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St George, Shimpling
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St George is a familiar sight to drivers between Ipswich and Norwich, off in the fields near Dickleburgh. A substantial, landmark church; and yet it is redundant. Coming from Suffolk, where the local Anglican Diocese goes out of its way to avoid redundancies if it can, Shimpling's redundancy seemed careless. This is not a tiny village, and if drawn into a group with Dickleburgh could surely have sustained a monthly service or so. Probably, if it arose nowadays, St George would not be declared redundant. From the point of view of the building, of course, it was both a blessing and a mercy, as the church is now in the capable, caring hands of the Churches Conservation Trust.
The setting of St George just to the south of its village is superb. A cart track leads up from a farm, difficult of access at the best of times, but suicide on this day when the snow still lay deep in the ruts, the mud sucking at our boots. If we had attempted to drive it then I guess the tractor would be getting to us about now. The keyholders both live about a mile off, but the walk was worth it.
St George is perhaps more typical of Suffolk than Norfolk, a rural church made opulent by the wealth of the later years of the 15th century. Then came the font, the benches, the roof, the surviving scattering of medieval angel glass. Otherwise, the feeling is of the much-maligned Victorians, who loved churches and wanted this one restored to its former glory. Geoffery Millard, rector through those times, has his memorial in the chancel, but all around it is the building that he would recognise instantly if he stepped into it today.
Amber light filled the space beneath the tower, and I was glad I was here, in this silent frozen space, this touchstone to the long generations. Some curiosities: under the benches at the west end, there is a trap door. Inside, some of the original medieval tiles have survived the Victorians; they merely built a wooden platform over them. Then, a wholly secular brass inscription of 1591 to Anthony le Grys is set in the mddle of the nave - but the inlay is the wrong size and shape, and so it must come originally from somewhere else. A small hole in the north wall of the sanctuary is surely too tiny to have been an aumbry. And yet, it is set back to take a door, and appears once to have had some sort of wooden tympanum set over it. Could it have been a squint from a shrine chapel? Or even from an anchorite's cell?
Incidentally, another curious thing: There is a Shimpling in Suffolk as well, and the churches of both are dedicated to St George, an otherwise unusual East Anglian dedication. The reason appears to be that the enthusiastic 18th century antiquarians, ruttling around in the Diocesan records at Norwich, accidentally applied the dedication of the Suffolk church to both, dedications having fallen out of use for two hundred years or more.
Simon Knott, March 2005
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