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St Barnabas, Alphamstone


south door Alphamstone north door<

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  It was my second visit to Alphamstone. I'd come this way some four years previously in a heavy rainstorm, and was pleased to take sanctuary in the little church in its remote hilltop village. The moment I stepped inside I knew this was somewhere special. It was almost completely dark, thanks to the storm outside, but I could see candles flickering and the gleam of statues. here, the Anglo-catholic twilight slept on. The pews were replaced with cane chairs as at Kettlebaston, but there is none of that Ernest Geldart razzmatazz here - this is a simple village church, but with such a prayerful atmosphere.

In the aisle there is a rood group which came from the chapel of the House of Mercy at nearby Great Maplestead, a 'home for fallen women' which was closed and demolished in the 1950s. There is a well-cared for and yet rough and ready atmosphere. A curiosity is that there are shuttered low side windows on both the north and south sides of the chancel, but I do not think they can be original - can they?

The rain lessened without stopping, and so I stepped outside to try and take the exteriors before the storm worsened again. This is a long aisled church with a wooden bell turret, which was very attractive. But the rain stopped, and the sun came out. I went back into the church and it was full of light, and I knew that in fact this was my favourite church of the day.

Now I came back on a beautiful sunny spring day. As before, I'd visited Lamarsh church first, noting approvingly that they were selling postcards of some of my photographs of the Mary Lowndes window. From Lamarsh, I attempted the lane up to Alphamstone, despite the 'road closed, diversion' sign at the bottom, hoping this only referred to cars. Near the bottom of the lane I passed two elderly walkers. They didn't respond to my cheery hello, a surprise in Essex where people are usually very friendly, but about halfway up the lane I found my way blocked by emergency electrical works which had dug up the width of the road and beyond. There was no way of getting through. I turned round back to the Bures road. 'I can't get through', I warned the two walkers, but again they didn't respond except to look at me.

I headed north in the direction of Sudbury, and then took the next lane west onto the ridge, a bit of an adventure as it was a steep climb for about two miles along the narrowest of lanes, steeply overgrown on both sides with banks and trees. It was like cycling through a tunnel. It would be impossible for two cars to pass, and there were no passing places. You can find this lane on the Bury St Edmunds OS map just north of Lamarsh church, heading off west and them south for Alphamstone. When I got about a hundred metres from the top, I could see a sports car waiting for me to get into the village before heading down, so I couldn't slow my pace. It was probably the steepest part of the lane. But the smile that the driver, a woman in her thirties I suppose, bestowed on me as I passed her felt a bit like one of those garlands the women of Athens used to award winning athletes.

By Alphamstone church I reached the top of the lane I would have come up if it hadn't been closed, and blow me down, here were the two walkers, who'd somehow made it through the roadworks. They must have jumped the trench. They still didn't acknowledge me with much more than a fixed stare. So I went into the church.

As I say this was one of my favourite little Essex churches during the first swathe I cut through the county, and it didn't disappoint now. A delightful little shrine in the hills, an Anglo-catholic survival. I'd been inside the church a few minutes when there came the most dreadful rattling of the door - bang-bang, bang-bang, bang-bang. I went to open it, to find the two elderly walkers trying to gain entry. They'd been tugging on the ring handle, but hadn't thought to turn the paddle-handle beside it. The look he gave me when I opened the door for him was a killer. Inevitably, when I left I wished them a good day, and at last they responded with a tentative wave. Perhaps they were zombies and I was lucky to escape with my flesh uneaten.

Simon Knott, April 2018

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looking east

word and light looking east Anglo-Catholic twilight
font low side windows St Mary Magdalene south aisle chapel
Annunciation, Nativity, Holy Family G R 1743 Crucifixion flanked by Christ at Gethsemane and the Empty Tomb
Christ in the carpenter's workshop Three Marys and the angel at the empty tomb Annunciation Christ at Gethsemane Disciples asleep at Gethsemane
Rood from the House of Mercy, Great Maplestead medieval door boss

five were on active service in the Boer War and four in the Great War

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