St Andrew’s, Stratford St Andrew
I’d last tried to visit Stratford St Andrew some three or four years previously, not remembering it was no longer a church. Luckily, I wasn’t arrested for attempted break-in. Stuart came out to meet me in the driveway – parked legally this time – and I was surprised when he said he thought he might have seen me before, since he used to live in Bildeston, a neighbouring village to mine. I deduced from our conversation that he was probably still living there at the time of my last visit.
All Saints’, Newmarket
Inexplicably, it had escaped my notice that there was more than one church of medieval foundation in Newmarket. I’d played in St Mary’s twice, and thought that was it for Newmarket. All Saints’, though entirely Victorian, should most definitely have been on my list, as it was rebuilt on the site of the medieval church. Munro Cautley seems also to include churches rebuilt on new sites – Westley and Braiseworth, for example – but I’m afraid this makes no sense to me. Luckily ruins still remain of both of these churches, and they were my chosen substitutes.
St Matthew’s, Ipswich
With the help of an unassuming little one-way street my satnav wasn’t aware of, a roundabout and some road works, one third of my journey time was consumed by the last hundred metres of travel. So I arrived at the church somewhat flustered, and was met by a suspicious man at the door wanting to know what I was doing there. I hadn’t been told to pick up a key at the church office – at least, I didn’t think I had – but clearly this person wasn’t expecting me, and was concerned about locking the church on his departure.
I offered to ring the office, and Tami, my contact, kindly came over with a key. But then a further problem arose: the man, who turned out to be the gardener, wanted to lock me inside the church. I wasn’t too thrilled by the prospect, even though I was now in possession of a key. It wasn’t that it made much practical difference: my objection – horror, even – was due to the motivation behind such a suggestion, rather than the reality of being locked in.
St Margaret’s, Rishangles
Not long before Covid hit, I’d written to six owners of private churches in Suffolk to ask if I might come along and play to them in their houses. As with the ruins at Flixton, what had once seemed impossible now no longer did. Why rule out churches just because they were in private ownership? Of the 8 redundant churches sold off (most of them in the 1970s, some already ruined), 6 were converted into houses (Rishangles, Knettishall, Ubbeston, Shipmeadow, Debach, and – sometime after the millenium – Stratford St Andrew); 1 was converted into something resembling a house but still used as a church of some description (Mickfield); and 1 remained a church (Benacre).
All Saints’, Sproughton
I rang the churchwarden at Sproughton with some trepidation: even so near the end of my church tour, I still found it hard to phone churchwardens or vicars out of the blue. But my additional hesitation came from the fact this church was in the same benefice as Copdock – the one and only church I’d walked away from without waiting for it to be unlocked, so hostile was the keyholder. I knew the person in question wasn’t a churchwarden so I would be unlikely to have any further contact with him, and besides, Sproughton wasn’t Copdock; but the latter’s proximity rubbed off on its theoretical existence in my mind. So my delight and gratitude were excessive when my request was received enthusiastically by Philip, despite the fact he lived in Ipswich and would have to drive some way to the church.
St Peter’s, Carlton Colville
For once, I should have trusted my satnav – or at the very least reminded myself of the exact location of Carlton Colville in relation to Lowestoft before I set off. I thought I had plenty of time, but my decision to drive through Herringfleet into Lowestoft made the journey nearly half an hour longer than it should have been, in part due to a single-track-road delay caused by an astonishingly large herd of farm machinery. But thankfully there were no serious consequences: only a few people had stayed on after the service, wandering about the church in no rush for anything to happen, as far as I could see. Which was a relief, as I felt pretty rough this morning. My church appointments had to be kept, but it had occurred to me that I didn’t actually need to get home today. I didn’t fancy a long drive after my church visits were over, and I hadn’t yet managed a walk in Loddon, where I was staying – which seemed a grave omission – so that morning I’d arranged to stay an extra night to enjoy a leisurely Sunday afternoon.
The church interior was decidedly ordinary, not helped by the tape stuck to the floor; but the acoustic was good. I started playing to an almost empty church, and gradually it filled as those attending the 10.30am service arrived, some perhaps early on purpose to hear the music. I played three movements of the Bach G major suite instead of the whole thing, and the usual two Irish airs – an abridged version of the previous day’s programme, of which I was glad, as my performance stamina left something to be desired. It was a friendly, understated visit, which entirely suited my Sunday morning physical and mental capacity.
St Margaret’s, Herringfleet
Herringfleet was the only church on the Broads that I had yet to visit, as it was under scaffolding and full of builders the last time I was in the area. I’d arranged with the vicar that it would be left open for me, so I walked confidently up to the door at noon, only to find it locked.
St Margaret’s, Lowestoft
I’d arranged a full weekend of church visits in and around Lowestoft, with the result that I was giving at least two concerts, if not more, in two days. I’d slightly lost track of which ones were concerts and which weren’t. I took pains to stress they would be very informal: I was out of solo performance practice and my stamina wasn’t up to a full recital. But I knew that if there were more than a handful of people attending, they would feel like concerts anyway.
St Peter’s by the Waterfront, Ipswich
By some miracle, I managed to find a parking spot without too much difficulty. The fact it was limited to 3 hours made the afternoon’s logistics a bit more complicated, however: I would have to move my car before going on to my next church, St Helen’s. Walking over the bridge to St Peter’s, I suddenly felt daunted by the prospect of visiting four churches in a day, and wondered how my stamina would hold out. Not my cello-playing stamina so much as my bodily stamina: I was, as usual, feeling unwell in multiple ways, and it had been a while since I’d visited so many churches in a day. And this was Ipswich, not the countryside – with accompanying navigation, car-parking and cello-carrying difficulties.
I forgot my worries as soon as I entered the church – another big, empty, beautiful space, this one used as an Arts and Heritage Centre. Two men were sitting along one wall, one reading a book and the other reading a newspaper. I enquired of Andrew, the manager, if they knew I was going to play. He replied in the affirmative, explaining they were volunteers. They didn’t say hello or even look up. Feeling a little awkward, I got on with setting up and playing, my awkwardness vanishing quickly in that delightful acoustic. A few people came and went, admiring – as I did afterwards – the remarkable and rare Tournai marble font, the Ipswich Charter hangings (framed fabric depictions of Ipswich’s history), and the Saxon coffin on display at the back of the nave.