Suffolk church 203: Eriswell St Peter (ruin) and Barnham St Martin (ruin) (September 2021)

St Peter’s, Eriswell
Eriswell ruin sunnyEriswell ruin entranceReturning from my first rehearsal for the Orford concert in London – my first time there in getting on for two years – I had scheduled my remaining two ruins in northwest Suffolk for the drive home from Cambridge train station. I had intended to play outside St Peter’s when I went looking for it in July (when the above sunny photo was taken), not expecting to be able to get inside, but finding a sign on the door stating the keys were available from the estate office, I decided I should wait: it was Sunday and I’d have to come back on a weekday. Unfortunately, however, this estate office turned out not to be in Eriswell but in Elveden. I thought it was only ten minutes’ drive from one to the other, but that turned out to be incorrect: my satnav and google maps both assumed it was possible to drive straight there along a road which is now in fact a gated drive, and in Brandon – which was therefore impossible to avoid – I encountered a liberal sprinkling of traffic. It took me nearly half an hour to get there, making the prospect of returning the key to the office by 5pm a somewhat trickier one than I’d imagined, and the whole operation quite exhausting.

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Eriswell ruin graffitiEriswell ruin interior 2I only had ten minutes to play once I got there, which was a shame – but, I decided, worth the effort. It was a special experience to play alone in a building which would never normally have music in it: its interior was more like a farm outbuilding than a church or a ruin – and I knew it used to be used as a dovecote. But, more than an outbuilding, I felt as though I was playing in a monastic cell. One end still had a stone floor, and there were a few bricks lying around and graffiti on the walls. There appeared to be an owl box in the south window. I couldn’t work out which walls belonged to the original church, but thought in the end there must be two, not one: the north and south walls.

Eriswell ruin owl box Eriswell ruin window Eriswell ruin interior

I knew for sure this would be my last solo church visit, and I savoured those ten restorative minutes all the more, willing them to get me through the next few exhausting, nerve-racking and nauseous days to the end of my tour.

I made it back to Elveden with one minute to spare.

St Martin’s, Barnham (historical photos courtesy of Crawford Kingsnorth)

Barnham St Martin Barnham St Martin old

I’d told the owners of the ruined tower of Barnham St Martin, Crawford and Amanda, that I’d confirm my approximate arrival time before I left St Peter’s, which I duly did, and because of the last minute arrangement I expected no one else to be there. To my astonishment, however, when I approached their house I saw a crowd of people standing in the road. Apparently, they had all come to listen.

Among them was Sue Nutt, the vicar of Barnham – who’d kindly helped me to fix the visit, via a request from Tony Redman the day I went to Little Livermere – and Edward Wortley from Euston church. I’d been in touch with Sue once before, after she saw my message in the church visitors’ book, so it was good to finally meet her. I didn’t know anyone else in the group of about 15, and I started to worry about a small practicality: in my panic about the London rehearsal, I’d forgotten to bring any music with me. It didn’t matter at Eriswell, but playing in front of an audience was another matter.

My worry increased further when I saw a pallet had been placed in the tower for me to sit on – undoubtedly to provide a level surface for the chair, but it also had the effect of making me feel even more on display than I already did. But the fact it was actually possible to sit in the tower was gratifying: the photos I’d seen online were of a giant ivy sculpture, with no stone in sight, and certainly no space for a cellist except in front of the structure. They’d tried to remove some of the ivy, they told me, in the 14 years they’d been living there.

It went fine, of course. I stuck to the two Bach sarabandes I knew I was in no danger of forgetting: the G major and the C major. It was an unusual and happy occasion, Crawford and Amanda commenting afterwards how bizarre the whole thing was. I couldn’t disagree – the only difference was I’d become accustomed to bizarreness in recent weeks. The thing I found strangest was something they undoubtedly took for granted: the building I passed on the way back to the car. Victorian outhouses, I was told.

That was it. There was only one more church to go. I couldn’t quite believe it.

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Header photo: Outhouses at Barnham St Martin

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