Suffolk churches 120: Laxfield and Hepworth (March 2019)

All Saints’, Laxfield
A windy but delightful walk with Nick at Covehithe a week later redeemed my failure to explore the area on the day of my concert. I was introduced to the coastal plant ‘Alexanders’ – a strange name in both its first and last letters (a capital A, and an ‘s’, even in the singular). Nick told me its name, and I told him it was edible, having heard it mentioned in the context of foraging. I couldn’t remember enough about its edibility to suggest picking some; but now, having done my homework, I will certainly not walk past it again without doing so.

Our walk was followed by a heavenly vegetable lunch at Darsham Nurseries café, and then we decided on Laxfield for an afternoon church visit, after passing by Nick’s house to pick up my cello. I had driven through the village various times, but it always seemed to be late afternoon or early evening when I had run out of stamina and wanted to get home. It had obviously never made enough impression on me to include it in my day’s plans, probably because it was in the centre of the village and looked large, with a cramped churchyard, none of which qualities particularly attract me. But this is simply because I’ve been spoilt with tiny and remote churches. In the grand scheme of England’s church settings, Laxfield’s is a lovely one, and its interior soon had me feeling ashamed of my prejudices.

Laxfield interior Laxfield interior 2

It was one of the widest and tallest single-aisled churches I’ve yet seen – larger even than Monk Soham. Laxfield bore another similarity that church: it possessed a seven sacraments font, and this one was magnificent. This was only the first of its many treasures, we soon discovered.

Laxfield font Laxfield chest

I hadn’t visited enough churches of this size and shape to guess what the acoustic would be like. It was rewarding: the sound carried without being too boomy. Perhaps it would be the perfect acoustic for chamber concerts.

I felt very cold when I sat down to play, but eventually I warmed up. I had no idea I’d been playing for so long when I looked at my watch and saw 40 minutes or more had passed. I apologised to Nick for freezing him solid, but he seemed in good spirits.

Laxfield bench end Laxfield castle Laxfield donation box
Laxfield floor memorial Laxfield floor memorial 2 Laxfield graffiti
Laxfield box pews Laxfield desk Laxfield flags

Laxfield memorialLaxfield memorial 3We looked around the church, enjoying the old wooden chest, donations box dated 1664, an elaborate boat carved into the stone, and the delightfully uneven floor, full of old memorials. The most remarkable collection of noses carved on the box pews particularly attracted our attention. I identified my favourite one – they were all different, as were the faces they were attached to – and Nick suggested we count the noses. We didn’t, probably dissuaded by the cold and the quantity of them, but I have no doubt that Laxfield could be in with a chance for a world record in church nose collections. Our amusement didn’t end there: the figures holding up the reading desk were quite remarkable. I couldn’t quite imagine how such a thing could have made it into a church, but I had a good laugh.

Laxfield nosesLaxfield noses 3Laxfield noses 2

Going outdoors to explore the churchyard, I admired the beautiful timber and brick house on the bend in the road. Nick told me it was a museum, but that he’d never found it open. Some detective work may be required…

Laxfield museum

Our visit to Laxfield church was an uplifting end to our day out. There is something particularly reassuring in the fact that laughter and joy can continue to exist alongside death and bereavement, without making light of them. On the contrary, these wonderful aspects of life seem to carry all the more significance when they occur in the midst of enduring pain.

Holy Trinity, Hepworth
I was pleased that a Kirbye Voices concert I was due to participate in that weekend was, unusually, at a church I hadn’t yet visited. I was looking forward to playing in Hepworth, especially as the concert was in the afternoon so there would be daylight in which to look around afterwards.

HepworthIt was a beautiful spring day, and the pretty little church with stubby, capped tower was at the edge of the village on a narrow lane. It had been a busy morning and I arrived a little later than I intended, without having had a chance to eat. Very kindly, someone in the choir had put on some lunch in the village hall, so I gulped down some soup and bread before dashing over to the church to run through my pieces. Thankfully they were short, but they were both pieces that were new to me: Tema (theme for variations – with no variations, apparently) by Walton, written in 1970 for Prince Charles, though whether for him to play, or to listen to, I haven’t yet discovered. The other piece was the first movement of a Bloch cello suite. I am not very well acquainted with 20th century music, but my experience of this movement meant that I was now looking forward to learning the rest of the piece for a concert in June.

Hepworth interior Hepworth interior 2

Hepworth font coverThe church was wonderfully resonant, and the audience seemed to enjoy the cello music as much as I did. Two people told me they had never heard of either piece, and could they please look at the music? I am not sure I have ever handed my music around after a concert before; it was a fun development.

I liked the church, especially because of its small size and acoustic, but the lack of paint and cracking grey-beige rendered interior walls gave the church a somewhat dark and austere feel, even on a sunny spring day. After the concert, one of the villagers directed me to the late 14th century wooden font cover, on which tiny figures were walking through doorways, most with their backs turned but looking outwards. Several people told me they were peeing, but I am sure this is just speculation, as I have not read this theory anywhere else. Simon Knott’s slightly more plausible theory is that they were walking through the castle doors, and that the cover of the font as a whole represents the power of baptism.

Hepworth font Hepworth font 3 Hepworth font 2

The concert finished, as all good afternoon concerts should, with tea and an impressive display of cakes. Afterwards I followed Penny back home to continue the important task of tea drinking.

Header photo: Floor memorial in Laxfield church

Total churches to the end of March: 289 + 3 chapels

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