Higham, Holton, Raydon, Stratford

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 Welcome to the Parish Church of Stratford St Mary

Church Road (B1029), Stratford St Mary  CO7 6LS

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For more news about the village, go to Stratford St Mary Parish Council

 

The tower of St Mary's is clearly visible on your left as you drive down the A12 towards Colchester and London.  It stands at the Ipswich end of the village on the old road through.

Visitors may wonder at the size of the church in relation to the small village it serves - were the congregations once large enough to fill it?  Probably not - the size of the church is an indication of the wealth of the community in the periods in which it was erected, not of the number of people who worshipped there.  The church was built for the sheer joy of erecting a House of God as worthy of him as the builders could manage, and the comparatively small size and relatively meagre resources of the community that created this glorious building is astonishing.

A HISTORY OF THE CHURCH

Its earliest days 

In this building and its predecessor church Christians have worshipped for more than a thousand years.  The original, probably timber, church is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, in which there are said to be 20 acres of land attached to it.  It is not known when the present stone structure was begun.  The oldest visible portion is the interior of the tower, the arch of which dates it as having been built about the year 1200 or a little later.  The chancel may have been constructed at the same time.  This early church must have consisted simply of nave and chancel, without aisles, and with a high-pitched roof without any clerestory, possibly thatched.  The beautiful east window of Decorated or Flamboyant design seems to point to a building of an early date.

The enlarged size of the new church, together with its high elevation of roof, would seem to suggest an increase in population and in wealth in the lower end of the valley of the Stour, for a south aisle was clearly felt necessary in the 15th century, though the old tower was left unaltered.

The known story of the building of the new parts of the church - expanding outwards from the simplicity of the nave and chancel - begins in 1455 when the will of William Clerke senior, presumably the father of the John Clerk who came to live in the Gables opposite, gave half a mark (6s 8d) towards the church building.  Three years later the will of William the younger says, 'I give to an Ele (aisle) in the church of Stratford 10 marks, and if they make none ele I give to the same church but 20s'.  This dates the construction of the south aisle, and a little later mention is made in the Court Rolls of a gift of 'fabriciae' (possibly ironwork), which shows that the work was proceeding.  

But the major construction was done by 2 members of the Mors family, whose benefactions are recorded in the inscription along the exterior base of the north aisle wall.  Thomas and Margaret Mors completed the building of the western portion of the north aisle (up to where the vestry curtain now hangs) shortly before Thomas died in 1500.  In his will he instructs his executors to dispose of the residue of his goods 'in bilding the body of the church of Stratford, as in makying of the clearstory with windos and glasing convenient to the same with ledyng according to that I have showed my mind therein'.  Margaret's will, dated 1510, leaves directions that she is to be buried 'in the North Yle by my husband'.  She also bequeaths a certain sum for the building of a porch.  

Thomas' son Edward was one of the executors responsible for seeing that this was done and, as the most easterly inscription on the exterior aisle wall implies, Edward and Alice his wife (daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant in Stratford) completed what Thomas and Margaret had begun by extending the north aisle to create the space now used as a vestry.  In 1526 Edward directs his executors to 'make up the North Yle in form and manner as the other Yle is on the south side'.   Edward's work was begun in 1530 and completed in 1531.  The dividing line between the work of Edward's masons and those of his father is clearly shown in the flints of the facing of the wall - those of the western and earlier section are considerably larger and coarser in their finish.  

The porch is the least ancient addition to the building in this period and, although Margaret Mors left 10s for the purpose in 1510, John Smith (another clothier and either father or grandfather to the John Smith whose memorial brass is in the central aisle) actually built it in 1532, as his initials and the date on the exterior show.  Over the entrance of the porch is a niche which must once have held a statue of the Virgin Mary, but it is now empty.

The inscriptions on the exterior of the north aisle 

Inscriptions commemorative of the founders occupy the lowest position on the north aisle's exterior wall, in large bold letters of stone lined with flint.  The oldest of these is in Latin and translated reads, 'Pray for the souls of Thomas Mors and Margaret his wife, who caused this aisle to be erected in the year of our Lord 1499'.  Before the restoration, the whole concluding part of the inscription, on the west end of the aisle, was completely buried by earth piled high as a result of centuries of grave digging; on the removal of the soil nothing but fragments of letters remained as a guide for its renewal.  Above this is a crowned T, IS (the monogram for Jesus), and a crowned M, together with the letters PBAES, which have been interpreted as a petition addressed to saints Thomas and Margaret (patron saints of the founders) and to Jesus, as follows:  'Be propitious, O blessed ones, to eternal salvation'.

The next inscription is the alphabet, some of the letters being duplicated. The 'Y', which had been displaced when the porch was erected, was discovered built into it as an ordinary piece of rubble and was restored as near to its original place as possible.  The existence of this alphabet, almost unique in Britain, caused much puzzlement until a leaflet, printed in Latin in Strasbourg in 1775, explained the probable reason for its presence on a country church:  'A very short rite for reciting the Breviary for those on a journey, and scrupulous as to their devotions.  Let a Pater and an Ave be said, ABCD etc. By means of this well known alphabet the whole of the Breviary is composed.  (At the time of Easter let Alleluia be said.)  O God, who out of 24 letters didst will that all the sacred Scriptures and this Breviary should be compose, join, disjoin, and accept out of these 24 letters, matins with lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers and compline, through Christ our Lord.  Amen.  Let him cross himself saying, to a wise man few words suffice.  In this matter, in peace I will sleep and rest.'

As the main London road passed the church until 1935, no doubt Thomas and Margaret Mors caused the ABC to be placed on the wall where travellers could not fail to see it, because it was at that time recognised as a reminder to those who had their hands full, both that they were in need of praying and of the means of doing so.  

Above the alphabet is the motto 'IHC est amor meus' - Jesus is my love.  The parapet is decorated with stone shields, carved with the initials of Thomas Mors, in combination with a cross-shaped design  known as the mark of a merchants' guild.

There is only one inscription on the extension of the north aisle eastwards:  'Praye for the soullys of Edward Mors and Alys hys wyfe and all crysten sowlys Anno Domini 1530'.  The intervening space between it and the Latin inscription is filled up with IHS and a well designed monogram of the Virgin Mary, to whom the church is dedicated.  These two monograms have been reproduced in the clerestory windows.

The buttresses display some rather elaborate work and on them, as on the parapet, the initials of the founders recur frequently, together with the merchants' mark and 1531, the year in which the aisle was completed.

It is highly probable that Thomas and Margaret, Edward and Alice Mors were all buried in the floor of the north aisle, as their wills demanded, and the ledgers from which the brasses have been removed must be theirs.  A very old deed conveying a part of Stour Meadow to 'Anthony Morse and others shows that the Mors family was still represented in Stratford in 1585.

Ledgers and Memorial Tablets

The two ledgers in the north aisle mark the resting places of its founders, as commanded by Margaret Mors in her will.

Persons of wealth and position must lie under the ledgers in the nave, but their brasses have all been stolen, so it is not known who they were.

At the foot of the chancel steps the one remaining brass ledger plate bears the following record:  'Here lieth ye bodye of William Smithe, sonne and heire of John Smithe, son'e and heire of John Smithe, sonne and heire of Will'm Smithe, son'e and heire of Will'm Smithe, son'e and heir of John Smithe, all whos bodies do her in this alley lye buried.  Obijt 4 die Iunij Ao D'ni millii qui'ge'tess: octogess: sexton.  Aetatis suae: 54.  This William Smith died in 1586, and it must have been either his father or grandfather whose initials appear on the porch.

In the chancel a ledger bears a coat of arms, with the motto 'Tribus in uno' and the following inscription:  'M.S. Venerabilis Danielis Wall viri dignissimi Danielis Wall ten:  primogeniti A.M. et humus Ecclesiae dum licit Pastoris fidelissimi, qui Anno 1662 exauctoratus bene latuit, et Virtutum magus quam Annorum satur, sues omnibus desideratissimus obit,

Jun: 17: Anno Domi 1670, Aetatis 42

Anna maerens relicta posit.

The explanation of this is that Daniel Wall was incumbent of the parish under the Commonwealth, when the Episcopalian clergy were ejected and the use of the Prayer Book was forbidden.  On the Restoration of the Monarchy he was unable to take the required oaths and was forced to retire.  But he evidently continued to reside in the parish, his family being probably the leading one in it, and his father being alive at the time.  This we know from a ledger in the churchyard, which reads:

Daniel Wall of this parish gent: and Mary his wife after they had served their own generation by the will of God fell on sleep

He:  October 27th 1667, aged almost 66 years

She:  October 18th 1668, aged about 70 years.

Both of them rich in good works and the fruit of the H. Spirit.

Crowned in their names with honour on earth and in their spirits with glory in heaven.

In pious memorial of whom their two sons Daniel and John placed me not without filial reverence and sorrow.

The memory of the just is blessed.

The name Wall frequently occurs in the parish register, and the elder Wall held parish offices at various times.

There is a ledger beneath the altar to the memory of Thomas Bradshaigh, M.A., member of a titled family in the County Palatine of Lancaster, Rector of the parish for 42 years, and of Langham at the same time.  He died 14 April 1752 aged 69, his wife Mary following him on 15 December 1762 aged 74.  

In the Lady Chapel is one recording the death of Robert Clark of Stratford Hall Esq. on 4 February 1731 aged 85; also of his wife Anna who died on 21 May 1725 aged 74.

In the same aisle, near the screen door, Nicholas Brage, late of Roydon (ie.e. Raydon) Esq., who died 2 Juy 1698 in his 86th year.  He is described as a 'pious, charitable person'.  This family was also of great importance in the parish.

In the ledgers behind the organ the inscriptions are becoming obliterated, but one can just make out on one Samuel Parker, Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Dec. 1775; John Benyon Parker, his only son, 21 May 1779 aged 10; and Mary, his widow who was also the widow of Thomas Cay, 2 August 1814, aged 74 - the register states that she died at Higham.  On the other we read of Tobias Coyte B.D., Rector of the parish, who died 22 December 1759 in his 44th year; and also of Elizabeth his wife, 28 December 1762.

Crossing over to the north aisle, we see the memorials of a family still represented in Stratford in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Alderman Partridge is the first name (9 October 1737 aged 59).  Next is John Partridge junior (27 December 1739 aged 19), with the following quaint attempt at verse:

All you that Look and Read my Stone,

Behold how Sudenly I was Gone;

The Night is gone, ye Stars Remain,

So man that die shall Live again.

On the same stone, Martha, mother of the above, 24 November 1749 aged 63; and John Partridge senior, 10 February 1756 aged 73.  In connection with these ledgers may be mentioned the only modern memorial brass that the church possesses, subscribed for by some of the parishioners in token of their respect for the John Partridge who fell asleep 4 February 1879, a worthy descendant of a time-honoured stock that can be traced back in the Parish Register to the year 1589, when Robert, son of John Patridge (sic), was baptised on 27 April.

Near the vestry curtain on the north wall the brass plates affixed to a wooden plaque represent the figures of a man and his wife, with the following inscription: 'Of yor charyte pray for ye soule of Edwarde Crane and Elizabeth his wyfe which Edward deceased ye xxviii day of Marche Ao mvmlviii - whose soule God pdo' (pardon).  They do not fit any existing ledger, and have evidently never been walked upon.  Possibly they were secreted at one time from the iconoclastic zeal of the Puritans and reappeared after the danger was past.

There are four mural tablets, all in the Lady Chapel.  The earliest is to the memory of the Revd T. Money, Rector, who died 6 March 1784 aged 62.  The next commemorates the Revd N.C. Proby, M.A., Rector of this parish and of Toddenham, who died 20 December 1804 in his 66th year.  Next is the Revd T. Cautley B.D., Rector of both Stratford and Raydon, though buried at Raydon.  He died 13 July 1817.  The death of his widow if recorded on the fourth tablet, 5 June 1830.

Parish Registers

All ancient parish registers are now in the County Archives in Ipswich, but according to Revd J.G. Brewster, Rector of Stratford in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they go back to the year 1562 for baptisms, those up to 1605 having been transcribed on parchment.  The marriage register starts in 1587, those up to 1605 being on paper in the original entries; and for burials to the same date and under the same conditions.

From 1638-1653 there are no entries whatever - these years were the troubled times of Charles I, and this part of the kingdom was very unsettled.  There is also a blank from 1665-1676.  The old book containing the early entries of marriages and burials also contains a list of all the parish officers appointment from 1613-1845, with various other interesting items of parochial business and is a most valuable parish record.  Amongst the officers in olden days were 'Ale-founders' (possibly court officers appointed to test the quality of the ale sold within the manor estates) and 'Searchers for Cloath' (appointed yearly to enter the houses of clothiers to test that their cloths were made of certain lengths and breadths).

In the register begun in 1653 under the Commonwealth there are these quaint lines on the first page:

Time registers thy Times in number three;

Those stampe the Records of Eternity;

Be Borne, Beare, and be Borne again; And Knowe

The World's as Perfect, when Thou'rt not, as nowe;

I wrote, Thou read'st, Both, All dye; Lord! let Death

In Christ into thy Bosome hand my Breath.

The Victorian restoration

By the Victorian period, parts of the fabric stood in urgent need of restoration.  Portions of the almost unique inscriptions on the exterior of the north aisle had completely perished whilst the remainder had become illegible.

During this time, the interior of the church was improved by the removal of the western gallery and the substitution of pews for the old benches - all done by public subscription.

In 1844 a new Rector called Henry Golding was instituted, and over many years he began to design in his head a way of taking in hand the work that was needed to restore the church to its former dignity.  Through a curious set of inheritances, Henry Golding (who became Henry Golding Palmer in order to satisfy the requirement of one of those inheritances) was able to provide the money for the entire restoration himself.

Golding commissioned Henry Woodyer of Guildford to undertake the re-design, and the building contract was given to Messrs Saunders and Son of Dedham, with Mr Giles Vinnell as Clerk of the Works.  On Easter Monday, April 17th 1876, after Morning Prayer, the workmen removed the seats from the chancel and erected boarding to shut it off from the nave, where the services were now held for several months.

The whole of the south aisle - reaching up to the east end of the church - was in a very unsound condition, so the roof was taken off and replaced with all the old timbers capable of being made use of. An arch was then inserted in line with the chancel arch, so finally making the south aisle conform to the pattern of the north.  The east and west windows in this aisle were retained, but the windows on the south wall were considered to be of a 'very debased architecture' (though resembling the pair of windows of similar design in the north chancel aisle - now the vestry!), and so were taken out and substituted by others designed by Woodyer.  The exterior of the south aisle was now formed of flint work, having before been simply built of rubble.  The flints used throughout were obtained from the Brandon quarries on the Norfolk side of the county.

After this, the east end was found to be in such an unsafe condition that the window had to be taken out and the whole wall rebuilt with new foundations.

The chancel arch was then taken out and replaced by one of greater width and height, its clustered shafts of Devonshire marble adding warmth of colour to its beauty of proportion.  The chancel roof was lined in 'wagon-shaped' style and divided out into panels with carved bosses.  All the stone work was cleaned and made good where defective.  At this point the level of the chancel floor was raised - it had hitherto been uniform with that of the rest of the church - and the aisles were also raised by six inches.

At this point, the chancel and its aisles (the current vestry and Lady Chapel) were ready for re-occupation, and the first service to be held in the newly-refurbished space was on Whit Sunday 1877.

It was now the turn of the nave to be restored.  The first work to be done was to take the lead off the nave roof and to prop up the roof while the clerestory was taken down and rebuilt.  It was evident from old mortice holes that carved figures of some sort had once ornamented the centre of the roof, though all trace of their design was lost.  Mr Vinnell, the Clerk of the Works, designed and carved the present angels from patterns still remaining in the old roofs.  Until this point there had been no parapet on the outside, but an embattled one was now added, immediately demonstrating the incongruity of the old tower with the new work, so that it was decided to do something about the tower as well.

Before that, the remainder of the south aisle was rebuilt, the accumulation of earth around the church was removed, and the south doorway into the churchyard was restored to its original level.  Once that work was complete, the clearing of the moss and mortar from the outside of the north aisle was undertaken, finally revealing all its interesting inscriptions.  The lowest of them all had almost entirely disappeared, only a letter remaining here and there, while the rest of the letters had been replaced by bricks.  After work to remove the soil that had accumulated over the inscriptions in bygone years, the inscriptions were restored.

And meanwhile the sides of the porch, which until now had had open arches, were filled in with elaborate tracery, the exterior cleaned and repaired, and the pinnacles and cross restored.

At the end of July 1878 the whole church was closed for 8 weeks, during which time services were held in the recently built Board School.

The reconstruction of the tower was regarded as the completion of the work of those who built the 15th and 16th century church, for they had left the old (possibly 12th century) tower as they found it.  Its walls were taken down to the level of the floor of the bell loft, the bells having been previously lowered.  The remainder of the exterior was then scaled to enable it to be cased with flint.  The entrance to the stairs, which had until now been inside the church, was placed outside, and the first floor took the place of the ground floor as the ringing loft.  The ascent from the ground floor to the bell loft had previously been by means of ladders, so the new turret at the north-west angle made life considerably easier.  Following the precedent of the north aisle, the initials of Mr and Mrs Golding, with IHS and the date 1878 appear in stonework on three sides of the tower.  One of the stones near the base of the buttress below the turret was laid by Mrs Golding on March 2nd, some coins being deposited beneath it.  The carving on the tower and on the rest of the church was executed by Messrs Room & Son of Ipswich.  The height of the tower is 74.5 feet from the base to the tops of the pinnacles.

The clock, manufactured from the best materials and with the best possible workmanship, was by Messrs Smith & Sons of Clerkenwell, subscribed for by parishioners and others, to mark their sense of the munificent manner in which the restoration of the church was carried out.

The bells were tuned and re-hung by Messrs Taylor & Co. of Loughborough, and one more was made by them.  The tenor is the oldest of them.  On it is an inscription in black letters, 'Sancte Gregori, ora pro nobis' (Holy Gregory, pray for us); it also bears a curious device of a bell surrounded by letters which seem to say 'In Domino confide' (In the Lord I put my trust).  The 4th bell is probably as old as the tenor, both probably being of pre-Reformation date.  It bears the inscription in black letters, 'In multis annis resonet campana Johannis' (May the bell of John resound for many years).  The 5th is inscribed 'Ricardus Bowler me fecit 1589', with several impressions around its edge of coins, one of which clearly shows the name Reg. Eliz.  The 2nd and 3rd are of much later date, the inscription on the latter being 'Thomas Gardiner fecit 1723' and on the former 'John Sacker, John Cooper, C.W. Tho. Gardiner fecit 1745 (CW stands for Churchwardens).  The inscription on the new treble, translated, is:

The Rector did the Church restore,

Presented me as one Bell more,

And did the Lord with thanks adore.

H: G:  In the Year 1879.

The opening services to celebrate the completion of the work were held on May 29th 1879, the bells having been previously dedicated on March 25th.  The services consisted of Early Celebration, full Choral Service at 11 a.m. and again at 7 p.m.  The preachers were Revd J. Woolley D.D., Rector of East Bergholt and Rural Dean, and Revd W. Stock, Rector of Great Wenham.

A WALK AROUND THE CHURCH

From the porch you enter the north aisle.  Thomas Mors, a wealthy cloth merchant, added this part of the church in 1499.  Three generations of the Mors family added to and enlarged the church.  In the west window of the aisle (on your right as you enter) is some very ancient glass at the top, including Thomas Mors’ trade sign and the Black Prince’s arms on a shield.  This latter piece of glass probably came from the earliest window in the church, at the East end, which may suggest that the chancel was built in about 1360.  It should be noted that the West window itself is not original but was installed during the 19th century restoration of the church.

Go along the aisle to the framed list of Rectors.  It begins with Roger de Belstead, AD 1312.  In the 16th century Stratford church appears to have been in the vanguard of the Reformation, for English was used in the church as early as 1538.  Rectors then, as now, had their own form of churchmanship:  at the end of the 16th century at least one rector was reprimanded for following the Puritan form of worship, while Samuel Lindsell was ejected in 1644 because he was a supporter of the Royalist cause during the Civil War. 

Patrons are also named, the present patron being the Queen by right of the Duchy of Lancaster.  You will notice that the first named patron was William de Montecaniso.  He was a member of one of the richest families in Suffolk.     

The two stone slabs in the floor of the aisle, from which the brasses have been lost or stolen, probably mark the burial places of Thomas and Margaret, and of Edward and Alice Mors.  Thomas Mors’ aisle ended here, with an altar and an aisle window where the blue curtain now hangs.  It was extended eastwards by his son Edward in 1531 to make a chapel where today we find the organ and choir vestry.  On the left you will see a memorial brass commemorating Edward Crane and his wife Elizabeth.  Edward died in 1558.  Sadly, we know nothing about him or his wife.  His family lived at Chilton Hall near Sudbury and his descendent, Sir Richard, supported Parliament in the Civil War. 

Now go past the lectern, from which the Bible is read on Sundays; it was made at Guildford, as was the chancel altar, the centre of Christian worship (the brass altar desk or book holder used by the priest was given by Revd J.G. Brewster, the successor of Henry Golding Palmer).  The chancel may have been constructed about 1200.  The known story begins in 1455 when the will of William Clerke senior provided 6s.8d to carry the work forward.  The painting above the arches of the north side of the chancel dates from 1904 and was done by Alexander Jamieson, a friend of the Rector of the day.  It is done in bone and turpentine on canvas, fixed with white lead and varnish.  The references are to Melchizedek offering Abraham bread and wine (Genesis 14.8); Moses striking the rock for water at Massah (Exodus 17.1); and the supper at Emmaus after the resurrection (Luke 24.30).  

The east window - the work of Messrs Powell and Sons - was given in memory of the Rev. Henry Golding Palmer in 1898.  He was rector from 1844 till his retirement in 1880.  He was well loved in the village and was largely responsible for the restoration of the church in the 1870s.  The four main lights in the window are worth looking at.  They have scenes in the story of St Mary, to whom the church is dedicated.  They are: The Annunciation; the  Visit of the Wise Men; the Presentation in the Temple; and the Finding in the Temple (Gospels of Matthew and Luke, chapters 1 and 2).  Above them is the prediction of the aged Simeon, 'A sword shall pierce through thine own soul', which forms a link with the emblems of the Passion appearing on shields carried by angels.  These are:  the crown of thorns, the nails, the ladder with reed and sponge, and the robe with the dice thrown by the soldiers.  In the upper part is the victorious Lamb of God surrounded by adoring angels.  Two heraldic shields are introduced - that of the Black Prince dated 1360, a probable date of the glass of the previous window, and that of Queen Victoria, dated 1898, which was the year of dedication of this window.  It is interesting to note that the window cost £310 10s, a very large amount at that time.  

The floor tiling was laid by Messrs Minton & Co., and the iron work of the altar rails and choir desks was made by Messrs Filmer & Mason of Guildford, as were the gates to protect the porch, outside.  Notice also the wrought iron candlesticks presumably introduced at the restoration of the church.  It is not known who made them.     

Go now to the pulpit, the traditional place from which the Christian message is given.  It is in perpendicular style, built in stone with panels of coloured alabaster, and was given to the church by Woodyer.  The steps behind the pulpit lead to an opening in the wall above.  These steps were probably part of the church as first built in stone in the 13th century.  They gave access to the rood loft, a broad way across the top of the carved chancel screen.  (The chancel arch was changed and made wider in 1878.)  On the rood loft would be the Crucifix, the figures of St Mary and St John, a lamp and candles.

Now pass down the nave, the centre of the church, between the 15th century pillars and arches, which replaced the 13th century walls.  It would appear that Robert Mors (the father of Thomas) and William Smith were responsible for much new work in the nave and chancel from around 1430 onwards.  Look up to the clerestory windows and the fine timbered roof.  In his will of 1500, Thomas Mors left money for the building of the clerestory, and the glass in the clerestory windows shows the Thomas and Margaret Mors monogram, with the M crowned in honour of our Lady.   

The font was given in 1858 by a Miss Phillips in memory of her mother and supplemented in 1882 by a gift on the part of the ladies of Stratford, of a brass font ewer.  It is built in stone and coloured marble, with some delicately carved tableaux.  The arch behind the font is part of the original stone church of the 13th century.  The visible portions of the tower date from the same period.  The gallery was erected in 1909 to accommodate the choir and organ (the previous one had been removed in 1854).  The shields that decorate the gallery represent the 'I am' sayings of Jesus.  The organ has since been moved to the chancel area.

Now enter the south aisle.  Father and son William Clerke were responsible for the addition of the south aisle and Lady Chapel between 1455 and 1458.  It was substantially rebuilt when the church was restored in the 1870s.  The windows here, except for the east window of the side chapel, are Victorian.  The arch leading to the Lady Chapel was inserted at the same time.

In the Lady Chapel, the altar is a 17th century communion table.  Unfortunately the triptych over the altar, a reproduction of a work by Perugino, was stolen recently.  It has been replaced by a wooden cross made locally.  To the left of the communion table is a ledger stone with raised cross of Lorraine probably dating from the early 14th century.  During the restoration it was found face down in the pavement of the chancel, serving as an ordinary piece of stone; the coffin itself has entirely disappeared.  In the 1890s it was placed outside the church at the end of the south aisle; it is not recorded when it was put in its present position.  There is an elaborate 19th century gabled recess or sedilia in the wall above it, made by Messrs Room.  See also the parclose screen, parts of which contain original medieval work. 

In the Lady Chapel you will see three wall-mounted tablets to successive rectors of Stratford St Mary between 1774 and 1817.  One of these commemorates the Revd. Narcissus Proby whose family were friends of John Constable.  Notice also the floor slab commemorating Robert Clarke of Stratford Hall (next to the Church) who died on 4 February 1731 aged 85 years.  He would have been born in the year in which the first Civil War ended and lived to see the Hanoverian succession and Sir Robert Walpole as Prime Minister.  As you exit the Lady Chapel notice the fragments of carved and painted woodwork on the wall on your right.  This is all that remains of the pre-Reformation rood screen.  Notice also the alms box, which was constructed by Mr Vinnell, Clerk of the Works, from some old oak from the church.  

Retrace your steps now to the church entrance.  Looking behind you, it is clear that the church was much restored by the Victorians.  The man who was responsible for the restoration was Henry Woodyer who had previously been responsible for the sensitive repair of Holy Trinity, Long Melford.  That is probably one reason why he was chosen here.  Another reason was his friendship with the rector, Henry Golding Palmer, who had connections with Sonning in Berkshire where Woodyer did much of his best work.  In recent years much interest has been taken in Woodyer and Stratford is considered one of his finest interiors.    

Before you leave the building, pause to look at the framed reproductions of work by John Constable featuring the church, Stratford Hall (or Hall Farm as it is now) and Raveney’s in Water Lane.  The Young Waltonians, one of Constable’s most famous paintings, features the Mill at Stratford.

The windows enclosing the porch date from the restoration by Woodyer.

The show front of the church is to the north.  Everywhere here flush work decoration is of a high order.  Along the base of the north aisle externally is a Latin inscription which translated reads ‘Pray for the souls of Thomas Mors and Margaret his wife, who caused this aisle to be created in the year of our Lord 1499’.  Unfortunately, the latter part of the inscription is obscured by the porch.  On the buttresses just above this you will see in the centre ‘I.S.’ – the monogram for Jesus – flanked by T and M for the benefactors. 

Five other letters - PBAES are dotted here and there upon the buttresses.  These form a petition addressed to our Lord, in conjunction with Saints Thomas and Margaret as patron saints of the builders.  The letters are the initials of the words 'Propitiemini beati ad eternal salutem' (Be propitious, ye blessed ones, to eternal salvation).

At a higher level still the alphabet from A to Y is depicted.  Before the 1878 restoration earth became piled high round the lower parts of the walls, the result of centuries of grave digging, and much of the inscription had fallen out, the holes being patched with brickwork.  Not until 30 years later did a leaflet, printed in Latin in Strasbourg in 1775, explain the probable presence of the alphabet on a country church:  'A very short rite for reciting the Breviary for those on a journey, and scrupulous as to their devotions.  Let a Pater and an Ave be said, ABCD etc. By means of this well known alphabet the whole of the Breviary is composed.  (At the time of Easter let Alleluia be said.)  O God, who out of 24 letters didst will that all the sacred Scriptures and this Breviary should be compose, join, disjoin, and accept out of these 24 letters, matins with lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers and compline, through Christ our Lord.  Amen.  Let him cross himself saying, to a wise man few words suffice.  In this matter, in peace I will sleep and rest.'

As the main London road passed the church until 1935, no doubt Thomas and Margaret Mors caused the ABC to be placed on the wall where travellers could not fail to see it, because it was at that time recognised as a reminder to those who had their hands full, both that they were in need of praying and of the means of doing so.  

Above the alphabet, on the buttresses, is ‘I.H.S. est amor meus’ (Jesus is my Love).  The ‘Meus’ is now refixed on the west wall of the aisle.  The parapet is decorated with stone shields, carved with the donor’s initials and trade mark.

Thomas Mors’ son, Edward, who, as we have already discovered, continued the aisle to the east, added the inscription ‘Praye for the soullys of Edward Mors and Alys hys wyfe and all crysten sowlys Anno Domini 1530’.  Their initials E.M. and A.M. recur frequently, together with the trade mark.  A very well preserved example of the trade mark can be found carved into the buttress at the eastern corner of the north aisle.

The tower was rebuilt as part of the restoration, and inscribed towards the top of the tower, which is 74.5 feet high, are the initials of the Rector and his wife, Mr and Mrs H. Golding.  The upper part of the tower, its flint facing and the parapets around the nave roof were their work.

The ring of six bells is among the best in Suffolk for tone and condition.  The fourth is the oldest, having been cast by a London founder named variously Chamberlain and Danyell before the year 1450.  The Latin inscription around it reads 'For many years may the Bell of St John resound'.  The tenor, inscribed 'Holy Gregory pray for us' is the work of another London bell founder, William Culverden, whose foundry was in Aldgate between 1510 and 1523.  The fifth was cast by Richard Bowler, a famous Colchester man, and inscribed ‘Ricardus Bowler me fecit 1589’.  Around its lower edges are several impressions of coins of Queen Elizabeth I's reign.  The second and third bells were both cast by Thomas Gardiner of Sudbury in 1745 and 1723 respectively.  The treble was added in 1879 and is inscribed in Latin, 'The Rector did the church restore, Presented me as one bell more, And did the Lord with thanks adore.  H.G. in the year 1879'.  

Take a last look at the church – it was built in the perpendicular style (c. 1330 – 1530), has a nave with tall clerestory and side aisles, a chancel and chancel aisles and a west tower.  The whole is crenelated apart from the chancel.  The tower rises to a square turret with its own pinnacles.

We very much hope that you will remember your visit to our church and come again in the future.  To help us to maintain this beautiful building, we would be most grateful if you would make a donation in the wall safe to the right of the door as you come out.  

Adapted from the work of former Rectors, J.G. Brewster (1885) and John H.H. Griffin (1964), and the Visitors' Guide as revised and updated by Mark Lockett, May 2006

 

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO HELP RAISE MONEY TO MAINTAIN THIS BEAUTIFUL CHURCH, PLEASE GO TO:  www.easyfundraising.org.uk/causes/stratfordstmarychurch