On my way to Wingfield church, I saw a café whose name I recognised from Instagram. On a whim, and not without some misgivings over whether it was strictly sensible from a virus point of view, I stopped. But I would arrive too early at my accommodation even if I visited two more churches, as the owner had asked me to come after 4.30pm. I passed a chicken residence, then stables and an animal supplies shop, and found the café beside some horse paddocks: certainly a novel setting. I poked my head through the door to check it wasn’t too busy, and that I could sit at the required distance away from other people. Only two tables were occupied; one by a group probably above the age of 80 who seemed entirely unconcerned about the threat to their health, and another by a man with tattoos all over his face and head (not to mention the rest of his skin that was visible) and his companion. I found a corner to sit in, answered the usual questions about my cello – some from the tattoo man, who was very genial – and treated myself to a piece of coffee and walnut cake.
By the time I left, I was the only person there, and spent a few minutes talking to the manager and the waiter, who was from Tenerife. The waiter was especially chatty and keen to know more about my cello. He started telling me about the musical events they usually held there, and suggested that perhaps I could come along sometime and play. My cello is certainly a good conversation starter. We exchanged contact details, and I walked out onto the veranda, wondering for a moment why I hadn’t sat outside. But it soon came back to me: it was breezy, and the sun had only just come back out.
St Andrew’s, Wingfield
Just down the road, I passed a strange building: what looked like a castle stuck on the end of a house. Beside the house was ‘Wingfield College’. I wondered if this had been a college of priests, a phenomenon I had only learnt about during my church tour. The size of the church more or less answered this question for me a few minutes later: it was a large church with a large chancel filled with choir stalls, typical of a church that is designed to accommodate a college of priests. The castle, I read, was in fact a ‘fortified manor house’ built in the 14th century1.
It had turned into a blissful early spring afternoon by the time I arrived at Wingfield church, and I was immediately attracted to the church by the presence of a pretty hut in the churchyard, with a rickety, low staircase a few metres away near a tree. I couldn’t work out what this staircase could have been for: it was only a couple of feet high, so it didn’t look as though it could have belonged either to the hut or to a tree house. I emailed a photo to my friend Mark, who suggested it could have been for mounting a horse, because the hut looked like a stable. In the absence of any better explanation, I am satisfied this is the most likely one. How I would have loved to see inside that hut…
Once inside the church, I marvelled at its size. I set up at the front of the nave and tuned the A string of my cello back up to its usual pitch in order to practise the Bach E flat major suite. This was the only disadvantage of playing the C minor suite: I was regularly having to tune the A string down and back up, since there is no other piece, to my knowledge, which requires the top string to be tuned to a G instead of an A. I fear this doesn’t do wonders for the instrument, and it makes all the strings go out of tune more often. But it is worth it for such a great piece.
Afterwards I became absorbed in the countless interesting features in the church: a pair – unusually – of rood stairs, one on either side of the nave, lovely figures on the roof and misericords in the choir stalls, along with the Wingfield organ soundboard from around 1540 and an 18th century sentry box used for graveside funerals in poor weather (photos below). There were numerous tombs belonging to the de Pole and Wingfield families, and I was fascinated and mystified by the quantity of graffiti on the figures: graffiti on a building is one thing, but graffiti on a tomb, on the figures, seems somehow disrespectful. I wonder if they considered it to be so then. It could have been a political or religious statement, even a disrespectful one, I suppose. In most cases, however, I suspect the graffiti was simply the familiar ‘I woz ‘ere’ kind; for example, IB Girling of Wingfield College, June 1827 (see header photo).
St Peter’s and St Paul’s, Fressingfield
I don’t know how I had managed not to visit Fressingfield church sooner: this village is next door to Metfield, where I had stayed several nights, and I had even eaten in one of Fressingfield’s two pubs (which, by the by, had very good vegetarian food). I parked down the hill from the church and walked up to check it was open. The churchyard was being mown, and the smell was delightful. Everyone seemed to be getting their mowers out for the first time, which for me signifies the unofficial beginning of spring.
Opposite the church on the south side of the churchyard was a beautiful timber-framed building. A little research revealed this was not only the former guildhall, but now a pub, the Fox and Goose. The pub in which I had eaten, in fact. I would never have guessed: the reverse side of the building looked so different to the front.
The church was large and grand; not so memorable inside as out, aside from its set of medieval bench ends, and I was ready by now to get to my accommodation and go for a walk in the sunshine. So, after a short spell of practice and a walk round the churchyard, I headed for Rumburgh, where I was greeted not only by the owner, Edward, but a flock of chickens and three friendly ponies.
Header photo: Tomb graffiti, Wingfield church