St Edmund’s, Bromeswell
I had been asked to play at a wedding in Ramsholt church on a Saturday in mid-August, and having no other commitments that day, I was able to make the most of my outing to the Deben estuary. My well-ticked church map showed a significant gap in that area, and I had a lunch invitation from a friend in nearby Butley, so I planned my itinerary accordingly. Bromeswell, just beyond Woodbridge, was my first calling point.
It was an attractive church with porch and chancel both made of brick, though with a great difference in age: the former was Tudor; the latter, Victorian. The interior was long and thin, with a steeply pitched roof possessing an unusual feature: skylights. They significantly increased the quantity of light in what would otherwise have been a dim, dark-timbered church; but they could not single-handedly overcome the gloom.
I enjoyed practising in Bromeswell church, but my visit was undoubtedly shortened by the somewhat sombre interior. My admiration was mostly spent on exterior features: the Norman doorway was modest but no less lovely for being understated, and the rendered nave walls were fascinating and beautiful in their patchwork character.
Beside the church path, a few clumps of late violas were growing.
All Saints’, Eyke
I had learnt by chance from a neighbour how to pronounce Bromeswell (Bromswell), but I didn’t find out until after my visit how to pronounce Eyke. Perhaps it is obvious to most that it is ‘Eye’ with a k, but to my foreign language-trained mind, I couldn’t help wanting to say ‘Eek’ – perhaps more for private amusement than anything else.
Without a tower, Eyke looked a little stumpy. I haven’t yet met a towerless church that I didn’t like, however, so I approached it with some excitement. This one had a surprise in store for me: inside were several large Norman archways similar to those in the cruciform church of Ousden. But this church wasn’t cruciform, so its design was mysterious to me. The south aisle and nave formed a square, and each had an arch at the east end. The aisle’s arch, however, was not Norman, but of a later period; so perhaps this indicates the church was in fact originally cruciform.
I had to resort to the internet afterwards for enlightenment. It appears there is no agreed explanation for the form of the church: Mortlock thought it was originally a cruciform church with a central tower, whereas Cautley thought a tripartite structure was more likely1.
As at Ousden, I faced a dilemma as to which part of the church to play in, and again I chose the lightest part. This time it was not the chancel, however, but the central section of the church, surrounded by all four Norman arches. I could tell from the echo produced by my footsteps as I moved around the church that wherever I sat, the acoustic would be extraordinary. It transported me instantly into another realm and I could have played the cello there all day without noticing the hours pass.
But, as usual, I had to keep an eye on the time; and, as usual, my timekeeping left a lot to be desired. My visit was rounded off wonderfully by some medieval glass and fifteenth century brass memorials, and I headed over to my friend Kim’s house with my head somewhere above the clouds. Kim had never been to Eyke church, she told me, and I urged her to go. It had made my day out unforgettable – even before I got to Ramsholt, about which I had been told many good things.
All Saints’, Ramsholt
Ramsholt church reminded me of Iken in its solitary watch over the estuary. The difference here was that the expanse of water was visible from the church, and provided a stunning backdrop to the churchyard.
The church lived up to its setting. In possession of one of only two buttressed round towers in Suffolk – the other being at Beyton, not far from my house – its simple, bright interior seemed the most romantic of places to get married. Again I was spoilt by the acoustic, and I was grateful for the assistance.
It was arranged that I would sit at the back of the church, as the area in front of the altar was expected to get crowded. My position behind the box pews, however, caused me an unforeseen difficulty: I would not know how long to play for when the bride walked up the aisle, as I could see nothing of the proceedings. I thought to enlist the help of a gentleman who was standing at the back of the church; but I forgot until too late that I would have the same problem during the signing of the register. I played the piece twice through, and then thought I’d better stop. It was too soon, however, and I sat awkwardly – thankfully out of sight – through what seemed to me an endless silence, during which I wondered how long it could possibly take for a few people to write their signatures. But in reality it was probably only a couple of minutes, and I was grateful that was the only minor mishap of the ceremony.
After the congregation had left the church, a lady – a churchwarden, I believe – told me how much she had loved the traditional Irish tune I had played (‘Give me your hand’, which had nothing to do with a wedding, apparently, but reconciliation after a disagreement) and asked if she could keep my music. I was amused and rather astonished, but was glad to be able to answer in the affirmative with no significant inconvenience to myself; after all, I had simply printed it off from the internet and added a few edits of my own based on recordings I had heard.
After packing up, I turned my attention to the church. Apart from the beauty of the building itself, it possessed a 13th century stone coffin at the back of the nave, a Norman tower doorway, and plentiful graffiti, including a boat. To my knowledge, the only boat graffiti I had seen before – in a place of worship, at least – was on the backs of the pews at Walpole Old Chapel.
The last aspect of the church to savour was the view from the churchyard. Standing in the northeast corner of the churchyard, I could admire both the church’s delightful little north windows, and its unique backdrop.
Header photo: view of the Deben estuary from Ramsholt churchyard