Ipswich Icons: A village full of angels which has yet to capture the attention of the big film makers


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Suffolk is blessed with an almost endless number of pretty villages: some of national importance, writes John Norman, of The Ipswich Society. Some of thes evillages are frequently used as backdrops for TV programmes or major feature films. But there is one, so close to the centre of Ipswich, that hardly features on anyone’s radar.


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I refer to Grundisburgh, just six miles north east of the Cornhill, in the valley of the River Lark: a tributary of the River Fynn which discharges into Martlesham Creek.

The triangular village green is bordered by the church, the original primary school, the pub and the pretty cottages. There is even a ford across the river.

The star attraction in Grundisburgh is the church, St Mary’s, with one of the best angel-laden roofs around.

There are more than 60 in one of the finest smaller hammer-beam roofs in the country.


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Some are original, having survived the reformation; others are newer, installed when the church was renovated in the nineteenth century.

The difference between the old and the more recent is that the newer oak hasn’t darkened; but whilst you’re craning your neck looking skyward, imagine what this vision of heaven would have looked like in the 15th century, when the roof was first decorated and each angel was painted.

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What you are looking at is a double hammer-beam roof. Given that this type of roof construction is limited mainly to Suffolk, with a smattering of other examples across south east England, the roof in St Mary’s is rather special.

There is more to see in St Mary’s than just the angels. The chancel is late thirteenth century, the wall paintings are of a similar age, and the memorial to Sir Charles Blois, who died in 1738, is amongst many other items of historical interest. Outside the church there is a secret priest doorway set into a buttress (similar to St Stephen’s in Ipswich).

The parapet has battlements decorated with shields and an inscription referring to 1527; Thomas Walle, Salter of London and his wife.

The tower is from 1751-52, in red brick. Some suggest it resembles a water tower but, given that it pre-dates even the earliest brick-built utility structures, it is of its time. What is special about the tower is that it holds a ring of 12 bells, one of only two such rings in Suffolk.

There is mixed opinion about the war memorial, probably more properly described as a cenotaph. It was designed by Edwin Johns, an Ipswich architect who was also a noted watercolour artist. He joined in partnership with William Eade as Eade & Johns, later becoming Johns, Slater and Haward.

Is the war memorial, standing in front of the church, too big, too dominant, too “white” – being of Portland stone and thus overpowering the church tower? It is certainly imposing but I’ll leave it for you to decide if it is appropriate for the village.

Follow the river downstream from the church to the village’s second ford. Before you cross, note on your left (north) is the castellated Ford House (for obvious reasons), a former coach house, and probably mid nineteenth century with more recent alterations.

Across the ford, and onto the main road, there is a double drive on the left: the first to the rectory, the second, gated, is to Bast’s House, built in 1520 and timber-framed, with brick infill. On the diagonally-set corner posts are the initials of Thomas Walle (who we met earlier in church) and a carved salt cellar.

The final building worthy of a few words is Grundisburgh Hall, detached from the village to the south by a country mile and sitting comfortably in its own valley, a tributary of the River Fynn. Grundisburgh Hall is somewhat unique in that it has been in the ownership of one family for the past 250 years.

Since 1771 it has been the home of the Gurdons (Baron Cranworth). Before then it was the seat of the Blois family from the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509).

There is some evidence that the heart of the present house was built before the reformation. Pevsner suggests 1500, others 1520, but we know the Bloises purchased the site in 1620.

Grundisburgh Hall is not open to the public but you will surely enjoy Grundisburgh Village Show on Saturday, July 14 – to be held on the playing field.

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