The Essex Churches Site

 

THE ESSEX CHURCHES SITE

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St Peter and St Paul, Little Horkesley

Little Horkesley

Little Horkesley former arcade base south porch

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  Little Horkesley is one of the small villages in the gentle hills south of the Stour, but something happened here that makes it a little different today than the other villages around here. The first clue to this may be the pub, rebuilt in a typical 1950s manner, and a little further on you come to a church which is also all of a 1050s rebuild. The explanation for this is that its medieval predecessor was struck by a 500lb German parachute mine in the summer of 1940. The mine fell right into the interior of the church, where it exploded. The result was devastating. The thick walls of the church contained the blast momentarily, and then shattered outwards, the tower collapsing. The building was wiped out, as was everything for 500 yards, including the village pub. The debris was scattered over a wide area, parts of the bells landing three miles away on the Suffolk side of the river.

The church was rebuilt in 1957 to the design of Duncan Clark. It is essentially in the style of a late Perpendicular church with a south aisle and chancel clerestory. The effect is surprisingly successful. More to the point, however, is what was rescued from the ruins, remarkably under the circumstances, for Little Horkesley church is home to the largest church collection of wooden effigies and brasses in Essex. Indeed, the early 15th Century Swynburn brass is one of the biggest double figure brasses in England, and the three life size early 14th century wooden effigies of members of the De Horkesley family are also memorable. There is also a triple figure brass, so all in all it must have been quite a church before the destruction.

de Horkesley wooden tomb effigies de Horkesley wooden tomb effigy
de Horkesley wooden tomb effigy de Horkesley wooden tomb effigy de Horkesley wooden tomb effigy
Swynbourne brass three rescued figure brasses
Swynborne brass shrouded corpse Swynborne brass

The interior has the space and openness of the contemporary restorations of London's City churches, but the success of the new building is to a large extent due to the happy choice of Hugh Powell for the glass in the chancel and at the east end of the aisle. The scheme was complete by 1963, creating a jewel-like intimacy that draws the eyes. The main window depicts the Holy Family above perky snapshots of the shepherds and the magi, the figures of the church's patrons flanking the scene. The other window depicts scenes in the resurrection story of St Mary Magdalene, as she helps take Christ down from the cross, meets the risen Christ in the garden and then returns to tell the disciples what she has seen..

Holy family flanked by St Peter and St Paul three shepherds (Hugh Powell, 1961) three magi (Hugh Powell, 1961) St Peter's keys (detail) by Hugh Powell, 1961
deposition, noli me tangere, he is risen by Hugh Powell, 1963 Christ taken down from the Cross by Hugh Powell, 1963 Mary Magdalene meets the Risen Christ in the garden by Hugh Powell, 1963 Mary Magdalene tells the Disciples that Christ is alive by Hugh Powell, 1963

Having compared the interior to the restored City of London churches, it is worth saying that here you are never in any doubt that you are in a village church. This is partly the success of Clark's light-filled Perpendicular interior which lets the countryside in rather than attempting to block the city out, but it is also a result of the success of the Powell glass, which although entirely 1960s in style is intricate in a way familiar from the late 15th Century, with details and small scenes and larger figures that do not dominate. Churches completely rebuilt after war damage are not common in East Anglia, though there is another not so very far away at Chelmondiston in Suffolk, and that would be enough to make a visit here worthwhile, and that's even before you consider the salvaged treasures within.

Simon Knott, May 2020

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looking east south aisle with effigies font
St Peter St Paul St Joseph
St Joseph's lamb Blessed Virgin St Peter's fish

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