Suffolk churches 38: Bungay St Mary’s and Redisham (August 2017)

St Mary’s, Bungay
My visit to Bungay didn’t begin well. Before I played a note, I had driven four times round the one-way system in the town centre; inflicted a minor scratch on what should have been the bumper of a new sports car (nothing, I assure you, to do with my generally uncharitable attitude towards sports cars); and, after I was told I could in fact park outside the church, scratched my own car rather more severely on the metal churchyard gatepost. Amidst my concern not to run over any pedestrians on the wide pavement I had to cross, I failed to notice the gateway was only just wide enough – and only for an approach precisely at right angles.

Bungay St MaryBy now I felt pretty flustered. I wasn’t exactly nervous about the concert, but the acoustic, I assumed, would not be easy: it was a short, wide and high church – almost cubic, and without a chancel. I was also feeling a little guilty that I would have to disappoint the very kind man from the Friends of St Mary’s who helped to organise the concert: he wanted us to play on a platform so that people at the back could see us better. But the platform was very high, only just wide enough for two cellos, and slightly bouncy. When I tried it out, the vibrations carried through my cello spike to the floor of the platform and made the music stand jiggle, which was rather off-putting. I expressed my reservations to Will when he arrived, and though he is often a little reticent to give an opinion (perhaps I am too bossy), he seemed not to disagree with me, and we decided to play at floor level.

The church was very smart and well-kept, and looked as though it was in regular use for events and exhibitions; not for services, as it is a redundant church in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust. My fears about the acoustic turned out to be unfoundedBungay St Mary interior: it was much easier to play in than I expected, and I felt calmer after practising for a while. I managed to put the morning’s mishaps to one side and concentrate on the task in hand. A brief chat with some friends and acquaintances, who arrived a little early for the concert, further improved my frame of mind, and we arranged to have lunch together afterwards.

It was a well-attended and enjoyable concert, and raised a good sum for The Churches Conservation Trust. I was touched to receive from some Beccles acquaintances a large bouquet of hand-picked allotment flowers smelling deliciously of mint. Even before I left the church, I found myself thinking about how I might instigate more such fun and sociable events.

Along with the mishaps, I had inadvertently put out of my mind one positive aspect of my repeated loops around the town centre: I was rewarded with more than one glimpse of the ruins on the east side of the churchyard. These, I discovered, were from the 13th and 14th centuries and belonged to the Priory, a Benedictine nunnery founded around 1160, for which St Mary’s was originally built1. They were not visible from the western entrance to the churchyard, and by the time I was preparing to leave the church I had forgotten all about them. In any case there was no time to dawdle: my friends had already gone ahead to try and find a table for us at their favourite café. I will look forward to returning to St Mary’s to explore its grounds, perhaps in spring time: photos I saw of the churchyard decorated with cherry blossom and daffodils looked so very enticing…

St Peter’s, Redisham
RedishamI found out from the ‘Celebrate the Waveney and Blyth’ brochure, which had spent weeks sitting on my kitchen table, that Redisham was supposedly the smallest church in Suffolk. In case I felt like visiting another church after the concert – since I was driving all that way with my cello and couldn’t stop for a walk – I checked its location and found that it was conveniently nearby. So, after lunch, having a desire to extend my day out, I entrusted the destination to my satnav and set off southwards from Bungay.

Redisham porch Redisham door

It was a glorious little church, partially hidden behind yew bushes, which made it look even smaller. Inside its welcoming porch was the most elaborate little Norman doorway that I have ever seen. It had a huge door behind it, at least a foot taller than the doorway, which I can only think must have been made for a different building and given a second life here at Redisham – unless it was against the joiner’s principles to make such a small door.

Redisham hydrangeaRedisham interiorI only intended to play the cello for a few minutes, as I was tired from the concert and the sun was beckoning me outside to the churchyard. But the acoustic was so special, and the little church so precious to be alone in, that I couldn’t help but keep playing, and before I knew it half an hour had passed.

Eventually the thought of my half-grown wood pigeon waiting to be fed at home persuaded me to stop. On my way out of the church, I passed an arch in the wall beside the south door: it looked as if it had once been a piscina, but it now housed a hydrangea flower stem in a glass. This pretty touch summed up the dear little church. Outside, I found a blocked Norman doorway in the north wall, nearly as elaborate as the south doorway I had entered by; and, to my amusement, a pigeon keeping a weathervane cockerel company on the bell turret.

Redisham doorway Redisham weathervane Redisham gravestone

A new bench on the churchyard path was dedicated to Adrian Bell, a writer of whom I had heard but could remember little. I later read that he lived and farmed in Redisham from 1939 to 1950 and wrote numerous books based on his experiences of farming and rural life in Suffolk. Now that his status in my thoughts has progressed from the vague to the specific, his books will no doubt soon be added to the precariously balanced pile on my bedside table. But, that afternoon, I was happy to settle for simpler pleasures, and thanked him silently for a few minutes’ rest on his sunny bench.


1. stmaryschurchbungay.co.uk/about/

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