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Saint Mary Church

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    Saint Marys Church


    Brief History and Guide

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    to this ancient and interesting church, which has stood for 900 years on its

    knoll overlooking the beautiful Orwell valley. We hope that you will enjoy

    its great charm and atmosphere, and above all we hope that you will feel at

    home here, because St. Marys is not just an ancient building, but is a living

    center for Christian worship the purpose for which it was built. It is ourFathers House, and that is why the people of this tiny community cherish

    and care for it as they do. It is a place where people of all faiths or of none

    may find peace and inspiration and where Christians, whoever or whatever

    they are, can look upon as Home.

    WHERSTEAD is a scattered parish, its main center of population being

    along the village street, through which we travel to the church, passing the

    former smithy, the old village (rebuilt 1872) and the entrance to WhersteadPark. The mansion was designed by Wyatville in 1792 for Sir Robert

    Harland who, in 1813, exchanged the estate with Mr. John Vernon of Orwell

    Park on the other side of the river. It was rented for a short time by the

    parents of Edward FitzGerald. Sir Robert sold Orwell Park to Col. Tomline

    in 1847 and came back to spend his final year at Wherstead. Lady Harland

    (see Vernon, who died in 1860, left Wherstead to Charles Easlead, whose

    wife was Sir Robert Harlands niece. The Park is now the Area

    Headquarters of the Electricity Board.

    Historical Development of the Church

    Like most mediaeval churches, St. Marys has evolved over the centuries,

    as people of different times and traditions have altered and beautified it. A

    church at Wherstead is mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086 and

    there was probably a church here in Saxon times. There may indeed have

    been a place of pagan worship on this spot; the huge boulders (or sarsen

    stones) upon which part of the tower rests, take us back to pre Christian


    The core of the present nave is certainly Norman, as we can see by its

    simple 11th

    century north doorway and slightly later south doorway. The

    tiny renewed Early English windows towards the west end of the chancel

    indicated that this was probably remodeled in the late 12th or early 13th


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    During the 15th

    century the western tower was added. William Brown

    bequeathed 2 marks (about 1.35) in 1455 towards building this tower and

    in 1469 another donor left 20 shillings towards a new bell.

    Few items remain inside St. Marys from the times before the Reformation

    when the interior was a treasure-house of mediaeval colour and carving,

    providing a host of visual aids to instruct the ordinary people who could not

    read and were not Latin scholars. The chancel roof and the pattern of the

    bench-ends show the beauty of mediaeval design and the rood-loft staircase

    reminds us of the painted rood screen, with the loft (gallery) which

    surmounted it and the great Rood (Christ crucified, flanked by Our Lady and

    St. John) which crowned it all gone.

    After the Reformation, when services were in English and there was less

    need for visual aids, much of the colour and carving was removed. What the

    Reformers in the mid 1500s did not remove, the Puritans in the 1640s did, soour churches became very plainly furnished for the Prayer Book worship of

    the Established Church, where the emphasis was on the preaching of the

    Word, with Communion four times per year. This lasted through the 18th

    and early 19th


    The antiquarian, David Elish Davy, visited this church in 1818 and 1843

    and his notes give us some idea of what the church looked like then. He

    observed that the walls were very low and did not exceed 12 feet. The roofs

    were tiled except for that on the north side of the nave, which was coveredwith lead. The south doorway had been ruined with too much plaster and

    whitewash; its inner capitals had almost worn away. Most of the windows

    on the south side were square-headed 15th

    century Perpendicular ones and

    the cast window was also of this date (as is seen in the sketch made by

    Henry Davy in 1838.)

    Inside, the church was equipped with irregular box-pews, and a few

    mediaeval benches also remained. On the north wall hung the Royal Arms,

    dated 1679. The old font was square, its large and clumsy bowl beingheld together by a piece of iron which surrounded it. The panels of its

    square stem had been filled in with black flints. On the north side fo the

    chancel stood the large manorial pew belonging to the Vernons and above it

    was a framed set of the Ten Commandments on the wall. Flanking the east

    window were the Lords Prayer and Creed. The sanctuary floor was at the

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    same level as the other floors in the church and was not railed off; movable

    altar rails were brought in when needed for the convenience of the


    At the west end was a small gallery for musicians and a visitor to a service

    in the 1850s noted that it was occupied by four labouring men who formed

    the choir he also remarked that the interior of the church was of a mostrude and primitive character, the only approach to anything like ornament

    being an escutcheon and a tablet in memory of the late Sir Robert Harland.

    During the second half of the 19th

    century there was a great movement to

    restore and refurnish churches on pre-Reformation lines, bringing back what

    was good in mediaeval design and throwing out many of the innovations of

    the 17th

    and 18th

    centuries. Benches took the place of box-pews, the altar

    was given more prominence, galleries were removed and stained glass was

    put into the windows. Few churches escaped this Victorian restoration and

    St. Marys, which had more attention than most, was transformed in 1864,

    entirely through the generosity of the widow of G.A.C. Dashwood (he died

    the previous year at the age of 43).

    By this time the church was badly in need of repair. The roofs, walls and

    windows were in poor condition; the old wood and plaster porch was rotten,

    the nave had an ugly flat ceiling and the chancel roof had been plastered and

    whitewashed over. Only the tower was left untouched because it did not

    require attention; the rest of the building was altered drastically.

    The architect for the restoration was Richard M. Phipson, who restored

    many East Anglian churches, including St. Mary le Tower Ipswich. The

    contractors were the Ipswich firm of Ringham & Son. The remarkable

    Henry Ringham was the first person in Suffolk to restore churches in the

    Victorian era. As early as the 1840s this self-taught craftsman was carving

    oxquisito benches on mediaeval lines, carefully salvaging any ancient wood

    work and carving new work in strict conformity to it. Some of his finest

    work may be seen at Great Bealings and Tuddenham St. Martin. The church

    was reopened in October 1864, when the preacher was the Bishop ofNorwich, in whose vast diocese most of Suffolk was situated until the

    diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich was formed in 1914.

    About 1900 the pinnacles were added to the tower, making St. Marys

    structurally the building we see today. Much as been done during the 20th

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    century to improve and beautify the church and we see there worthy

    craftsmanship of our own times, which rightly takes it place alongside that

    of past ages. The tower has recently been well restored and the stonework of

    its pinnacles has been partly replaced.

    Having traced its long history, we now examine the features and treasures.

    Of St. Marys in detail.

    What to see outside the church

    The setting of an ancient church is a feature which is often overlooked by

    its visitors. It must be admitted however that few visitors to St. Marys

    could have possibly ignore its glorious situation, affording one of the most

    magnificent views from any church in the country. From its church yard we

    can look down the Orwell estuary towards Levington and Trimley and in the

    opposite direction are glimpses of Ipswich and its outskirts. This is a fine

    vantage point from which to view the 325 foot high chimneys of the Power

    Station at Cliff Quay, also the Orwell Bridge, opened in 1982, whose elegant

    features span the wide Orwell valley. It is worth walking along the bridge to

    look back at this little church, standing proudly upon its ridge. It is little

    wonder that people of ancient times liked to worship at high and holy


    The church-yard itself is trim, cared for and picturesque, with a downward

    slope towards the south. It contains some 18th

    century chest-tombs, also, to

    the south of the porch and near the fence, the grave of Coru Visser, with itsinscription in two languages. He was a Dutch artist, who lived in Suffolk for

    over 40 years until his death in 1982 at the age of 79. He painted portraits of

    the Dutch Royal Family and his work may be seen in the National Portrait

    Gallery and the British Museum, also in the Christchurch Mansion at

    Ipswich. The grave of Emmy, his wife, who died in 1962, is also near the

    fence, further east.

    We enter the church-yard through a handsome lych-gate, designed by J.S.

    Corder, made by Mr. Friend of Ipswich and erected in 1894 in memory ofthe Revd Foster Barham Zancke. This remarkable man was Curate of

    Wherstead 1841-7 and Vicar 1847-93. He was not only a caring priest but

    also a writer, historian, amateur architect, expert on Suffolk rural life and

    dialect and also on eminent campaigner for the Liberal Party. His best-

    known book, Wherstead, Some Materials for its History, is an in-depth

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    study containing many fascinating subjects which some parish historians of

    his time did not think to research.

    The church itself has a trim and attractive exterior, with nave and chancel

    under a continuous roof (notice the pattern of the cross worked in the tiles), a

    picturesque timber porch on a flint base, a northern vestry and a slender and

    beautifully proportioned western tower.

    The flint facing of the walls and the stonework of the windows, also the

    three huge animal head gargoyles (to throw rainwater clear of the walls) are

    all part of Phipsons 1883-4 restoration. For the windows he chose the

    Decorated style (in use during the early 14th

    century); each is framed by a

    hood-mould, resting upon corbels carved in the shape of foliage or heads.

    The only exceptions are the small single western windows of the chancel,

    which may well be replacements of original 13th

    century ones. The blocked

    doorway on the north side of the nave is original Norman work of c. 1100.

    It is simple in design and its features have become very worn by nearly 900

    years of British weather. The eastern gable is crowned by a stone Celtic

    gable-cross, which was given in 1983 in memory of Edward Carter.

    Although the tower has been carefully restored during recent years, most

    of its fabric is 15th

    century work. It is small compared with many Suffolk

    towers, but is elegant and has dignity. The buttresses at its western corners

    are embellished with flushwork paneling, using stone and knapped (split)

    flints; those not only strengthen the tower but also enhance its beauty.

    Notice the huge sarsen stones upon which the south-west buttress rests.

    In the masonry of the tower walls may be seen a mixture of building

    materials, including flint, stone, brick and chunks of brown septaria (our

    local building material mined from the marshes between Orford Ness and

    the Haze), all of which combine to create a warm and mellow colour.

    The tower windows are all in the Perpendicular style of architecture, used

    in the 15th

    century. There is a large three-light west window, a small

    ringing-chamber window on the south side, and two-light belfry windowswhich have hood-moulds resting upon tiny original carved heads. The

    staircase turret on the south side is lit by small quatre-foil (four-lobed)

    windows. The brick parapet is a little later than the rest of the tower; it has

    stepped battlements and the old gargoyle heads beneath it on the north and

    south sides have been pensioned-off in favour of modern spouts. The tower

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    is crowned by elegant crocketted pinnacles at the corners and at the center of

    each face. These were added about 1900, but similar pinnacles would have

    been here originally old pictures clearly show the stumps of them and two

    of them have been lying loose in the belfry before 1900.

    From 1600 1902, a large copper ball, five feet in diameter, stood at the

    top of a staff at the summit of the tower. This served as a navigation markfor vessels sailing up the Orwell.

    We enter by means of the south porch, which shelters the fine Norman

    south doorway of the nave. This is a beautiful piece of early 12th


    craftsmanship, although some of its parts are now missing. Its semi-circular

    arch has an unusual adaptation of the Norman zig-zag pattern (which is

    made to stand out in relief like a chain) and is supported by two circular

    shafts each side; the inner ones have lost their original capitals, but the outer

    capitals remain, and are carved in the shape of faces. To the east of the

    doorway is a small (later) Holy Water stoup, where mediaeval people dipped

    their fingers and made the Sign of the Cross in Holy Water as a symbolic act

    of purification and re-dedication upon entering the sacred building.

    What to see inside the church

    Although most of the craftsmanship in this church dates from 1864 and

    after, it is work of the highest quality and this homely interior, containing

    much of interest, has an atmosphere of prayer and devotion and feels lived-

    in and greatly cherished.

    High in the wall above the 15th

    century chamfered tower arch, but not now

    visible except from the belfry, is a blocked Sanctus Bell window, through

    which a ringer could get a clear view of the altar, in order to sound a bell at

    the Sanctus and the Consecration at the Eucharist, so that those who were

    not able to be present could join in prayer.

    There are two bells in the tower; the treble was cast by John Darbie of

    Ipswich in 1675 and the tenor, inscribed Nos thome meritis mereamurgaudia lucis (may the merits of St. Thomas gain for us the blissful realms of

    light) is a 15th

    century bell, cast at Norwich (and it could be the one for

    which money was left in 1469). A third bell, made by Miles Graye of

    Colchester in 1632, was unfortunately stolen in 1970.

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    On the north nave wall, near the west end, hangs an attractive painting

    showing the lych-gate and the church tower with its navigation ball. This

    must date from between 1894 and 1902. Hearby is a list of Vicars of

    Wherstead from 1300, and notes about them, compiled by the Revd Barham


    The recess near the south door contained a second Holy Water stoup.

    Thefont was designed in 1864 by Barham Zincke and was carved by James

    Williams of Ipswich. The panels of its octagonal bowl are of an original and

    unusual design, showing the Cross and Emblems of the Passion (east), St.

    Michael treading Satan underfoot (north-east), the Baptism of Our Lord

    (north), the Dove of the Holy Spirit with rays (north-west), This is my

    beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, with rays (west), and the three

    southern panels form one scene showing Jesus welcoming the children.

    Zincke not only designed this front, but also the Vicarage, which was built in


    Another remarkable piece of stonecarving is the pulpit, given by the Hon.

    Mrs. Rushout and carved by M. Abeloos of Louvain (who also carved the

    stall canopies at Ely Cathedral). This is a rich piece of stonecarving,

    graphically depicting Jesus the Good Shepherd in the central panel with a

    sheep on his shoulder and three realistic and very woolly sheep at his feet,

    also the interwoven sheep-fold fence behind. In other panels are the

    inscriptions Feed my Sheep and Feed my Lambs, also olive leaves

    (south), the Rose of Sharon (south-west) and the lily of the valley (north-

    west). The pulpit fall, made in 1983, is the work of Miss Nancy Miller andsymbolizes the main features of this parish the river and the land, with

    agriculture represented by the wheel in the cross.

    The 19th century brass eagle lectern reminds us that the Word of God is not

    only to be read, but spread. Hearby, in the south nave wall, is the staircase

    to the former rood-loft; the steps are of Tudor brick. Money was bequeathed

    in 1453 for the candlebeam in the rood-loft and possibly this staircase, which

    gave access to it, was erected at that time.

    The 19th

    century wooden chancel arch, resting upon stone foliage corbels,

    has traceried spandrels between the arch and the wall and roof) and there are

    angles each side beneath wooden canopies; one holds the inscription Jesu

    Mercy and the other a chalice.

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    The benches are worthy examples of Henry Ringhams excellent

    woodcarving. Their traceried ends are modeled on the one 15th


    example which he found. Each terminates in poppyhead of leaves, etc, of

    which no two are the same.

    The nave roof, of oak, is entirely work of 1864, but the chancel roof

    retains its 15


    century framework. It is a sturdy single-hammerbeam roof,with uncommonly thick moulded cornices at the tops of the walls.

    The little chamber organ, with its attractive painted case, was built by

    Timothy Russell of Grays Inn Road, London in 1837. We first hear of this

    instrument in use at the small village church of Fifield, near Burford, Oxon.

    It was then moved to Whittlesey Methodist Church, Cambs, and after twelve

    years service there, to Field Dalling in Norfolk. It was finally transferred to

    Wherstead in 1976 and installed by Boggis of Diss. The organ has one

    manual and the following stops: - Stopped Diapason 8 (divided), Open

    Diapason 8, Principal 4, Flute 2, and Fifteenth 2.

    The sanctuary has a colorful floor of Minton tiles. In its south wall is an

    early 14th

    century pisoina, with an octfoil drain, into which was poured the

    water from the washing of the priests hands at the Eucharist. The altar has

    a colourful frontal, made by Nancy Miller in 1983; its central motif is the

    crowned M for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Patron Saint of the church.

    There is some beautiful stained glass in the windows. The nave windows

    are filled with mild-coloured motifs and richer colouring in the tracery; notethe St. Edward window near the pulpit, with Es and his emblem of the

    crown and arrows, also a picture of the saint at the top. The pictorial

    windows were given as memorials, and are as follows: -

    West window. Jesus healing the blind man and the four Acts of Mercy, with

    the four Evangelists and two emblems of Christ in the tracery. Made in

    1864 by Holland, in memory of Sir Robert Harland (1848) and Arethusa


    East window. The Last Supper, the Resurrection of Jesus and Jesus at

    Emmaus. Made in 1864 by Alexander Gibbs, in memory of George A.C.

    Dashwood, who died in 1863, aged 43.

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    Chancel, south-east. Jesus welcoming children. Made in 1864 in memory

    of George Dashwoods children, Agnes and Emma, who died of diphtheria

    within a few days of each other in 1863, aged 8 and 4 years respectively.

    The glass is by Alexander Gibbs.

    Nave, south-east. David as Shepherd Boy and as King. Made by King of

    Norwich, in memory of David William Pepper, who died in 1963, aged 19.The Good Shepherd in the tracery is 19th


    On the walls are memorial plaques to people of the past who have been

    associated with this church and parish. There are: -

    Nave, north (west-east).

    1. The Revd Charles Vernon, D.D., of Wherstead Park (1863). A

    marble plaque, with his coat of arms above, by E.S. Physick of


    2. War Memorial, recording the names of three Wherstead folk who

    perished in World War 1.

    3. Brass plaque to Caroline Isabella Dashwood. (1920).

    4. Marble plaque to Sir Robert Harland (1848).

    5. Captain H.C. Pallant of the Indian Army Reserve, who died in

    Persia in 1920.

    Nave, south.

    1. Charles Edmund Dashwood (1935), the elder son of G.A.C.


    The ledger slabs once in the floors of the church were taken up in 1864

    and some may now be seen outside, near the porch and tower. They

    commemorate: -

    1. John and Dorothy Hunt (1764 and 1769) and Burham Cutting


    2. Robert Gooding (1618). He was a salt finer.

    3. Christopher Wright (1624) and his son John (1652).

    4. The Revd Samuel Sames (or Samwaies), 1657. He was theMinister of Gods Word in the parish for 54 years.

    * * * * * * * * * * * *

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    This guide was compiled and produced by Roy Tricker, who is grateful to

    Dr. Simon Cotton, Mr. E. Mountain, Mr. E. Carter, Mrs. J. Worrell and Mr.

    And Mrs. P. Stollery, for much help and useful information, also to the Staff

    of the County Record Office for the use of their facilities. The booklets

    were assembled by pupils of Copleston High School, Ipswich.

    * * * * * * * * * * * *Please say a prayer for the priest and people who worship in this church

    and who have the difficult and costly task of maintaining it, intact and

    beautiful, for future generations to use and to enjoy. They would be deeply

    grateful for any contributions that visitors can spare to help them in this task.

    May God bless and keep you always.

    One wanders down the winding land

    Away from noise of car and train,

    And just beyond some ancient trees

    The lynch-gate of the Church one sees.

    How many feet have trod before

    And passed beyond that open door,

    To worship and to sing Gods praises

    On wet as well as sunny days ?Alas! The congregation shrinks,

    The worlds too busy now, methinks.

    Three trips is all one needs, it seems

    To help us with our worldly schemes.

    To Christen, wed, and then to die,

    To gain that rest beyond the sky.

    If only folks would come once more

    To worship, ponder and adore,

    The world would be a better placeFor all of us the Human Race.

    A view of St. Marys Church, Wherstead, as seen by Mrs. E.A. Carter, the

    Church Secretary. It is written approximately ten years ago, when the elm

    trees were so profuse in the immediate proximity of the church.

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