benefaction board for Nicholas Fyrmage

benefaction board for Nicholas Fyrmage

benefaction board for Nicholas Fyrmage

All Saints, Great Ashfield, Suffolk

The villages in this part of Suffolk are working villages, too far from anywhere important, and too agri-industrialised for them to be attractive to commuters. But the setting of All Saints is delightful, set on a slight rise with a stream along the edge of the churchyard. You have to cross a watersplash to reach it. The churchyard has an abundance of 19th Century headstones, a reminder that the rural population of East Anglia reached its peak with the 1851 census, and has been falling away ever since. Steps on the south-eastern corner of the churchyard lead you to a memorial to the 385th Bombardment Group of the US 8th Air Force.

The tower is rather severe, relieved slightly by a curious little spike as if we were in Hertfordshire and not in East Anglia at all. The stairway acts as a buttress to to south east corner. The 16th Century red brick porch is the real delight dressed in flint and entirely in the style of Suffolk’s more common flint ones of a decade earlier. It is reminiscent of the red brick porch at Ixworth Thorpe, a few miles to the west, and Sam Mortlock found the same little heads used as decoration on both, suggesting that they were the work of the same builder.

The church is open every day. You step into a rather crowded nave, full of interest. Turning to the east, you see a chancel full of coloured light from the AK Nicholson east window. it depicts the Risen Christ with attendant angels, and at the bottom are a sower in a field, and an angel reaping sheaves of wheat, both figures carrying out duties which must have seemed entirely familiar to locals as late as 1926, when this window was installed. AK Nicholson was the artist of the apotheosis of Anglicanism in the 1920s. Here you see the triumph of the Church of England before its long, slow decline over the next five decades.

At the east end of the north aisle is the feature which will be of most interest to many visitors, the memorial chapel to 385 Bombardment Group. The design was one of the last works of the great H Munro Cautley as diocesan architect, full at once of his intelligent mediaevalism and the cinema deco which often informs his work. The later window to the north is by the Suffolk-based artist Surinder Warboys, the upper part depicting the bombers flying out across a Suffolk sky.

One very unusual survival is a medieval bench which had mermaids at both ends, both are badly damaged, one losing her front and the other all but part of the tail, but they are still recognisable as such, and were clearly once grander than their sister across the fields at Stowlangtoft. Interestingly, they faced different directions. But perhaps the most singular feature of All Saints, and one not easily missed, is the imposing pulpit, one of the biggest and squarest of its kind in Suffolk. It is dated 1619 at the front of the tester, and Sam Mortlock thinks it was probably donated by William Fyrmage, a known benefactor at the time and the probable reason for the intials WF at the back. Near it, a stall is carved with blacksmith’s tools.

Nicholas Fyrmage, another benefactor, has a most curious early 17th Century charity board in his honour, stretching out like an unfurled scroll and now attached to the chancel wall. The reason for its nature is that it was originally displayed along the roodbeam, a constant reminder to locals of his generosity.

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