Suffolk churches 185: Hengrave and Landwade (May 2021)

The Reconciliation, Hengrave
HengraveTo my very great surprise and delight, no cunning nor sweet talk whatsoever was needed, in the end, to get into Hengrave church – a private Catholic chapel in the ownership of Hengrave Hall, now a wedding venue. It had long been at the back of my mind as a likely stumbling block to completing my tour of Suffolk’s churches, along with Wangford St Denys: I had contacted them once before and received a firm No in reply. But Chris, a cellist acquaintance who is the contact for their advertised wedding quartet for hire simply asked the office staff if I could come along when they were due there for a photo shoot. Perhaps the staff had changed since the time of my enquiry, or perhaps it was another unfortunate case of ‘it’s who you know’. But I wasn’t complaining – I almost couldn’t believe my luck, and coming as it did soon after the reply from Wangford St Denys, I felt for the first time that finishing my project this summer was a real possibility. I could now reschedule the long overdue final concert in Orford church without any fear that I might not manage to make it my last church, and with slightly less fear – for a short while, anyway – that Covid would put a spanner in the works.

Hengrave hallI had trouble working out which entrance to Hengrave Hall to use, and so Chris and his quartet were already busy by the time I arrived in a somewhat flustered state. The view of the Hall, as it got larger and larger until I took a right swerve off to the car park (see header photo and above), was so spectacular I couldn’t quite believe where I was. This was nothing, however, compared to the utterly gorgeous, tiny round-towered church I found in a little garden beside it, with pretty flowerbeds and no graves that I could see. It was a warm, sunny morning and I had it all to myself. There was no place I’d rather be.

Hengrave windowThe interior was an odd shape, which made me wonder about the acoustic. I was surprised so many weddings took place there, since the space was so small it surely couldn’t fit the usual crowds. And it wasn’t very ornate for a Catholic chapel, I thought. I needed to read more about its history. I found the font housed in a little room-like enclosure in the tower with two pretty round stained glass windows. Probably a third of the interior was taken up with elaborate memorials, but the alternative documentation of the church’s history interested me more: there was graffiti everywhere.

Hengrave interior Hengrave interior 2

Hengrave memorialThe acoustic turned out to be good, and after playing Frank Bridge, I spent some time with the Bach E flat major suite, thinking this might be the place to continue my efforts to make friends with it again. Playing the Sarabande felt like taking a happy variety of medicine, which I took as a sign we would soon be reconciled.

As I was leaving, I stopped and took in my surroundings, thinking, as I had never done before when leaving a Suffolk church, that it might well be the first and last time I saw inside this wonderful building. What a strange feeling that was.

St Nicholas’, Landwade
LandwadeAfter a couple of hours sitting in a café in Bury St Edmunds, I headed for Landwade, near Newmarket. I’d arranged to play at an evensong service there without actually being sure if the church was in Suffolk or Cambridgeshire: better to be safe, I reasoned. But it is in Suffolk, the vicar assured me – only since 1994, though, I read afterwards. It is part of the strange Suffolk peninsula of Newmarket and Exning.

It certainly felt out on a limb. Once I’d found Landwade Hall, it was only a short walk across a perfect late-May scene to the church, its small churchyard enclosed in a low brick wall, with a river and brick bridge beside it, and geese lounging in the meadows beyond.

Landwade riverI was glad I had time to play through my pieces before the service, if only because it would have been too short a musical experience otherwise for such a day, setting, building and acoustic. After its setting, the interior rather than exterior of the church was the most attractive: simple and peaceful, containing old stone tombs, medieval glass and plentiful graffiti.

Landwade interior Landwade interior 2
Landwade door Landwade tomb Landwade graffiti

There were no fewer than three vicars involved in the service, which caused me some amusement. I was feeling unwell, as I had become accustomed to in recent months, and accompanying back ache made me wonder how on earth I would stay upright until the end of the service. But adjusting my sitting position helped somewhat; and, not for the first time, playing the cello in a beautiful church and acoustic was a therapeutic experience which did more than any painkiller to make me feel altogether more human.

Afterwards I lingered in the grounds taking photos before making my way to Penny’s house in Bury, thinking what a thoroughly marvellous day I’d had.

Total churches to end May: 456 + 3 chapels

Header photo: Hengrave Hall

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!