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The History of Saint Margaret's Church Cowlinge

What To See Inside The Church

This atmospheric interior is a treasure-house of ancient and interesting things. Light floods in through the clear glass of the windows to illuminate craftsmanship of many periods. St. Margaret's escaped major Victorian restoration which might well have altered it out of all recognition Instead, the restoration came in 1913-14, by which time 17th and 18th century fittings, which the Victorians often threw out, were being conserved and treasured for their own sake. Their retention here has done so much to preserve the air of rustic antiquity, which is an unforgettable feature of this church's unique character.

The church was reopened on March 29th 1914, having been closed for nine months. The work done included the underpinning of the building, the restoration of several of the windows, the rebuilding of parts of the south aisle east wall and the removal of the brick aisle parapets which were placed there in 1720. In addition, the glass in the windows was removed and re-set, the floors were given beds of concrete and the bricks replaced, the arcades were scraped and cleaned and the wall painting over the chancel arch was revealed. The chancel roof received its oak crown-posts at this time and a slab of black marble, thought to have been the mediaeval altar slab, was taken up from the south chapel floor and reinstated for its rightful use on the top of a new High Altar of brick. The cost of this work was £1,300 and the architect was Mr. Detmar Blow, whose work may also be seen in Hundon Church, which he rebuilt after its disastrous fire in 1914.

The lofty nave is crowned with a tiebeam and crown-post roof, which may well date back to the 14th century. The north aisle has a plaster ceiling, but the south aisle roof has ancient timbers framing its plaster panels.

Handsome four-bay arcades separate the aisles from the nave. The north arcade is slightly different from the south. Both have octagonal 14th century piers, with moulded capitals and bases, but the south arcade has shorter and wider capitals and larger bases. Why one of the northern capitals has been cut away is a mystery. It is worth examining the stonework of the piers to discover the wealth of graffiti that-people of different periods have carved upon them.

There are all sorts of names and initials in varieties of script; some of these are dated. There are various patterns and random doodles, also a ship, two hands with pointing forefingers, a foot and a sea-horse. There is little doubt that many of these random scratchings are mediaeval.

The font dates from about 1400. It stands at the west end, near the entrance, to symbolise our entry into the Family of the Church through Baptism. Its octagonal bowl has quatrefoils (four-lobed designs) with a flower at the centre of each. More flowers appear on the underside of the bowl, and the stem has two-light traceried panels above quatrefoils.

The western gallery, where the musicians and singers would have sat, is 18th century and provides an excellent vantage point for a panoramic view of the interior. On the west wall are the royal arms of King George II, dated 1731 and inscribed with the Churchwardens' names. They are flanked by boards painted with the Commandments, the Creed and the Lord's Prayer these were originally each side of the east window, above the altar. The large central inscription bears the Dickins coat of arms and is a quotation from the Latin Classics, which is translated, "He found the roof of this temple made of straw and he left it made of brick, and he built it with one tower only". Clearly Mr. Dickins had read the Emperor Augustus, who boasted that he found Rome a town of brick and left it a city of marble, and compared this to his own work of building the tower and of his other improvements here.

The west end of the south aisle now forms the vestry, which contains the enormous mediaeval parish chest, where parish valuables and documents were stored.

A plaque on the west wall of the north aisle records a Visitation in 1618, when Mr. Thomas Wolbych was given permission "to erect and build up certeine seates behind the north church dore". These were for the use of the Keeper of the Correction House "and the prisoners therin". These prisoners were mostly debtors, rather than hardened criminals. D.E. Davy records that the House of Correction was closed sometime between 1820-30 and turned into cottages. The tiers of seats that we see here today are almost certainly later than 1618 - possibly they were made for village children after the House of Correction was closed.

The seating in the nave and aisles is mostly late 18th or early 19th century and shows very simple - almost domestic craftsmanship. A careful inspection reveals that two of the pews incorporate 17th century panelling (upon which the kneelers hang) and the third pew from the west on the north side has 17th century woodwork in its ends.

The pulpit is 18th century, the wooden lectern nearby is 19th century and the priest's stall is a 20th century memorial to a former Rector. In the chancel is another lectern, which is a memorial to a village Schoolmaster.

On the eastern responds (half-piers) of both arcades are faint remains of consecration crosses, marking the spots where the consecrating Bishop marked the walls with Holy Oil, probably when the church was rebuilt in the early 14th century.

The north aisle is considerably narrower than the south. At its eastern end stands the organ, a two-manual and pedal instrument by Lewis, with seven speaking stops. If we venture through the narrow door beside the organ we discover that there was a chapel here in mediaeval times. The niche in the east wall, which has traces of its former canopy, probably contained the statue of the saint to whom the chapel was dedicated. Through the wall to the right is a squint, which would enable a priest standing at the altar here to get a view of the High Altar.

There is a similar squint in the south chapel. This was used for many years as the Manorial Chapel for Branches Park, but was refurbished as a Lady Chapel in the 1930s. It is enclosed by a beautiful 15th century parclose screen. This has exquisitely carved tracery above its openings and a fine cornice with cresting at the top. The base has the remains of traceried panels and it is interesting to compare the mediaeval woodwork with the 18th century restoration work in the western section of the screen.

The chapel now contains the 17th century communion table which was once the High Altar. The recess by the small doorway may have contained a piscina-drain. Near the squint is the opening for the rood-loft staircase. On the south aisle wall, just west of the chapel, is the upper part of a wall-painting, showing part of a figure with a halo.

When the antiquarian, David Elisha Davy, visited the church in 1831, the chapel contained a large pew for the Manor Family. At this time there stood each side of the chancel arch, two banners which were used by Henry Usborne (the Lord of the Manor) in 1823 when he was High Sheriff of Suffolk. These displayed the Osborne arms and those of the County.

The chancel arch is lofty and graceful and has the remains of its original colour. Beneath it is the fine rood screen which dates from circa 1400. Above the three single openings each side is delicate tracery and there are tiny openings cut into its plain base. This is the only screen in the county, apart from one at Lavenham, which has retained its original doors.

Above the screen was the rood-loft (a gallery along which it was possible to walk) which was approached by the staircase from the Lady Chapel. Here candles burned in honour of the great Rood, showing the Crucifed Christ, with His Mother and St. John. The Rood and its loft were taken down in the mid 1500s.

On the wall above the chancel arch are the faded remains of a large wall painting. This is the traditional place for a picture of the Doom (or Last Judgement) and here we have a slight variation on the usual theme. On the south side is St. Michael, weighing souls in the balances. On the north side is the Virgin Mary, holding a long rod which stretches over the chancel arch and tips the scales in favour of the heavenward side, symbolising to mediaeval people the worth of her intercession for them. The painting was restored in 1991 by the Canterbury Cathedral Workshop, as was the fragment on the south wall.

In a frame to the north of the chancel arch is a cross in white brussels lace, commemorating the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Bruges in 1984 - the "Forward in Faith" year, when our diocese was 70 years old.

The chancel is bright and spacious and has been cleared of all superfluous clutter. It has a 14th century tiebeam and king-post roof, to which the radiating crown-posts were added in 1913. There are two old benches here. The southern bench has 15th century ends with only the bases of the poppyheads or figures which once surmounted them. The northern bench has simpler ends which may be 16th or 17th century. Notice at the west end the other sides of the squints to the chapels.

The doorway in the north wall unusually has its arch and door on the inside face of the wall. We think that it led to a mediaeval sacristy. Possibly the shallow recess to the east of it was once a window which gave a view from the upper chamber of the sacristy into the church.

Some pieces of loose stone have been placed on the northwest windowsill. On the south-west windowsill is a larger piece of stone with Saxon carving, which may well have been part of a Saxon cross, possibly 1,000 years old.

The communion rails are 18th century. These divide off the sanctuary, containing the high altar, which is unusual because it is of stone, in the pre Reformation style. The huge mensa (or top-slab) was taken from the south chapel floor when the altar was erected in 1913 and this is believed to be the original mensa which was in use before the Reformation.

In the south wall of the sanctuary is a large 14th century piscina. Into its drain was poured the water from the washing of the priest's hands at the Eucharist. The windowsill beside it has been lowered to form sedilia (or seats) where the clergy could sit during certain parts of the Eucharist.

From the east end of the church we get a pleasant view westwards and we can also detect that the floor has a definite slope upwards towards the east. The altar is raised upon four steps, making it rightly the focal point of the church.

The large 15th century east window contains fragments of its original mediaeval stained glass. At the top of two of its lights are fragments of pinnacled canopies. The pictures of the Saints or other characters beneath them were probably destroyed by the Puritans in the 1640s. Other mediaeval glass may be seen in the following windows:-

Chancel, north-west: A shield with coat of arms, thought to be of the Clare family, also a little crown in a quatrefoil.

North aisle, north-east: In the tops of the lights and in the tracery are battlements, little crowns and a crowned "M" for the Blessed Virgin Mary.

North aisle, centre: Foliage in the tracery.

The east window of the Lady Chapel contains some very colourful 20th century glass, made by Christopher Webb in 1931 as a memorial to Gilbert Augustus Tonge and showing Our Lord in a boat. The window shows the ship as the ancient symbol of the Christian Church. The sail has the Holy Spirit emblem, the flags show the Resurrection, St. Margaret and the arms of the diocese and four angels carry symbols of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. The tracery contains the Christian emblems of the fish, the lighthouse, the anchor and the net full of fish.

Last Modified Sunday 10 June 2012