We in Shottisham are surrounded by churches. I have been looking to see which out of those on the peninsula is the oldest and the most original.
Where I was brought up I spent a lot of my early years cowering under the communion bell at a church that I thought was at the latest medieval. I was very impressionable and found the communion service somewhat terrifying hence my fear and cowering. How disappointed was I when I found out that my church was Victorian and more than that it was the second church built in the 19th century. The first needed to be pulled down due to bad building practices and structural issues. There was a much older church which was built about 1220 so that pilgrims on the journey to Canterbury would have somewhere to pray. This is now just a few ruined walls. I attended one service a week with the other church school pupils every Wednesday and a communion service every month. How I hated that school and the old spinsters that tried to get me to learn the Catechisms by rote. I had difficulty enough remembering the Lord’s prayer that I mumbled through at every assembly. I could never see the point in trying to learn the words of the Catechisms because we each had a little paper faced book with all of them detailed.
Why I was at a church school when we had a less than devout family was a bit of a story. My mother, once a Catholic from a first generation Irish family, married a divorcee. This is apparently was as bad in the Catholic faith as trying to force feed the Pope a ribeye steak on a Friday. I believe my father was either an agnostic or an atheist. I can never recall him mentioning a particular leaning. Whilst my mother had lost her religion through actions rather than any deep thought, she made sure of each of her children’s everlasting life by having each of them Baptised into the Christian faith. The problem was that she did not mind which branch of the Christian faith she used. She once told me that she used whichever church was nearest. With five to ‘do’ there was a quite a selection. She knew that ‘one’ was christened in a Methodist church and ‘one’ had a lovely service when the baby was held up to heaven. Apart from that we just needed to accept that we were baptised!
The only reason I was at a Church School was that the nearest school was full. We lived on a new estate where East End families were rehoused at a fair old rate with a complete disregard to the availability of local services including schools. Sound familiar? So not being of any particular faith she just accepted that her children’s schooling was more important than exposing them to religion. So any school would do. A bit like our baptismal churches.
So what unadulterated Churches do we have on the Peninsula? This is not intended to be a historical view of each church because the history of each would fill many blogs. I just wanted to know if we had a complete non-rebuilt church.
I will go in a clockwise direction.
The first St Andrews in Boyton has a Norman doorway. So what is that, 11/12th Century there or thereabouts. Although the doorway is Norman it is unlikely to be the original doorway, but maybe one door inside another. The church was rebuilt in 1868. The tower (or part of it) is the original 14th Century version. To my eye, it does seem to be out of context to the rest of the church. So not a wholly original church or even close to it, but a pretty little building although not much in the way of parking. More interesting, perhaps, are the ex-Almshoused built for Christian paupers and still require the faith for a residency.
All Saints at Hollesley has a 15th Century tower which could be seen by ships nearing the coast which is quite near. When I read the age of the tower, which appears intact and original, I was quite hopeful of an original church. Disappointment quickly followed when I found that the Victorians had given it a ‘good seeing to’ uncovering a medieval arcade. The church had been made smaller after the reformation. So not original but at least the tower is old and I assume unchanged since the 14 hundreds. On to Bawdsey.
St Mary of Bawdsey was on an Island until the silting of the Deben and I assume the building of sea defences to enclose the land for farming. This looks a charming little church with some lovely medieval arches. These are set into 17th Century walls. Unfortunately, the church was completely gutted in 1841 by a fire started by some youths letting off fireworks on top of the tower. The church was rebuilt with a truncated tower which is only about a third of the original. Alderton next.
St Andrew at Alderton is mostly rebuilt in the 19th Century. A strange church with the stump of a tower which had crumbled away during the 17th and 18th centuries and finally fell down in 1821 killing a cow but no parishioners. The church was the first we visited in the area for the marriage of a niece. This was some time ago, but at the time I thought the inside was quite lovely. That visit lead to us deciding to move to the area. It is a pity that the tower was never rebuilt. Apparently, the church was reduced in size from the original. Once again not an original church.
All Saints at Ramsholt has a very scenic position when viewed from the banks of the Deben. A lovely round towered church which impressed me when I first saw it, having walked along the banks of the Deben from the direction of Sutton Hoo. The tower is 12th Century and other parts of the church date from a similar time. However, in 1850 the church was restored from its derelict state. It is still a lovely church in a sparsely populated area even for the Peninsula. The area is very low in people numbers in the winter but swells at holiday times. Try getting a table for Sunday lunch at the Ramsholt Arms in July without booking in advance!!!
All Saints at Sutton is a largely Victorian rebuild of a church which was completely burnt down in the 17th Century. The ‘modern’ building does hide its original roots having a pre-reformation font. This is one of the most unusual in the country and does hint at an earlier building now long forgotten.
Finally, we come to the Church of St Margaret of Antioch. Antioch was a name from my past and forgotten until I came to Shottisham. I am still trying to think why Antioch was important to me. I know that Antioch is the seat of Christianity but my faint remembrance is more than just that.
The Church is our home Church and is a Victorian rebuild of a much earlier building. At least the tower is medieval with some interesting gargoyles at the top.
So there are no original Churches on the Peninsula All look have been rebuilt in the Victorian era. The area seems to have been very wealthy in medieval times but since then the area seems to have gone through some very poor periods when the upkeep of churches was low down the list.
We should be very grateful to the Victorians. I assume with their new found wealth they took it upon themselves to rebuild the churches which were either crumbling or derelict or did not match into their view of what a church should look like. It was a much more religious country then and perhaps they were ensuring their place in the hereafter