From the Suffolk side of the river you reach
this church through the
narrowest of lanes. They spread like a lattice on the
south bank of the Waveney, and you leave the busy Bungay
road near the former Anglo-catholic shrine church of
Shipmeadow in Suffolk, and suddenly you are lost to
sight. It is like entering Norfolk through the back door.
The area reminded me of bandit country, the borderlands
between the Republic of Ireland and the North in the
1980s, as if only the main roads would have customs
posts, and these back lanes were left to farmers,
smugglers and terrorists, although obviously I was rather
less concerned about what we might meet around the next
corner, unless it was a big tractor, in which case we
would need to reverse all the way back into Suffolk.
St Mary appears rather prim from the north, but you come
around to the south side and the church expands, as if
relaxing. There is a big, blockish south aisle, and a
curious stair turret to the tower, presumably added in
the 19th Century. It is a long, handsome church inside,
obviously well-kept and well-used, and the white walls
and light box pews give it an air of light and space.
This is fortunate, because it offsets an excellent range
ofglass from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Best
of all are the windows on the north side of the nave.
They get more recent as you head westwards. A wonderful
Annunciation scene is accompanied by a harvest window
depicting an angel, and another of Christ the Good
Shepherd, two subjects which must have had a real
resonance in such a remote, rural parish. They are the
work of Reginald Bell. The sower stands with Ellingham
church behind him. At Colne Engaine in the lanes of north
Essex you can see exactly the same window, but with Colne
Engaine church depicted instead.
More curious, the older window remembering a vicar's
wife, Amelia Harriet Smith, shows her as Mary at Bethany
sitting at the feet of Christ, and then as one of the
mothers allowing their children to come unto Christ.
There is a decent Kempe window of the Adoration of the
Magi, and a Ward & Hughes scene of the story of Naomi
There's something very odd about the arrangement of the
nave and aisle. At one time there were two aisles, or
possibly a north aisle predating the south aisle, because
in the north wall there are remains of the arcade. This
must have been very early, probably 13th Century, because
on the central remnant there is a bishop's head and
upside-down dragon in the style of the period. But even
odder is the south arcade. It extends the full length of
the church, and the two most easterly bays in the nave
were rebuilt to match that in the chancel. Curiously, the
older part of the arcade is simply cut in the wall. Is it
possible that at one time a solid wall separated the
western part of the nave from its aisle?
At first sight, there are two World War One rolls of
honour hanging on the south arcade. In fact, one of them
is for the workers of W. D. & A. E. Walker Ltd.
Jonathan Neville's Norfolk Mills site tells us that they
ran the wherry boats which carried goods up and down the
Waveney, and also owned the mill and maltings we had
passed to get to the church. They were obviously the
largest local employer. Shortly after the First World
War, the navigation rights and boats were sold to the
brewer Watney, Combe, Reid & Co, while after the
Second World War the mill was bought by Hovis. All are
done with today. The mill closed in 1967, the railway
line that ran beside the Waveney was grubbed up, and
boats no longer bring food along the river. Instead,
articulated lorries thunder through the night up and down
the dual carriageways that cut across old East Anglia.
Sic transit gloria mundi.
Simon Knott, December 2020
Follow these journeys as they happen at Last Of England