- The Rectory
- Hadleigh Road
- IP7 5LH
WELCOME TO THE PARISH CHURCH OF STRATFORD ST MARY
Church Road (B1029), Stratford St Mary CO7 6LS
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About our Church building:
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. But the major construction was done by two 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'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'.
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.
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 east and west windows in this aisle were retained, 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.
The chancel arch was taken out and replaced by one of greater width and height, the Devonshire marble adding warmth of colour to its beauty of proportion. 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.
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.
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, 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 above extract is taken from an Adaptation 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
i. The ancient registers are housed by the Suffolk Records Office.
ii. The Crane Brasses - until recently, memorial brasses commemorating Edward Crane and his wife Elizabeth were displayed in the church. 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. [NB The Crane brasses were stolen from the church in 2019]
A booklet containing a more detailed history of the church and a leaflet entitled 'A WALK AROUND THE CHURCH' after both available and may be purchased at modest cost, from the Churchwarden.
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