Young Christ preaching in the temple (Mayer & Co)

Young Christ preaching in the temple (Mayer & Co)

Young Christ preaching in the temple (Mayer & Co)

St Mary, Great Bealings, Suffolk

I was out for a bike ride and church explore in the beautiful sunshine of the last Saturday in October. I had a new camera to try out, and after a pint at the pub in Grundisburgh, the most outward part of my trajectory, I was heading back into Ipswich through the Bealings.

First, Great Bealings, Despite our proximity to the sprawl of greater Ipswich, this church is in a decidedly rural setting in the rolling, wooded fields to the north-east of the town. In the thinning light of the late afternoon, the building seemed organic, sitting in its wild churchyard surrounded by open land on all four sides, from which it is separated by a fine old wall. A path through an avenue of trees leads from the main road to the north east corner.

The tower is 15th century, and has a good image niche. The Victorians and Edwardians were busy here (as we shall see) and much of the stonework of the nave and chancel is new, especially on the south side. The large early 16th century brick north porch carries the iconography of the Seckford family, and another image niche. Beneath this, the white band carries the fading remains of a painted dedicatory inscription. The inner doorway retains the original door, put here when the porch was built, and carved with standing figures, including one holding a rosary. It opens into a long, narrow, slightly dim nave. To the east, the chancel seems high above the nave, the eye drawn to it by the coloured light.

The contrast with the church at neighbouring Little Bealings is striking. All Saints, Little Bealings, set in the middle of its lovely village, is simple and rustic, and full of light. Great Bealings, by contrast, is darker and rather serious inside, glowing gently from the range of late 19th and early 20th century glass.

Probably the best of the glass is the set of the Works of Mercy in the west window, which Mortlock attributes to Ward & Hughes. Much of the rest of the glass appears to be by Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, but one window signed by Mayer & Co of Munich in the chancel depicts the young Christ preaching in the Temple. Tere’s also a lovely little lancet window depicting the Raising of Jairus’s Daughter. This was a popular subject in sentimental 19th century days as a memorial for a dead daughter, and the inscription beneath it remembers Charlotte Olivia Alice.

The nave is full of Henry Ringham’s extraordinary carvings, the best 19th century woodwork in the east of the county along with that Ipswich St Mary le Tower. The gorgeous medieval originals, of which some are copies, can be found towards the west. The medieval image of the pelican in her piety is so similar to the one at nearby Tuddenham St Martin that they are almost certainly by the same carver.

The tall finials on the choir pews are symbols of local landed gentry, rather less subtle than Ringham’s work, but lively and amusing nonetheless. They are apparently the work of Edward Moor, who was the father of the vicar here in the second half of the 19th century. My favourites are the rhinoceros (for the Webb family) and the moor’s head (for the Moors).

The church contains two grand monuments. One is in the chancel, to John and Jan Clench, who face us with stern puritan expressions, as if contemplating their fate. Their kneeling sons beneath are accompanied by two painted skulls. That in the nave is to Thomas and Margaret Seckford, descendants of the Thomas Seckford who built the porch. Most moving of all is the late 19th century brass by the north door to Charlotte Allen, grand-daughter of the Edward Moor who carved the chancel finials. She died at the Holme, New Galloway in 1891, at the age of 38. A week later, her remains were laid to rest in the south-east corner of her old home churchyard.

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