St Nicholas’, Gipping
I was driving northeast out of Stowmarket with the intention of visiting Mendlesham church on my way to Winston, where I was meeting Will for our last duet rehearsal before the next day’s four-church tour in west Suffolk. I thought I knew which route I wanted to take, having looked it up in advance, but my satnav had other plans. Normally I ignore it if I know roughly where I want to go, for fear it will take me to a main road I am specifically trying to avoid; this time, however, I realised too late that I was ‘somewhere else’, and so decided to see where it would lead me. Before long I was on windy lanes that I didn’t recognise, and a little while later, without so much as passing through a village, I spotted a sign to Gipping church. It pointed down a farm track. Almost without hesitation, I found myself taking a left turn.
I passed some cows in a small meadow to the right of the track, and found the church soon after, opposite a farmhouse. The first thing I noticed was that there was not a single gravestone in the churchyard. It looked odd. Otherwise it seemed to be a relatively normal flint church, though porchless and with an unusually high roof and huge windows. Its two less attractive features were a dour grey-rendered tower, and an alarmingly orange door. I went in and walked over to the information table opposite. I quickly realised that the reason there were no gravestones was that this was a chapel, not a church. For a moment I was disappointed: did this count towards my church total? Would it be a ‘wasted’ visit? But those thoughts were gone in an instant. It was a beautiful , bright chapel with a peaceful atmosphere, and I was going to enjoy it.
I found some old pews at the back of the chapel; the area towards the chancel, including the entrance door and box pews, seemed to be Georgian work. I rather liked it: it certainly made a change from Victorian restorations. Despite the crowding effect of box pews, it felt simple, light and cheerful. There was still an old barred door behind the information table, and the east window boasted a collection of medieval stained glass.
The acoustic was as resonant as I expected, and my visit was memorable, whether or not it officially counted as a medieval church. When I got home, I looked it up in Cautley’s Suffolk Churches and its treasures, which I had used to calculate the number of churches I would visit. Other chapels I knew of, such as St James’ in Lindsey, and St Stephen’s in Bures, were not listed, but Gipping was. It also appeared on the map at the back of the book. I was pleased to conclude therefore that it does count. I don’t exactly understand the criteria that includes this chapel and excludes others, but it doesn’t matter. Perhaps one day I will find out.
St Andrew’s, Winston
It had been threatening and spitting rain all morning, and now the clouds released their heavy burden of water. When I arrived at Winston church, near Debenham, I didn’t see too much on the dash between the car and the porch.
I wanted to go to Winston was because its name amused me. It was a funny name for a village, I thought, though perhaps no funnier than Kenton down the road. But it also fit the bill for a rehearsal with Will: located approximately halfway between Westhall and Hitcham, I had, as usual, chosen a church fairly remote from its village in the hope we could rehearse undisturbed; and, as usual – though this has always been an accident, and sometimes an inconvenient one – the only space large enough for two cellos was in front of the altar.
We rehearsed until we were satisfied we could do no more. I was still unsure about the Klengel suite, but there was only one way to test it out: with a disclaimer and a small audience the next day. The rain had not let up by the time we finished, so apart from an old chest and some slightly disturbing carved bench ends I noticed in the chancel, I left taking photos and exploring the churchyard for another occasion.
The church itself didn’t linger in my memory, perhaps because I was more concerned with my rehearsing panic than with the church. If someone had asked me afterwards what I thought of it, without photographs to aid me I would have said it was an undistinguished Victorian restoration (which might perhaps accurately describe the chancel, where I spent nearly all of my first visit). So I had a surprise in store when I returned to the church in November: I found a pretty little church with a Tudor brick porch, a well-worn, chequered pamment nave floor, an unusual (small, high and clear) east window, and a simple, endearing feel.
But Winston had long become famous in my house and amongst my friends, for an entirely different reason.
Mark: ‘I think we might possibly get a spot of rain’.
Me: ‘You know, you might just be right. I’ve been visiting my old friend Winston’.
Mark: ‘Is Winston some sort of creature?’
Me: ‘No, Winston is some sort of church’. (My location).
Mark: ‘CHURCH HILL!’ (His location – at home in Kersey).
I thought no more about it until I got home and the baby wood pigeon that I had been hand-rearing for the past three weeks flew for the first time. I was hopping with excitement. The day before I had been discussing with my friend Penny’s sons, Sam and Tim, what to name the pigeon. I hadn’t wanted to name it sooner for fear of tempting fate: I still couldn’t quite believe that I had successfully hand-reared a baby bird for the first time in my life. I also had no way of knowing if it was a girl or boy, so we tried to think of names that could be male or female. But none of them felt quite right.
As I was writing up notes about my church visits that evening, I remembered Mark’s question, and had a light-bulb moment. Winston is a suitably ridiculous name for a pigeon, I thought: I’ll name him after the church I visited on the day of his maiden flight. I can also call him Winnie in case he’s a girl. I texted Mark to tell him and thank him for the inspiration, and added, ‘so the correct answer to your question is now yes, Winston is some sort of creature’.
‘I knew I was right’, was Mark’s reply.