St Mary’s and St Lambert’s, Stonham Aspal
Outdoor temperature: 10.3˚C; indoor temperature: 12.8˚C, humidity: 72%
It was the weekend of the CelloAid concert in Darsham church: an all-cello concert, all ages and all standards, in aid of Suffolk Refugee Support. I was heading to Sibton Green the day before for a rehearsal, and had arranged to spend the night there with friends, as Darsham was only a few miles away.
I had driven past the ‘church open’ sign outside Stonham Aspal church many a time on my way coastwards. The sign seemed the most enticing thing about it: the church was tucked back behind some trees, looking rather cramped and dark in the middle of the village. Driving past west to east, its tower was invisible to a car driver, so that I didn’t realise it had one until I stepped into the churchyard.
The first time I stopped, a few months previously, with the intention of going inside, I found the sign replaced by another that said ‘church closed for repairs’. It served me right for taking so long to get round to visiting it. But on this occasion it was open again, and although the church itself hadn’t particularly attracted me, my appreciation of open churches had increased sufficiently in recent months to make the prospect of going inside an exciting one.
Impressions from a car window were misleading. Perhaps the bright day did a lot to help, but I was pleasantly surprised: I saw the tower for the first time, the top of which had clearly been recently replaced, and the interior was much larger and brighter than I anticipated. There was an arresting display of sunlit poppies hanging between two pillars in front of the door, above a wooden table dated 1616. The light was beautiful, and on closer inspection the poppies were too: there were knitted poppies, crocheted poppies, others made of paper, all different styles and sizes.
My last surprise was the acoustic: it was good, despite the church’s two aisles. I stayed a while to practise the pieces I was due to play the following day, wanting to appreciate the church I was in, not knowing what the next church might be like. I planned to stop at Peasenhall, the last church before Sibton Green, but I knew nothing of it and didn’t know if I would find it open. Still, I wanted to leave enough time to try, so after an adequate amount of practice, I packed up and went on my way.
St Michael’s, Peasenhall
Indoor temperature: 13.3˚C, humidity: 72%
Until I reached the lane to the church, I suspected I might have made a mistake with my record keeping. I thought I must have visited it before: I could picture the village with its tea room, and the location of the church. Once I arrived, however, I recognised the cemetery a few hundred metres down the road, in which I had sat on a warm summer’s day; the church’s location I was confusing with Earl Soham.
Peasenhall church was along a lane from the main road, more tucked away than Earl Soham, with a little car park directly opposite the churchyard entrance. It was small, with a narrow tower, and an avenue of cherries leading to the porch. I was glad to find it open, as ever, especially as I realised I’d have no time to search for a key or another church before I was due in Sibton Green.
The interior was pleasant enough, but it didn’t capture my imagination. Its size was perfect, but the acoustic left me with the impression of a dull Victorian restoration, which is possibly a little unfair: I’m sure that if the church possessed resonance I would have come away with a different impression. Still, as it was, I was glad to have spent most of my practice time at Stonham Aspal.
Two aspects of the church, however, I did appreciate greatly: the first was the font, which I first thought must be Norman. Then I immediately questioned my conclusion: it was more elaborate and curvy than most. I had to read about it to establish that it was indeed late Norman. The second was the church’s exterior: once I was outside again I was able to admire it in the afternoon setting sun, and think how beautiful the glowing, almost-bare trees looked. The sight made me love autumn. Or, rather, reminded me that I love autumn.
Header photo: Poppy display in Stonham Aspal church