Suffolk churches 195: Newmarket All Saints and Fornham St Genevieve (July 2021)

All Saints’, Newmarket
Newmarket All SaintsInexplicably, it had escaped my notice that there was more than one church of medieval foundation in Newmarket. I’d played in St Mary’s twice, and thought that was it for Newmarket. All Saints’, though entirely Victorian, should most definitely have been on my list, as it was rebuilt on the site of the medieval church. Munro Cautley seems also to include churches rebuilt on new sites – Westley and Braiseworth, for example – but I’m afraid this makes no sense to me. Luckily ruins still remain of both of these churches, and they were my chosen substitutes.

I was glad to drive through the centre of town on my way back from an appointment in Cambridge: I think I had only done so once before, by accident, and I was glad to acquaint myself with what was a more pleasant high street than I had imagined. Its fame as a horse racing town must attract plenty of money, so I’m not sure why I imagined it would be run down. Neither did it seem posh, however.

I found the church in a residential area, with a pretty flowerbeds on the two sides bordering the road. I was due to meet the curate, Susan, at the church, but after finding all the doors locked and waiting past our meeting time, I phoned her. To my surprise, it turned out she was already inside. My experience at St Matthew’s, Ipswich did briefly cross my mind…

Newmarket All Saints interior Newmarket All Saints interior 2

Susan showed me inside to a pleasant though slightly dark interior, and I played while she prepared a slideshow for a memorial service: there is something comfortable and comforting about getting on with one’s respective activities side by side. It takes away the pressure of being ‘listened to’, but gives a companionable feel. I played my usual pieces, Bach and Irish airs, glancing occasionally at the slideshow, wondering about this man and his life. It prompted me to play an extra Irish piece: the melancholy but beautiful Spalpeen’s Lament. I didn’t know this man, but it felt the right way to pay my respects.

After taking photos and chatting to Susan, I headed for Bury, where I was stopping at my friend Penny’s house instead of going home, in order to reduce my driving burden for the day: I’d been feeling tired and stressed and was due at nearby Fornham St Genevieve in a few hours. But my sunny stop at All Saints’ had improved my morning on all fronts.

Newmarket All Saints 2

St Genevieve’s, Fornham St Genevieve
Fornham St Genevieve 4After my visit to Eriswell when I went looking for ruins, I’d dared mild trespass down a private drive in order to find out which house was nearest the ruined tower of Fornham St Genevieve, and therefore to whom I should write to ask permission: I could see nearby buildings on the Google satellite map. I knew the land belonged to a company who ran holiday lodges, but I also knew there was little point writing to them as I would be unlikely to get a reply within my available time frame. The tower’s neighbours were my best bet, I thought, and I went armed with a pen and card so I could drop a note into any letterbox I found nearby.

I probably could have got my cello out and played a tune, I felt, when I happened across the tower round a bend, much closer than I imagined. But I’d done enough trespassing for one day. The tower was beside a garden fence, there were cars in the driveway, and right there was a letterbox, so I wrote the owners a card and drove away, considering my task complete for now.

Within just a couple of days I received an enthusiastic email from the owners of the house, explaining the situation and the practicalities, and it didn’t take long to fix a date. ‘We mentioned it to our friend, Pamela,’ they said, ‘she says she knows you and wants to come and listen!’

There were two extras in the party in the end: Wendy, a friend of Pamela’s, and my friend Louisa whom I’d just visited in Bury. She also remembered Pamela, a bassoonist, from mutual orchestral concerts. Chairs were handed over the garden fence, and we soon had an informal concert set up – slightly more formal than I’d envisaged, nevertheless – with my audience off at a slight angle, which felt somehow lopsided, but I didn’t dare move after finally finding a wobble-free location for my chair.

Fornham St Genevieve Fornham St Genevieve 2

It was a beautiful evening. The wind had got up, and I was glad I’d remembered to bring clothes pegs to attach my music to the stand. I was playing in front of the tower – where the church would have been, as someone pointed out. So, despite a fence and large quantities of nettles and brambles separating me from the tower, I felt I was playing inside the church. Behind the tower was a Cedar of Lebanon. They were like twins, I thought, reminded again of the similar characters of churches and trees. I wanted to take a photo of them side by side, but the sun was in such a position as to make it almost impossible.

Fornham St Genevieve 3The surroundings of the Fornham Hall estate made a welcome change from arable Suffolk, and I gazed out over grassland, scrub and woodland. John and Liz’s house was part of the former Fornham Hall. We walked round to enjoy tea and shortbread in the shelter of their beautiful courtyard garden, and I left in high spirits that evening with the bonus of an invitation from Pamela to play at Lawshall Catholic church. I had noticed it several years earlier on my visit to Lawshall church, and it wasn’t officially on my list, but – as with several other historic churches and chapels – having once again been brought to my attention, I felt I couldn’t possibly leave it out.

Total churches to the end of July: 485 + 3 chapels

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!