Suffolk churches 153: Elveden (December 2019)

St Andrew’s and St Patrick’s, Elveden
ElvedenElveden fontElveden cloisterI drove past Elveden church once or twice, west to east, when I was staying in Rushford. It was interesting to drive up south to north from home this time: I could see how the roads linked together now. The church puzzled me: first I didn’t think it could be the medieval church of Elveden; then I thought there must be two churches side by side: I could see two towers, and two buildings, from the road. Finally I looked up Elveden church to try and understand what I was looking at, and found something remarkable: the son of the leader of the Sikhs, Prince Duleep Singh, moved to Elveden Hall in the late 1860s. The roof interior and font in the church were part of his restorations. The huge extension built on the road side of the old church was late 19th century work, and the cloister and second tower, a bell tower, were built in 1922. When I went to look in person, I found a large open space on the south side, from where I could appreciate the cloister, bell tower and only available view of the old church.

Elveden 2Elveden 3

Elveden new Elveden plaque

Nothing was stranger than the ‘new’ nave. Inside it was almost dark, and I couldn’t find any light switches. The Christmas trees were lit up prettily, but these barely made an impact. I knew it would only get darker, as it was 3pm already, so I attempted to take photographs first. In the process I found what I think may be my favourite stained glass window yet, in the old nave, now the south aisle. I couldn’t tell exactly what it represented – it looked like a tree, and I could make out a ship near the bottom of the window. I read afterwards it was a 1971 Iveagh memorial window1.

Elveden interior Elveden interior 2
Elveden aisle Elveden aisle 2

Elveden windowI had a dilemma: which part of the church should I play in? Strictly speaking, the south aisle – former nave – was the medieval church, but there was very little space at the front of the nave due to the presence of a Christmas tree. The light, however, determined I should sit there: it possessed the only clear window that let in enough daylight for me to see the music.

I stopped to write in the visitors’ book before it got too dark to see: I placed it on the floor in front of a lit Christmas tree and knelt down in front of it. The book was labelled ‘Subscriptions, Elveden estate 1894’ – nearly as old as Yaxley’s vistors’ book – but it had only been in use since 1954. As I was writing in the book, a man came in with the ‘open church’ sign, by which I deduced he’d come to lock up. I was a little disappointed, as it was 3.45 and I was told it would be open till 4pm. I hoped the keyholder might be late, even, allowing me extra practice time. I said hello straight away, so as not to startle him when he finally noticed me kneeling in front of the tree, and repeated my greeting a few more times before I received an acknowledgement in the form a glance in my direction and perhaps a grunt. This was not going to go easily, I thought.

Elveden visitors' bookI finished writing in the book, and went over to my cello to pack up, all the while attempting to engage the keyholder in some sort of friendly exchange of words. He disappeared into the chancel, and shortly afterwards the lights came on. I went back into the nave to take a look, thinking perhaps now I could take some photographs of the roof, and what I saw astonished me: the church was transformed beyond recognition. Not only was the roof brightly lit – the angels large and slightly garish in the bright light – but an elaborate carving had appeared on the wall behind the altar. I read it was a reredos made of alabaster. I couldn’t quite believe I was looking at the same church. I expressed my surprise and wish to take some photographs, and the keyholder finally became more responsive, explaining that he’d been told to leave off the lights today to show off the Christmas tree lights, and telling me to take my time looking around.

Elveden interior a Elveden reredos

This outcome more than made up for my short practice time, and I thanked him and went on my way, happy with my sunny afternoon out and highly unusual Suffolk church visit.