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St Giles, Great Maplestead

Great Maplestead

Great Maplestead Great Maplestead
Great Maplestead crucified 17th Century brickwork

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  We are in the rolling landscape that sprawls between Sudbury and Halstead, and this church sits on a tree-lined ridge, an impressive sight from a distance. Up close it becomes obvious that there was once a substantial Norman church here, of which only the two ends remain, the west tower and the rounded apse at the east of the chancel. Over the centuries various bits have been replaced or added on, the chancel as early as the 13th Century and the nave, south transept and aisle in the 14th Century. A north aisle and transept were added to match them by William White in 1861 who also restored the interior, as we will see inside. The overall effect is of a not unpleasing mismatch of shapes, angles and surfaces under red tiled roofs.

You step into a building that does not feel large, despite the aisles and transepts. The south transept was adapted in the 17th Century as a chapel and mausoleum for the Deane family, and is home to two of Essex's most striking memorials, to Sir John Deane who died in 1825 and to his wife Lady Anne Deane who died in 1633.

Great Maplestead fed up Lady Anne Deane in her shroud
death's terror and delirium Deane boot and muzzled bear
two angels lower a crown for Lady Anne Lady Anne looks up to a cherub sounding the Last Trump

Both monuments have male figures lying on their side at the base. Sir John looks fairly calm, a little bored even, his children arrayed above him like ornaments on a shelf. But the male figure lying down on Lady Anne's memorial has a face stricken with terror. He is Sir Dru Deane, her son, who paid for the monument, and she stands behind him ghost-like and enshrouded. Up above, cherubs descend to place a crown of glory on her head. James Bettley, revising the Buildings of England volume for Essex, tells us that it is documented as the work of William Wright, and remarks that it is one of a series of such macabre monuments... they are all of the 1630s, there was a decided fashion for them at that moment.

Impressive in a different way is William White's 1860s restoration of the chancel and apse, done with verve. The geometric floor tiles look up to a curved wooden reredos and a wooden roof rather than a ceiling patterned with stars. He decorated the walls with floral patterns in the style of the 12th and 13th Centuries, and fortunately some of this decorative scheme survives in the window splays. At the other end of the church in the west window of the south aisle is glass by Jones & Willis of 1933, a not unsuccessful attempt at an Arts and Crafts style, depicting the church's patron saint rescuing a deer. Underneath is the legend Given by the Children of the Parish of St Giles.

Simon Knott, December 2021

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looking east apsed chancel sanctuary
apse reredos apse canopy of honour
St Giles Blessed Virgin and St Joseph with Christ I am the Resurrection, Come unto me
painted window splay The Men from this Parish who gave their lives in the Great War painted window splay


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