Suffolk churches 42: Rushmere St Andrew and Campsea Ashe (October 2017)

St Andrew’s, Rushmere St Andrew
I set off for a rehearsal at Rushmere St Andrew without any thought that I might include it in my list of churches. I went without my camera, and took no photos on my recently acquired smartphone. I think it was partly that I had recently come back from holiday and had it in my mind simply as a rehearsal, and partly that I had played there before and so it wasn’t officially amongst my list of churches to visit, eager as I had been at the beginning of my tour to find any way at all to reduce the vast number of churches and make the goal feel slightly more achievable. By the time I got home, however, I realised that I had included all other repeat visits – they were usually for concerts – and so there was no reason not to include this one. Besides, if I actually reach the end of my project, I’d be so close to visiting all of them that a few more would make little difference to numbers, and a big difference to my sense of satisfaction.

Both of my visits to Rushmere St Andrew have been marred by the fact that on neither occasion have I managed to persuade my satnav not to take me through central Ipswich, putting me in an extremely bad mood by the time I have arrived (far later than anticipated). The route is complicated enough that even with the help of a map, my attempts to memorise it, and therefore be able to ignore the satnav, have been unsuccessful. So, once again, when I arrived, I was suffering from an internal scowl and I fear it might have made its way onto my face. I had wanted to stop at another church on the way, but my extended journey through Ipswich had made that impossible.

At least leaving home early meant I didn’t arrive late, however, and the temper was fairly quickly disposed of. I was glad to be playing again after my two-week holiday in Cornwall, and for it to be a social occasion: that evening we were due to play a cello quintet, written by a cellist friend’s son, at the AGM of the charity Suffolk Refugee Support. I was a late addition to the group, as their fifth cellist could not make it. It was nearly a month since I had last played in a church, and the drop in temperature was noticeable. But it was still mild enough – as I was soon to realise – and it didn’t take long to warm up.

Rushmere St AndrewRushmere is a strangely and uniquely restored church. To the west of the altar is a heavily restored but more or less traditional-looking church with pews. To the east is the equivalent of a complete second building, built in 19681, with rows of chairs set out like a concert hall. It is on the east side that we rehearsed, and that I played to an audience the last time I visited, so I still feel that I have interacted very little with the older part of the church. Perhaps this was another reason why I hadn’t initially thought to include it as a medieval church. I still cannot decide quite what I think of the new part of the building, although I am sure that it gives the church many more potential uses.

After our rehearsal, we packed up and left for our event in central Ipswich. The performance was a success, and appreciated by the attendees, despite – or perhaps because of – being a rather unusual addition to an AGM.

The thought of inadvertently ending up in Ipswich again has put me off going back to take photos, so they will have to wait until I plan a visit to other churches in the area. Until then, a photo of our rehearsal has kindly been provided (above), showing the east side of the church, and a video of the piece we played is below (cellists: Will Bass, Kathryn Joyson, Gretel Dowdeswell, Mandy Summers and Yalda Davis).

St John’s, Campsea Ashe
Campsea Ashe
On my way to Snape Maltings to play in an orchestral concert two days later, I left home early in order to stop off at a church for my first proper practice session since getting home from holiday. As usual, with thirty creatures to see to, it took me half an hour longer to get out of the house than I anticipated, and my visit to Campsea Ashe church was cut short. Nevertheless, it was probably long enough: I was dismayed by how out of practice I felt after little more than two weeks’ break from the cello.

I had two engagements to play the Bach C minor cello suite in less than three weeks’ time. It was a strenuous and long piece, made more strenuous by tuning the top string of the cello down a tone – from A to G – requiring more stretching in the left hand. I preferred the way this sounded: having two strings of the cello tuned to the same note (an octave apart) made the instrument resonate differently. It also gave the music and the cello a more ancient feel, which, I felt, entirely suited the atmosphere of medieval churches.

Campsea Ashe floorFeeling a little frustrated despite the pleasant acoustic, and aware that I had taken on more of a challenge than I realised – for the second time this year, but on this occasion with the deadline looming rather closer – I had to keep taking breaks in order to extend my practice even to the short amount of time available until I had to leave for Snape. These breaks were pleasantly occupied with looking round the church. I enjoyed most of all the pamment floor, probably new but rustic and beautiful. I also enjoyed seeing the bare flint interior of the tower, where it was clear work had recently been done on the bell frame. The church guide confirmed that the whole frame had been replaced in 2010.

Campsea Ashe interior Campsea Ashe tower

I packed up to leave the church in good time, so as not to rush when I arrived at Snape. Campsea Ashe graffitiBut my sensible plans were foiled by the discovery of fascinating graffiti on the doorway arch on my way out, much of it consisting of dated initials from the 17th century. The W or M sign, which I had come across before but hadn’t been able to interpret, I later found out was a ritual protection mark, though its exact significance is still uncertain2. My final distraction was having to stop to admire the porch walls: flint walls are nothing out of the ordinary in Suffolk churches, but I didn’t remember having come across many such extensive and uniform areas of knapped flint. Amazingly, I still managed to arrive at my rehearsal on time…

Campsea Ashe graffiti 3 Campsea Ashe graffiti 2

Header photo: Porch wall detail, Campsea Ashe church


1. suffolkchurches.co.uk/rushmerestan.htm

2. medieval-graffiti.co.uk/page15.html

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