All Saints’, Frostenden
It was my third attempt to visit Frostenden. This time, having failed to note down the keyholder’s contact details on my last visit, I looked at my call history and phoned the number that I concluded must have been either for Wrentham or Frostenden. It didn’t much matter which: I wanted to visit both. It might sound odd to whoever answered that I didn’t actually know who I was calling… but it was my best hope of getting in, as I could find no information online.
A gentleman called Paul Scriven answered the phone, and told me he was keyholder of Frostenden church. It turned out he’d been at my concert in ‘Coovehithe’ in March, which made my church-visiting-cello-playing intentions thankfully devoid of suspicion.
We arranged to meet at the church the following morning. I arrived first, and used the time to walk around the churchyard and examine the graffiti in the porch. It was windy all of a sudden; or perhaps it was just a windy location up on the hill. The setting was beautiful though, and the church too, with its round tower. As I was waiting in the porch, a couple arrived. I thought perhaps they were the other people Paul had mentioned he was expecting at the church this morning, but no: they were from Worcestershire and had turned up by chance. They had just been at Wrentham church and found it locked, which surprised me, as the keyholder had told me he’d open it earlier in the morning and leave it open. But I assured them it would be open the rest of the day, from noon at least, when I would be going there.
Frostenden had a wonderful acoustic; it was worth the effort to get in. Paul sat and listened, as he was hoping the other people – stonemasons, it turned out – would turn up before we left. I played only for a short time, not wanting to detain Paul too long. He explained to me afterwards that there had been a break-in earlier in the year: this accounted for the section of nave window covered in cardboard. SmartWater, a traceable marking product which I also use on my cello, had been used on the brass, but still it had been stolen and not recovered.
It sounded as though this break-in was the reason for the church being kept locked, but I suspected it was already kept locked before the incident, and clearly this didn’t deter the thieves. Insurance providers prefer churches to be kept open anyway, so I am not sure how they continue to get away with using security as an excuse. But before we left the church, the real reason the church was kept locked became obvious: Paul was the only person who was prepared to open and lock it, and he didn’t live close enough to come twice a day to do so. He had to drive here. This made more sense, and I relented: it seemed to me that the break-in had probably affected him more than anyone else in the parish, and that the thieves’ greater crime was against his kindness and goodwill.
Paul was disappointed the stonemasons hadn’t turned up by the time we were leaving, and he decided to go home. As we walked to the churchyard gate, he said to me, ‘you don’t need to labour over the ‘t’, it’s pronounced Fros-enden’. ‘Ah!’ I replied. ‘I’m so glad you told me, as I meant to ask, and forgot.’ I found his way of describing the pronunciation charming and amusing. As was his whole way of speaking in his soft Suffolk accent. He was a delightful and gentle old man, and I was thoroughly glad to have met him.
Just as I was getting into my car, the stonemasons pulled up. I waved goodbye.
St Nicholas’, Wrentham
Wrentham church was the more difficult to arrange access for, and it was also my third attempt to get inside. I almost gave up; but via accidental, roundabout means, I succeeded. Some of the names mentioned to me in my search turned out to be people I knew, from the concerts I had given in Covehithe and South Cove. It was certainly helpful to have met so many vicars and churchwardens around the county over the last two years. The first person I contacted I eventually found out was on holiday. The last person who might have let me in, Nigel, was also on holiday, apparently; but to my surprise I received a phone call before I left for Frostenden that morning. He wasn’t going away until next week, he told me, and he would open up the church in the morning and leave it open all day.
When I reached Wrentham church, I thought my powers of common sense and perhaps even strength might have failed me, as I couldn’t find a way in. That explained why the people I’d met at Frostenden couldn’t get in. After several attempts, I admitted defeat, and phoned Nigel again. He had, as intended, opened the church; I could only think – from my peering through the porch window – that maybe the bolt on the outside door had slipped. Nigel appeared a few minutes later – without the key, as he’d come from a meeting and not from home – and was as puzzled as I was to find it locked.
It had started to rain, and I sheltered under the thick yew trees lining the churchyard path until he returned with the key, and found the bolt had indeed slipped. I thanked him profusely for his time and effort, and for leaving his meeting early – which, however, he assured me was no hardship – and he left me to enjoy the church.
The church was large, and lighter than it looked at first sight from the yew tunnel. The acoustic was also better than I expected for a two-aisled church. I was glad to have got inside, finally, and after so much effort. The building itself was pleasant enough, but it was the little details that stood out for me: a sundial, the font, and some pretty medieval glass. My curiosity satisfied, I was able to get some proper practice done: there was no one waiting for me to finish.
As I was leaving the church, I saw a sign on the back of the porch door requesting that this door be kept open. Around the edges were angry comments at the church’s being locked at all. They were harsh, I thought, after having been the recipient of so much kindness and effort on the part of one of its keyholders; but I could also identify with those feelings. In my worst moments of frustation, I could easily have joined in with the rant myself. I was surprised the notice had not been replaced with a new one.
St Edmund’s, Kessingland
I ventured into the Diocese of Norwich to visit Kessingland church. I didn’t expect much, suspicious that Kessingland was almost a suburb of Lowestoft. But my prejudices would soon be emphatically corrected.
The fact it was open, for starters, was a huge point in its favour. What I found inside was an even greater one: a light, colourful, well-loved and welcoming church with a wonky brick floor. It was a delight. I had read that the south aisle had been taken down in the 17th century, and the north aisle had fallen down. What was left, the nave, was still huge, but it was the cosiest huge nave I had ever come across, and I should think children love coming here: they had their own space behind the pews, much more lively than children’s corners in churches usually are.
Oddly, there was a post box in the church. It looked legitimate, but I couldn’t be sure, since there were colourful gift aid envelopes sitting on top of it. I think I wouldn’t attempt to use it if I wanted my post to arrive; although, having met their church, I would probably trust the good people of Kessingland to transfer any post they found inside to a real post box. The question is only how long it would take to reach its intended destination.
When I reached the chancel and turned around, I saw that the tower arch was not set centrally set in the nave. This is not uncommon – chancel arches are sometimes also to one side – but still I have no idea of the reason for it. The internet has not been forthcoming on the subject, and I expect I would need to find an architectural historian to enlighten me.
I stayed longer than I thought I would, demonstrating once again the power of churches to persuade me to do more cello practice… and when I had finished, I went outside to see if I could find some ruins. Their contrast with the Walberswick ruins couldn’t have been greater. This was more how I imagined ruins should be treated: overgrown with ivy and with a sign saying ‘beware loose masonry’. But they were small compared to the Walberswick ruins: larger ones would be more difficult to leave like this, I would imagine. It was an interesting conundrum.
Afterwards I headed for Westhall in the rain to see my friend Will and his family’s garden, on which he had been working hard, under the instruction of his garden designer brother. Soon, however, the sky cleared and it turned into a beautiful afternoon. Just in time for the garden tour, a warm late afternoon walk around Walberswick followed by an outdoor pub supper.