What does your local Suffolk church say about you? We speak to eccentric Roy Tricker
PUBLISHED: 10:51 12 March 2019 | UPDATED: 10:57 12 March 2019
Self-confessed eccentric Roy Tricker says our old local churches say much about who we are | Words: David Green - Photos: Sarah Lucy Brown
When small boys of a similar age were out playing cowboys and Indians or football, eight-year-old Roy Tricker was visiting old churches.
As an adult his love of these buildings, particularly those from the medieval period, led him to writing more than 240 guides to individual churches, most of them in Suffolk, and giving hundreds of talks and slide shows, to audiences ranging from WIs to historical groups and schools.
His enthusiasm, passion and cheeky, self-deprecating humour shine through his wide historical and architectural knowledge so that audiences are well entertained.
Roy, now 70 and a widower, is one of the leading authorities on Suffolk churches and has visited all of the county’s 500 medieval churches, together with thousands in other parts of the country.
A lay reader working in the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich diocese, he believes churches brought him to Christianity, rather than the other way around.
“Regardless of religion, churches are our heritage. They tell the story of people’s lives and are a wonderful living history,” he says.
Roy was a religious education (RE) teacher at Copleston High School in Ipswich for 20 years, most of them as head of department, and then worked for 11 years as a regional field officer for the The Churches Conservation Trust, travelling all over the south-east of England. It was at Copleston that he met his future wife, Jennifer.
Born a gamekeeper’s son, Roy dates his attraction to old churches back to the age of four when he and his family lived close to a village church near Epping in Essex.
“It had a peal of bells. They fascinated me. I’d never seen a building like that.” By the age of eight and then living in Hertfordshire he was allowed by his parents to go alone on local buses and so began his lifelong adventures of ‘church crawling’. “It is a passion, a love affair. I owe so much to old churches. They keep me sane,” he says.
Whichever church he visited he purchased a parish magazine, a postcard and a guide, if they had one. At his local church he was invited by the minister to ‘chime’ the four bells and, if he liked, to stay for the service.
“I stayed and the service just fascinated me. The organ and the hymns and the singing and the language of the prayer book, which I did not always understand, but that brought me into church life, where I’ve been ever since.”
On his father’s retirement in 1957 Roy moved with his parents to Felixstowe, where the couple had originally met, and he has been a Suffolk resident ever since. With his British Rail ‘runabout ticket’ – which cost 13 shillings and sixpence – he expanded his travels.
The great churches of Lavenham, Clare, Long Melford and Haverhill were reached by train and he walked to see the churches of nearby villages before the return journey. It was at St Mary’s in Walton that he learned to play the organ and he now provides the music in various churches.
As a lay reader he can not only preach but take services, including funerals. But he is not allowed to officiate at weddings.
He attributes his skill as a storyteller to a former primary school teacher, Miss Swinfen, who taught him to read and kept her class spellbound with tales from scripture or history. She eventually retired to Felixstowe. The two kept in touch and, when Miss Swinfen died, Roy conducted her funeral service.
He was a pupil at Felixstowe Secondary Modern School and enjoyed his days there under the guidance of a very supportive and caring staff . ”A lot of them became my friends, they were the reason I came to want to teach, and I’ve taken the funerals of some of them in recent years.”
He obtained enough GCE O levels to enable him to go to the grammar school sixth form for his A levels – English and RE - and from there he went off to Keswick Hall, Norwich to train how to become a teacher.
Roy was in his element in Norwich, finding more medieval churches in a square mile than, he believes, in any city in Europe.
He was unable, initially, to obtain a teaching job in Suffolk and joined the secondary school staff at Brightlingsea. During the two years he worked there his father and mother and his grandmother died.
Wanting to return to Suffolk, he got a job at Copleston secondary school where he became head of religious education and stayed for 20 years, despite suffering a heart attack which he puts down to the stress of increasing bureaucracy as a ‘middle management’ teacher.
Jennifer died in 2000, after developing breast cancer, and over the next two years he also lost a special aunt and a good friend. “I was a different person after my wife’s cancer diagnosis. I had lots of good friends but I still felt very alone,” says Roy who, in 2003, decided to take early retirement at the age of 55.
Since then he has concentrated on his work as a lay reader, writing several books and more church guides and giving lectures. He is a busy man.
Roy gets the occasional treat of leading bespoke parties of visitors to see the jewels in the crown of Suffolk’s medieval churches, getting to stay in hotels such as the Swan at Lavenham.
Awarded the British Empire Medal for his church work, he regards himself as odd and eccentric, an only child who believes that despite his marriage to Jennifer and a variety of good friends, he has been a life-long loner.
In the introduction to his autobiography, titled Cheek and Churches, he says: “I continue to grow more infantile, more childish, more silly and a little more mad each day.
“I have never grown up. I’ve worked hard but I’ve been a very lucky boy. I’ve had the most wonderful opportunities and a lovely life.”
Every one a gem, every one unique
“Churches are fun – the buildings have evolved over the centuries and will carry on evolving in the future,” says Roy Tricker.
“They are a wonderful living history, and the paintings and effigies we find in some of them tell us about the dress, hairstyles, shoes and a lot else about the people who worshipped in these buildings in the past.
“Churchyards are full of memorials to real people who were part of their community. They are saturated with people’s feelings and thoughts and prayers, and enshrine the finest craftsmanship, because nothing but the best was fit for the house of God. They were built and have been maintained with love and skill.”
Even today work on our medieval churches is of the highest quality – courtesy of some wonderful builders and craftsmen, says Roy.
“There are up to 10,000 medieval churches in this country, and every one of them is a gem and every one is unique, has its own character, its own features and its own atmosphere, built up over 900 or 1,000 years.”
He says more churches are open now throughout the week and an increasing number of people are enjoying visits to them.