting Hughenden Manor, former home of Benjamin Disraeli. Now run by the National Trust, there is the Victorian mansion surrounded by lovely gardens. During World War II the house was used as a base for a secret map-making operation and there is an excellent display in the basement of this aspect of the house.
Thanks go to Barbara Butler for planning and organising the weekend and to Mark Davies for his informed commentary on the sites we visited.
An Introduction to Archaeology – 2nd March 2019
A Study Day was held at Roman Circus House. The presenter was Howard Brooks of CAT, well-known to many of us. He has taught courses on archaeology for many years and is an entertaining and informative lecturer.
Crop Mark Studies Committee Annual Winter Solstice Watch Friday 21st December
We met at The Crown at Wormingford at about 7.30am. Before walking or car sharing down to Metlands field to view the Sunrise at about 8am. Metlands is the site of a Neolithic cursus crop mark. Then we returning to the Crown for a Full English Breakfast.
CAG Christmas Party for members and friends: Monday 10th December
This years Christmas Party took place at the Hawkins Rooms St Botolph’s Church, A buffet was provided by the members, which was followed by a quiz and a raffle. A total of about 45 members attended. There was plenty of time left to meet old friends and to catch up on gossip.
CAG SUMMER PROGRAMME 2018
Churches trip, Wednesday 18th April: this year, members of the Group visited three Suffolk churches, Little Waldingfield, Acton and Long Melford.
St Lawrence, Little Waldingfield is an excellent example of a late medieval church that has escaped major ‘Victorianisation’. It has fine porches, an interesting font, brasses and ancient parish chests.
All Saints, Acton contains remarkable brasses, including the third oldest brass in the United Kingdom (also said to be the finest military brass in existence), plus the ornate tomb of Robert Jennens (whose son William’s 80-year court case inspired Dicken’s ‘Jarndyce v Jarndyce’ in Bleak House). Not to mention a bomb dropped by a zeppelin!
Holy Trinity, Long Melford is one of the great medieval churches of East Anglia, and contains some of the finest original stained glass in the country, plus chapels, tombs and brasses.
Evening walk – The birth of British Modernism, Monday 11th June
In 2017 we examined the Courtauld legacy in Halstead. This year we looked at an equally important local company and its contribution to the built environment – the Crittall legacy in Braintree and Silver End, concentrating on the modernist style of architecture introduced by the Crittall family.
Crittall’s first window factory, and first modernist houses, were in Braintree. Around 60 such houses were built just after World War I, and these include two that are now of national importance. We started with a very short walk in Braintree to see some of these houses, and then moved on to Silver End. This, the first ‘Garden Village’ in Essex, housed the Crittall window factory from 1926 to 1968, as well as 500 houses (including 153 modernist designs, the largest collection in the UK) plus an extensive range of amenities for the work force. The Village Hall (the largest in the country) now houses a small museum which was opened especially for the Group with a guided tour by a local volunteer.
Summer Party, Monday 16th July
This year’s Summer Party was by kind invitation of David and Pat Moore in their large garden at West Mersea. David and Pat were very welcoming hosts and had even arranged for a gazebo to be put up in the garden in case of bad weather. This summer of course turned out to be one of the warmest and sunniest on record, and we enjoyed a very pleasant and mild evening in attractive surroundings. Many thanks go to our hosts.
Coach trip Peterborough and Kimbolton Castle, Wednesday 8th August
42 members and guests enjoyed a morning in Peterborough, most of them visiting the cathedral and the newly refurbished museum; Peterborough Museum holds a fascinating collection of archaeological and historical art and artefacts relating to the city and the local area, housed in an impressive Georgian town-house, recently refurbished with a £3 million lottery grant. The magnificent Cathedral, containing the tomb of Catherine of Aragon, celebrated its 900th anniversary this year.
Kimbolton Castle, now a school, is a medieval mansion built on the site of a Norman castle. Catherine of Aragon was held here for the last two years of her life. The mansion was substantially altered in the early 18th century by the then owners, the Dukes of Manchester, using the eminent architects Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor, with frescoes by the artist Pellegrini. We were given a comprehensive guided tour by two very entertaining and well-informed guides, culminating in most welcome tea and biscuits.
Having organised the summer events since 2012, John Moore has decided to retire and hand over to somebody else from next year, and is looking forward to attending trips with none of the responsibility. Many thanks go to John for organising the Summer Programme for this year and all previous years.
Summer Solstice Watch, Thursday 21st June 2018
Each mid-summer CAG holds a Solstice Watch to see the sun go down on the longest day. This year meeting either at The Crown pub in Wormingford or at the layby at the bottom of Sandy Hill, Wormingford (parking limited) to walk up to Lodge Hills to view the sunset.
Tour of Colchester’s Roman Circus: Wednesday 30th May 2018
Philip Crummy, Director of Colchester Archaeological Trust kindly gave CAG members a walking tour of the Roman Circus (Britain’s only Roman circus so far discovered). We assembled in Roman Circus House for an introduction and an explanation of how events were organised, illustrated by the scale model of the circus. We went outside to view the modern mosaic created some years ago by local schoolchildren with a design based on a chariot race. We then toured the site of the starting gates, followed by a walk along the whole length of the structure. This is about 450 metres and the footprint of the building has been highlighted by the developers, Taylor Wimpey, using contrasting coloured building materials.
Churches trip Wednesday 18th April 2018
Click on image to enlarge it
About thirty people came together for this year’s churches trip in Suffolk. Our first church was Little Waldingfield, one of a small group of nine known as ‘Suffolk Wool Churches’. These were all extensively rebuilt in the second half of the fifteenth century, financed by wealthy woollen cloth merchants; also in common was their architecture – the existing tower was retained, but the church was extended outwards by the addition of side aisles, and upwards to include a clerestory.
The interior contains one of the area’s most interesting fonts, probably C14th, contemporary with the tower; four of its panels depict Benedictine monks sitting at benches with books. Alternating are the emblems of the evangelists, winged lion (St Mark), winged angel (St Matthew), winged bull (St Luke) and eagle (St John).
There are also two fine parish chests, that on the south side of the tower has been dendro-dated to 1400-1420, whilst that on the north has been dendro-dated to 1350-1375. The carving on the latter includes decorated windows with carved faces, lions on the left and a man & woman on the right. There is a snake on the right keyhole (in reality more like a newt).
There was an interesting charity board which stimulated much discussion over the use of the Tudor long and short ‘s’; no consensus was arrived at!
Our second church was Acton, where we had a guided tour with the very knowledgeable churchwarden. All Saints, Acton contains the oldest brass in Suffolk, and it is generally considered to be the finest medieval military brass in existence. It is for Robert de Bures, who died in 1331, but the armour is of a fashion from thirty years before that date, so must have been made well before his death.
In a side chapel is the Jennans family monument. They were a vastly wealthy family; in 1708, Robert Jennans purchased Acton Place and began to rebuild it into a Palladian mansion, but the work was cut short when he died in 1725. His son William inherited. William stopped all work on the mansion, and lived in the unfinished shell – to be exact, he lived in the basement, in an unfurnished room, never going into the rich tapestried wing his father had completed. He lived entirely alone with his servants and dogs, never having guests, and never visiting anybody else. He became nationally famous as ‘the Acton Miser’, a role he played so successfully that, at his death, he was the richest man in England, and found to be worth well over two million pounds, the equivalent of about half a billion in today’s money.
A chest in his shabby basement contained more than £20,000 in notes, the equivalent of about five million pounds today. He gave orders that Acton Place was to be destroyed, and the story is that he hoped to destroy any evidence of his ancestors. He died intestate, and here the fun begins. It turned out that his grandfather had been married twice, and that he had two sons called Robert. Because of the conflicting evidence of the different family records, it was never clear which Robert the Acton Miser was descended from. From all over the country, distant relatives appeared, chancing their arms on a share of the fortune, forging birth certificates, parish registers and so on. The case of Jennans v Jennans ran on in the London courts for more than eighty years, providing generations of lawyers with an income, and Charles Dickens with the basis of Jarndyce v Jarndyce, the pivotal case in Bleak House. By the time the legal case was resolved, it had absorbed most of the estate.
From Acton we moved on to Long Melford, one of the most famous and imposing of the wool churches. All Saints church is the longest church in Suffolk at 250 feet, due to a feature unique in the county, a triple-gabled lady chapel beyond the east end of the chancel. The chapel itself is bigger than many East Anglian churches.
There are so many famous features in the church it would be impossible to list them all here, but there are descriptions on many other websites, for instance
http://www.suffolkchurches.co.uk/Longmelford.htm; http://www.suffolkchurches.co.uk/Longmelford.htm; http://www.english-church-architecture.net/suffolk%20l/long%20melford/long_melford.htm
A Special Lecture to celebrate CAG’s 60th Anniversary was held held on Saturday 7th October 2017 at Firstsite. Our speaker was Dr Helen Geake (Portable Antiquities Scheme, Time Team) who gave an excellent and thought-provoking talk on Sutton Hoo, Prittlewell and the Origins of the English
Summer Programme 2017
Click on image to enlarge it
Wednesday April 5th: Churches trip
An excellent attendance of 25 enjoyed a day out in Suffolk. Our first church was Thornham Parva, dating from the 12th, 14th and 15th centuries and unusually with a thatched roof over both church and tower. The graveyard is the burial place of Sir Basil Spence, designer of Coventry Cathedral. The interior has a circular Saxon window, a tiny minstrels’ gallery at the west end and the walls of the nave are lined with some of Suffolk’s most fascinating wall-paintings, dating broadly from the mid C13th. The main attraction, however is the painted oak retable over the altar, dating from around 1330. It is the largest (some 15 feet in length), and most complete, medieval altarpiece in Britain.
Thornham Parva church
Thornham Parva retable
Our second church of the day, at Mendlesham, is an imposing medieval building, with a very tall tower, rising in four stages. There are splendid gargoyles on both the south and north side of the church. The northern porch is very large, and it is crowned with the biggest grotesques in the county, including Suffolk’s finest woodwose (‘wild man’) with his club.
The upper part of the porch, formerly the priest’s room, contains the only surviving Tudor Parish armoury in the UK, established in 1593 when Bartholomew Knightes was paid 16d “for making of certain provision of timber work for the well hanging up of the Town Armour, he finding the timber”. Parish armouries were once commonplace, as every Parish was required to provide its own militia force, to provide them with basic arms and armour and give them regular training. They represented the last line of defence in the event of foreign invasion. The armour includes a rare early pauldron (shoulder-piece) and most of a long-bow, long thought to be one of only five in existence (until the Mary Rose was recovered). As well as the arms and armour, it contains several parish chests, a ‘Vinegar’ Bible and other artefacts of interest.
The brass monument of John Knyvet, who died in 1417. He is very typical of the period, in full plate armour, with a forked beard.
Finally, we visited Gipping to see the Chapel of St Nicholas. This is not a parish church, and never has been. It was built around 1475 by Sir James Tyrrell as the private chapel of Gipping Hall, his family home, which once stood immediately to the east.
The chapel is a superb example of late Perpendicular architecture. Because the windows are so vast, there is a kind of greenhouse effect; from the outside, you can see right through the building. The decorative knapped flint-work is superb – possibly the best anywhere.
Monday 12th June: a walk around Halstead
This walk around Halstead was specifically aimed at seeing the built legacy of the Courtauld family, owners of the silk mill. They were by far the largest employer in the town for over 150 years, before leaving in 1982. They built 3 types of property:
Firstly: Industrial buildings, connected with the factory, of which few remain
Secondly: Housing, for employees and others, most of which remain
Thirdly: Philanthropic buildings, constructed for the benefit of the community, most of which remain
Examples of workers’ houses built by the Courtauld family
The hospital and almshouses
The Roman Catholic Church
Wednesday 2nd August: Coach trip to Wrest Park and Elstow
Wrest Park belonged to the powerful de Grey family, Earls of Kent, from 1280 to 1917, and since 2006 has been in the care of English Heritage. The present house is the third on this site and was built between 1834 and 1839. It is a rare example in England of the French chateau style of architecture, built to the designs of its then owner Thomas de Grey, an amateur architect and the first president of the Royal Institute of British Architects. The house is set in an outstanding restored 90-acre landscaped garden, originating in the C17th but re-designed with the assistance of Capability Brown in 1758-60. It contains one of the few remaining formal gardens of the early C18th. Both house and garden are Grade I listed. Wrest Park also houses the English Heritage Archaeological Collections Store and the group had a guided tour of these.
Wrest Park, the mansion
Wrest Park, the formal gardens
Visiting the English Heritage Archaeological Collections Store
The group then went on the Elstow, a nearby village. The Moot Hall is a picturesque late C15th building of brick and timber which now houses a museum of C17th life, with a focus on the life and career of John Bunyan who was born and grew up here.
The Moot Hall, exterior and upstairs room
An Abbey was founded at Elstow in about 1078 and at its peak housed an Abbess and thirty nuns and at the dissolution was the eighth richest nunnery in England. The church is the remains of the Abbey church and stands in the grounds of the mansion created from the demolished Abbey buildings.
Elstow church and the remains of Elstow Place
CBA Report 2016
The Group is representated by John Camp at meetings of the Council for British Archaeology. Here is his report from 2016.
Summer Programme 2016
Coach Trip to Lullingstone
On Friday 5th August, the annual CAG coach trip took us to Lullingstone, Kent, to visit the Roman Villa and the Castle. Our first stop was the villa, one of the best-preserved in Britain, originally constructed in timber circa 75AD, rebuilt in stone during the 2nd century and finally destroyed by fire in the 5th century. It has 26 rooms, but the most notable feature is the house-church, unique in Roman Britain, which contains wall-paintings giving evidence of early Christianity. Also of great interest (particularly to CAG members currently digging at Fordham) were the mosaics and the bath-house complex. Much discussion of hypocausts and drainage was heard.
The bath-house complex and mosaics at Lullingstone Roman Villa
We then went on to Lullingstone Castle, one of those country houses which was never a castle at all, but a Tudor Manor House from circa 1497, extensively re-modelled during the reign of Queen Anne, who was a frequent visitor. Unusually, the house has been owned by the same family since it was constructed (now the 20th generation). Also in the grounds is the Tudor brick gatehouse and the 14th century church of St Botolph.
Lullingstone Castle; the house,
gatehouse and church
In 2000, Tom Hart-Dyke, the heir to the estate and a horticulturist, made the news when he was kidnapped in Colombia. During his nine months of captivity, he developed the idea of creating a map of the world in plants from each continent. When he was released, he returned to Lullingstone and created the World Garden of Plants in the old walled garden. It now includes the National Collection of Eucalyptus Trees.
Some of the exhibits in the World Garden of Plants
Mark Davies’ ‘Visual Quiz and Walking Tour 2016’
Do you know when Colchester’s North Bridge was widened and by how much? Or how much time elapsed between the building of Jumbo and when it was able to supply water to the town (twelve years – and people make a fuss about Firstsite?) And where is the boundary between St Giles and Trinity parishes?
Last year, Mark organised a very successful evening event, which saw many CAG members scurrying around Colchester town centre answering questions based on visual evidence, all within a deadline. This year, a similar event took place on Monday 6th June, centred on the western end of town – sample questions are above. Fewer people were able to attend this year, but three teams set off with their quiz sheets and two hours later staggered into The Alehouse in Butt Road for the answers. Two teams had managed to complete the whole course, with the third failing to get quite as far as Essex County Hospital and the Royal Grammar School. The winning team was Hilary, Barbara and Don, who very kindly shared the prize box of chocolates with the rest of us.
Photos by Chris Farndell
Annual Churches Trip 2016
About twenty CAG members met for the annual churches visit, starting at St Ann and St Lawrence, Elmstead. This is the classic ‘Hall and Church’ combination, remote from the more modern village of Elmstead Market. It is essentially a 14th century church, but in the 1930s, the discovery was made of a 12th century doorway under a Roman brick arch. Remarkably, the original C12th wooden door was also discovered and is on display at the back of the church. The interior is notable for its numerous early 19th century box-pews. Also of note is the 14th century wooden effigy of a knight in armour with crossed legs. In the chancel is the rather sad epitaph to William Martin, died 1662, the young son of the vicar Thomas Martin, the sentiment being that death took him as a kindness before he could be afflicted with the troubles of adolescence.
On to the church of St George, Gt Bromley, sometimes known as the “Cathedral of the Tendring Hundred”, a fine example of C14th and C15th East Anglian Gothic architecture. It has a pudding-stone tower rising in four stages; a magnificent south porch; fine examples of knapped flint flush-work, with traceried panels. In the spandrels of the porch doorway are the figures of the Church’s patron, St George and his dragon. Figures of Adam and Eve are set above the doorway inside the south porch. The interior is dominated by the splendid double hammer-beam roof, one of the finest in Essex, which contains 82 separate carvings in the spandrels of the braces, the two eastern bays retaining their original paintwork. Unfortunately, the angels on the lower hammer-beams were removed in the C18th.
The other major highlight is the capital of the western-most column in the south arcade of the nave. The carving is extraordinary, with a mixture of human, animal, devilish and heavenly figures. A dragon is swallowing a man; a man with his tongue out is being bitten on the cheeks by a frog and a fish-monster; two angels are holding hands.
The north aisle is dedicated to the Stone family, who left for America in 1634 (and continue to be benefactors to this day). The top-left window contains the only stained-glass image of a male Native American in the British Isles (Pocahontas can be seen at Willoughby Church, Lincolnshire).
Inside the bell-tower, if you look up you can see where the bowler hats of former bell-ringers are hung, the earliest being from 1716, the latest from 1991.
Our third and last church was St Mary the Virgin, Lawford. This is another classic ‘Hall and Church’ combination, again remote from the more modern village. The association between the two buildings started in the first half of the C14th when the Church was built; the current Lawford Hall was built around 1580.
The construction of the Church tower is extremely odd: an extraordinary jumble of grey-black flint, ginger septaria, brown puddingstone, off-white limestone ashlar and a variety of coloured brickwork. The C14th south porch is timber-framed. The four C14th windows on each side of the chancel are exceptional examples of the medieval mason’s skill, the tracery of each window being different from its neighbours. They are set above excellent decorative flint flush-work.
The interior arches of the four northern windows of the chancel are richly carved with foliage in the two western-most bays, with owls and foliage in the next bay, but it is the eastern-most window that is the most celebrated. It portrays a chain of ordinary people having fun, and is known as the ‘Acrobats’ window. In a unique sequence, revellers are holding each other by the leg; two are playing musical instruments and some appear to be dancing. Just one is praying. Against the north wall is a monument to Edward Waldegrave of Lawford Hall, died 1584, and his wife Johan. Edward was the uncle of Sir William Waldegrave of Smallbridge Hall, the builder of the Hunting Lodge at Wormingford excavated by CAG between 2007 and 2011.
Summer Programme 2015
William Morris Gallery and Forty Hall
The William Morris Gallery
The William Morris Gallery is the only public museum devoted to the English Arts and Crafts designer, craftsman and socialist William Morris, who had been born in Walthamstow. The gallery is in the former Water House, which is a substantial Grade II* listed Georgian house built around 1744 with extensive grounds. It was Morris’s home from 1848 to 1856, from the ages of 8 to 22. His mother sold the house to Edward Lloyd, a newspaper publisher, whose son Frank donated the house and grounds to the local council in 1900. The grounds were renamed Lloyd Park in his memory. In 2010 it received £1.5 million Lottery funding, and in 2013 it won the national Museum of the Year award. Forty Hall An ornate fireplace in Forty Hall
Forty Hall is a Grade I listed Manor House built in the late 1620s. It was built by Sir Nicholas Rainton, a wealthy London haberdasher, who was Lord Mayor of London from 1632 to 1633. His great-nephew, also named Nicholas, inherited the estate, and extended it northwards by buying and demolishing the neighbouring Elsyng Palace in 1656. After a number of different owners, Forty Hall was purchased by the London Borough of Enfield in 1951, to use as a museum.
Viewing the site and current excavations of Elsyng Palace
In the grounds, once stood Elsyng Palace, a Tudor mansion and one of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourites. She stayed there at least 4 times, including during her progress of 1561 when she had earlier stayed for 3 nights at Smallbridge Hall. Like the Hunting Lodge at Wormingford and Markshall, it became a lost building. After demolition in 1656, its precise location was unknown until Enfield Archaeological Society started excavating in the 1960s. They have made a number of further excavations, revealing more of the buildings footprint.
On Wednesday 15th April, about 25 members and guests went over to Mildenhall in Suffolk for an afternoon trip. We started off at the Church of All Saints, Icklingham. The village of Icklingham was originally two separate parishes and both churches remain. All Saints has been unused for over 100 years and is now maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust. Architecturally, this is unquestionably the more important building of the two, and is one of the finest examples of an unspoilt Suffolk Church, re-built in the C14th, although it is of Norman origin. Thatched roofs cover the nave, chancel, the independently-gabled South aisle and the South porch. The diagonally-buttressed tower rises in three stages to a plain parapet and, unusually, adjoins the aisle rather than the nave. The basic fabric of the nave is probably late Norman, to judge by the vestiges of two small, blocked, round-headed windows still visible in the North wall. The interior of the church is delightful, a consequence of clear glass and the fact that the building was left largely unaltered by the Victorians. The Parish Chest is damaged, but one of only seven late C13th clamp-fronted chests in Suffolk, held together entirely with wooden pegs and tenons. The font is limestone, early C14th and beautifully carved. Octagonal in shape, with each side carrying a different tracery design. An Elizabethan alms box is on a wooden post by the main door. The nave has C15th backless benches (ouch). Along the tops of the north and south walls of the south aisle are beautifully carved cornices. There is some excellent medieval stained glass, showing two half-figure (saints?), with canopies above. The 5-light East window has splendid tracery, with more carving around the niches on each side. Traces of paint here show that the stonework would originally have been richly decorated. The rood screen is late C15th and only the lower part (dado) now survives. The chancel floor is the most notable feature, being made up entirely of medieval glazed tiles. Their survival here is a great rarity, as medieval glazed floor-tiles did not wear well under hob-nailed boots and were largely replaced with pamments, unglazed bricks, harder stone or marble in the great rebuilding of Suffolk churches in the later Middle Ages. Dating from around 1325, and supplied by the Benedictine Abbey at Ely, they are either plain or line-impressed, varying in shape, colour and design to form a complex mosaic. Individual motifs include two birds facing each other, a lion’s face and an earless man wearing a coronet. Some tiles are pseudo-mosaic, in that they appear to be two tiles but are in fact a single tile.
After Icklingham Church, we carried on into Mildenhall to visit the Mildenhall Museum, which received a £423,000 Lottery grant in 2012 so that it could be extended to house its great treasure – the Anglo-Saxon Lakenheath Warrior (aka The Horse Burial). The Museum also tells the full story of the discovery of the Mildenhall Treasure (and a very strange story it is) together with the history of the Town, the Fens and the Brecks. An excellent little museum in which to spend a couple of hours. Finally we went to visit the Church of St Mary, This is the biggest church in Suffolk, almost 60m long and 20m wide, with a tower 40m high. Virtually all of it is original, hardly anything is a Victorian renovation. It is a church of other superlatives; the east window of circa 1300 is considered one of England’s best (albeit now with Victorian glass). The nave roof is possibly the finest in East Anglia. There are 10 life-size angels with long robes and curly hair, holding instruments of the passion, books or musical instruments. Their wings (which are inserted into grooves on their backs, with no other support) have been restored – in 1651 the parish had paid a man a shilling a day to deface “all symbols of superstition”, and the roof is peppered with shot. There are also some 60 smaller angels carved into the tie-beams and cornices. In the North Aisle there are extraordinary figures and beasts carved into the hammer-beams and the head of a Cromwellian soldier’s pike is still embedded in one of the figures. Each spandrel is a carved panel, depicting a mixture of biblical and domestic scenes, including a woman in a horned head-dress (supposed to typify Pride), a comic pig with an astonishing collar, demons playing an organ and a demon grasping a dog by its tail. The wall posts have canopied figures, with the canopies formed by angel’s wings. In the South Aisle , there are six wingless angels carved into the hammer-beams. The spandrels are filled with solid panelled tracery. The carving here is less ornate than the north aisle, but 164 carvings of swans and antelopes (the emblems of Henry V) survive intact. The north porch and the tower both contain excellent examples of stone vaulting.