The History Of Wangford Church

The History Of Wangford Church

Welcome to this ancient and interesting church, which stands upon a spot where people have worshipped for 800 years. Like most ancient churches it shows a mixture of styles and periods, having been altered at various times during its long history. Churches are like people; each has a character of its own which has been moulded over the years by a great deal of love and care, and perhaps a little rough treatment as well! The present parish church of Wangford is The Church Signpart of the Priory Church of a Cluniac Monastery which was founded here in 1160 by Dondo Asini steward to the household of Henry II, This order (founded at Cluny France; hence its name) laid great stress upon the development of beautiful and elaborate worship in their churches. Nothing now remains of the original Norman Church, although before the 1864 restoration six small bays of Norman wall arcading could be seen in the east wall of the north aisle, which had also been the west wall of a tower or transept, long disappeared. There also remained parts of the jambs of the original Norman chancel arch; sadly these were swept away when the new tower and chancel were built.

As was the case with several conventual churches, the priory church was also parochial and served as the parish church of Wangford from a very early period in its life, As may be expected, affairs did not always run smoothly between priory and parish and in 1305 a dispute arose between the Prior on one side, and the rector and parishioners on the other, about who should pay for the repair of a north chancel window. In 1394 the priory was placed under the care of the larger Cluniac Priory of Thetford, which served as its "parent" until both were closed. Several parish churches were appropriated to the priory, including those at Heydon, Covehithe and Stoven. In 1536,Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of all monastic communities, but Wangford had already been closed in 1528; it seems that the priory had fallen on hard times, because only the Prior and two other monks were living there.

The remaining mediaeval parts of the present church are the nave, north aisle and porch, which appear to have taken their present shape between 1459 and 1475, This is substantiated by several wills d*f the period, bequeathing money towards the work. The bequests include;-
John Parkyn (1459) 3/4d to the "building of the church;
Margaret Parkyn (1459) 6/8d to the high altar and 3/4d to the church;
William Bull of Reydon (1460) 16/to the "reparation" of the church;
Alexandre Cotway (1461) 6/8d to the high altar and 6/8d to the "reparation" of the church and 3/4d to the reparation of the porch;
John Tue of Henham (1465) 12/- the high altar and 40/- to the church;
Henry Fooll of Blythburgh in 1470-1 left 3/4d to the fabric of the new aisle;
Sir William Brandon of Henham left 40 marks for the same purpose in 1475.
The sum of 20/- was given to the church by Sir Robert Brandon, who died in 1524. He also directed that his body should be buried here, beside his wife Anne/ between the two pillars, He also left money to the Guild of St. Peter, which was attached to this church.

The monastic buildings extended some 50 feet southwards from the church, with the north walk of the cloisters attached to the south side of the present nave. It seems that the flying buttresses which are mediaeval, although restored were put here to carry the weight and thrust of the nave over the north cloister walk, which was beneath the windows, which are set high in the wall. The cloisters extended to the eastern limit of the nave, from which a wall extended southwards, Where this joined the church could be Inside Wangford Churchseen the remains of a door and a tiled pavement, which apparently led from the east walk of the cloisters to the monastic buildings. Near the western end of the south nave wall was a doorway leading from the church to the west walk of the cloisters. Parts of the west cloister wall remained (extending some 30 feet) until all the monastic remains were cleared away in 1862.

Until the Victorian restoration of the church, the foundations of the chancel could still be seen, to the north of which, on the sight of the present tower, were more foundations possibly of a tower or transept. The Norman wall arcading was on the west wall of this section.

After its suppression, the monastery buildings and parts of the church were demolished, leaving only the nave, north aisle and porch which were far more manageable for use as a parish church. This happened in other places (e.g. Wymondham and Waltham Abbeys) where the large conventual chancel was abandoned. The arrangement of St. Peter’s was of course excellent for the post– Reformation liturgical requirements, where the large pulpit was the important feature, with boxed pews gathered around it. Many beautiful items used in mediaeval worship were removed; some of these were recorded in an inventory made by the churchwardens in 1574, including two censers, a pax, cross, chalice, velvet cope, and

"two vestments, 11 Chasubles, one of velvet one of satin. Some additions were also recorded; the walls were whitewashed (to cover the mediaeval wall paintings) and the 11 Kings Majesty's Arms"

Were erected, also the "wrytyng of gods word" (seemly texts to replace the wall-paintings). It seems that the 16th century destruction was not enough for the Parliamentarian inspector of churches for the demolition of "superstitious" images and inscriptions, one William Dowsing. He visited the church on August 28th 1643 and recorded,

"sixteen superstitious pictures and one I brake. Fourteen still remain and one of God".

These were probably in stained glass in the windows. Not all the glass was destroyed, because there remained the figures of SS. Peter and Paul in the central window1 of the north aisle. These somehow found their way into the possession of a Mr Watling of Stonham (and formerly of Wangford) who also had a fragment of stone from a coffin found in the priory ruins.

We are given a fair idea of what the interior looked like before the 19th century restoration from notes made by David Elisha Davy who visited the church in 1807. It then consisted of a aisle on the north side and a "body" (the nave). There was no division between the nave and the chancel and the Communion Table, raised on one step at the east end, was enclosed Looking Towards the Nave of Wangford Churchon three sides by a rail and bannister. On the wall above it were four framed compartments, inscribed the Lord's Prayer, Creed and Ten Commandments. The nave roof was hidden by a plaster ceiling and on a beam towards the west end were fixed the framed Royal Arms of King James II. The large pulpit stood at the centre of the south side; it is described as very handsomely carved and inlaid. On Its back was an oak eagle. This may have been the present reading-desk and pulpit, assembled together as a ´two decker´ arrangement; at the time it had a fine sounding–board. To the north of the east window was a hatchment for a member of the Rous family.

The eastern bay of the north aisle was partitioned off as a "belfry" and above it was a low steeple of wood capped by a short spire; this contained five bells, Davy notes the Norman wall-arcading, also some rums on the south side. On his second visit here in 1823, he recorded that a small gallery had been erected at the west end of the nave and another gallerv stood in the north aisle.

A sketch of the exterior from the north, made by Henry Davy in 1847 shows the nave, aisle and porch, also the window tracery, looking much the same as they do today. The tower and spire over the east end of the aisle appear to be of 17th century date; the spire had a very handsome vane. Another account tells us that the east end of the church (where the original chancel arch stood) had a brick wall, pierced by a timber gothic window.

In the 1860s 70s, St. Peter´s underwent a large restoration, which was completed in two phases. The architect was Edward Lushington Blackbume (1803-88), to whom the famous William Butterfield was articled from 1833-6. Blackbume restored other Suffolk churches (e.g. Yaxley Southolt and Badingham), but Wangford was probably his greatest work in the county. He almost rebuilt the church at Ospringe, Kent, giving it a very distinctive saddledback tower, and completed to his own designs the flamboyant tower of St. Mark´s Dalston, London. Among the London churches which he designed are the Martyrs´ Church, Clerkenwell and St. Luke's Millwall (both destroyed), also St. David´s Westbourne Road. The War Memorial in the Churchyard at WangfordMuch of his work shows French gothic influence – a characteristic which unfortunately reveals itself here in the cumbersome French–style louvres of the belfry windows. Blackbume wrote several architectural papers, also a book entitled "A History of Decorative painting in the Middle Ages".

The removal of the monastic remains was completed in 1862, but Blackbume made a careful plan of the church and its precincts in 1861, showing what was here before the work began. It seems that the east end of the north aisle had been a chapel dedicated in honour of,Our Lady and this was still divided off by the remains of an ancient screen.

The first phase of the restoration began in 1864 and was not finished until 1870. The nave was thoroughly restored and re–ordered, also the arcade, which had been partly bricked–up, was thrown open and the roof was repaired. The flying buttresses outside were renovated, the old box-pews and the galleries were removed and new benches were installed. The wooden belfry was removed and the handsome tower (nearly 100 feet high) was erected to the east of the aisle. In 1875, the fine chancel and spacious vestry were built (to designs drawn up in 1866), thus completing the second phase of the restoration and producing the church that we see today.

Two further schemes, proposed in the 1880s, were not adopted. The first was a suggested re–ordering of the pulpit and reading–desk, to the designs of Charles Dempsey of Chelsea. The other was the erection of a churchyard wall, with an elaborate "high Victorian" entrance archway, designed by E.R Bisshopp of Ipswich.

Such is the story of the development of St. Peter's and its many alterations. We now examine in detail the beauty and interest which can be seen here today.

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