Bexwell Fincham Stradsett
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St Mary, Stradsett
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A mile outside the large village of Fincham, and also close to Bexwell, there can be little reason for this small church set away from the busy road in secretive parkland to exist. That it does, and thrives, is testimony to the influence of the family in the local big house, whose patronage is everywhere inside.
Curiously, there are no headstones to the south of the church, the flat grass appearing rather stark, but there are 18th and 19th century stones to the west and north. The simple pencil-thin square tower of the 13th century has been elaborated, and the whole church bears the marks of the 19th century restoration - or, I should say, restorations, for although Mortlock dates this as 1891, some of the details are obviously from almost a century earlier, the porch in particular, and a mid-19th century engraving of the building inside seems to bear this out.
The Bagges still live at Stradsett Hall, and are actively involved in the local church as well as in conservation work. It was a Thomas Bagge in the early 19th century who contributed the amazing 16th century German glass here from his collection. The highlight is the vast Adoration of the Magi in the east window, dated 1540 at Augsberg. Amazing to think that this was produced at the time of the turmoil of the English Reformation. There is more, including an intriguing crucifixion, where angels collect the precious blood. There is some good 19th century glass too.
Richard Westmacott was a major memorial artist of the early 19th century, and there are two of his pieces in this church (as many as there are in the whole of Suffolk, I think). The best is to Grace Bagge of 1834, where the two entwined female angels may be theologically incorrect, but are wholly erotic. Strangely, both Pevsner and Mortlock say that this is unsigned, sounding pretty pleased with themselves that they have managed to identify it as Westmacott; but in fact his signature is bold and clear under the right hand pedestal.
Opposite, a weeping woman remembers Thomas Bagge, 1824. A little 15th century brass, a very unusual metal royal arms, simply carved communion rails in an early 19th century style - this is a very individualistic little building, and I wondered if it was possible to detect the actual hand of the Bagges in those communion rails in their 'carpenters gothick'. Was Thomas Bagge an amateur carpenter as well as a collector? Perhaps the same hands were responsible for the porch styling.
Simon Knott, December 2004
Bexwell Fincham Stradsett
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