Hidden Suffolk Golden wonders
PUBLISHED: 12:49 09 December 2014 | UPDATED: 12:49 09 December 2014
Lindsay Want takes a seasonal look at some of the county's shy stars
Pews with views
At St Peter’s Sibton near Peasenhall, there’s a golden mosaic and glinting grapes, flowers and acorns. At Swilland St Mary’s near Ipswich the heaviest gilding contrasts with bright Marian blues in an exuberant moment of mad gothic revival. Near Lowestoft, at Lound, Sir Ninian Comper transformed an unassuming round-tower church with his gloriously golden Anglo-Catholic designs. For St Mary’s at Cavendish he created an elaborate frame for the gold, coloured alabaster and 3-D reliefs of one of the richest 16th century Flemish paintings imaginable.
Suffolk’s churches have some positively outstanding altar screens, but there is one which outstrips all others, that’s certainly worth tracking down this Christmas. It’s a real miracle, discovered in a stable not far from Eye.
Step into the tiny thatched church at Thornham Parva and you simply have to sit down. The vivid storylines of the medieval wall paintings, the delicate tracery of the 15th century oak screen, the sheer thickness of the walls and smoothness of the bow-fronted musicians’ gallery - it’s almost too much to take in. But glints of gold beckon from the east . . .
Painted on oak in 1335 for the Dominican monastery at Thetford, this is the second oldest altarpiece to survive from medieval England after panels in Norwich Cathedral/Westminster Abbey. Rediscovered in a stable loft on the Henniker estate in 1927, it was lovingly conserved just over a decade ago. Hailed as “one of the most miraculous survivals of the art of the English Middle Ages”, more miraculous still, its sister panel, originally made for the altar front has survived too, residing far from East Anglia in the safe-keeping of the Musée de Cluny in Paris.
All that glitters . . .
… may not quite be gold, but everything came up roses for the metal detectorist who, after 25 years at the hobby, discovered 840 ‘rose gold’ coins at Dallinghoo near Woodbridge.
Now in the Ipswich Museum and known as the Wickham Market Hoard, the 40% copper/20% silver/40% gold alloy ‘staters’ were in excellent condition, primarily minted in East Anglia and although linked to the Iceni Tribe, even predate Boudicca. Just under 20 years beforehand, more than 1,500 Romano-British coins had been found nearby. Given the finds at Sutton Hoo, Mildenhall and Hoxne, perhaps we’re only just scratching the surface when it comes to treasure troves in Suffolk?
Sign of the times
Not just one, but three gold fingers point the way at Yoxford along the Old High Road by St Peter’s Church, since bypassed by the A12. The Grade II listed, cast iron signpost is a rare survivor amongst 19th century street furniture. Its open lettering spells out Yarmouth, London and ‘Framling’m’ with the numbers for the distances nestling in the scrolled bracing.
What the Dickens..?
David Copperfield, the much-loved Dickens character, was born in ‘Blundestone in Suffolk’, possibly thanks to the writer’s 1849 coach journey from Yarmouth (via picturesque Blundeston) to Lowestoft. If our famous deep gold Suffolk light coloured the rural landscape that day, perhaps Copperfield owes Suffolk his name too?
Millions of years before St Peter’s Brewery created ‘Suffolk Gold’, there was a different sort of precious liquid forming naturally near these parts. A keen, very lucky eye might spot a small chunk of amber on a walk along Southwold shores, but take a detour to Market Place and the little Amber Museum is big on time-honoured golden wonders.
From tiny trinkets to table lamps and tall ships, Great Britain’s oldest and largest amber specialist showcases magnificent hand-carved beauties, together with amazing amber-encased beasties. An informative little museum with truly something for everyone.
Admission free. Open daily, Mon-Sat 9am – 5pm, Sun 11am- 4pm. www.ambershop.co.uk/amber-museum.