The Thurlows

Village News & Information

The churches

The two buildings in the village that have survived through the centuries are, of course, the churches of St Peter in Little Thurlow and All Saints in Great Thurlow. The earliest reference is in Domesday and the first recorded priest assigned to Little Thurlow was Rob. Fitzwalter in 1279. The fonts in both churches are about eight hundred years old. The graffiti in Great Thurlow church depict archers practising with long bows which were used to great effect in the Battle of Agincourt in 1425. Other graffiti include music notation, a drawing of a decorated period window, gaming boards, wool shears, a marionette and a depiction of Moses transforming the rod into a snake. The shields inscribed into the arch of the Lady Chapel seem to indicate that the chapel may have been used for some kind of ceremony, possibly connected with the order of knighthood.

Village churches encapsulate the continuity and change in the life of a village, and as we look at the churches as they are now it is easy to assume that it has always been the same; but not so. The churches have changed tremendously through the years. The present fonts probably once graced small Norman naves, similar to the very early nave at Little Bradley. In Little Thurlow church we can tell that extensive building work took place in the thirteenth century, by the three piscinae which exist. The double drain piscina (one side was used for the priest to wash his hands and the other to wash the sacramental vessels) in the chancel can be dated to around 1300. The other two in the aisles prove the existence of secondary altars.

The new large windows inserted in the 14th century would have lit an interior rich in colour, the walls painted, the glass itself probably stained, and the pictures providing a comprehensible illustration to a largely illiterate population. A rood screen would have separated the chancel, which was the priest's church, from the nave, which was the people's church. The huge wooden screen with a large crucifix (the rood), maybe flanked by the Virgin Mary and St John, would have dominated the interior in the 15th and early 16th centuries, the only remnant now being the base, stencilled with simple coloured flowers. Many rood screens had a loft, accessed by a small winding stair (which in the case of the church in Little Thurlow is only 15´´ wide), from which musicians played their instruments. Evidence of this period comes also from the ornamental brasses that can be found in both churches, providing wonderful examples of the dress and armour of the time.

Edward VI (1537 - 1553) decreed that such decorations should be removed, so images were torn down and the rood screens were dismantled, although some were re-instated when Mary, a staunch Catholic, came to the throne in 1553. Her reign was short, and Elizabeth I acceded to the throne in 1558, decreeing that England should become a stable Protestant nation. She wanted a standard religion, and indeed the version of her Prayer book (originally printed in six languages by John Daye of Little Bradley) is still used today. The damage to the interior decoration of the churches had been done, the vibrant colours were painted over and much of the ornate carving disappeared.

Further desecration took place during the Puritan uprising in 1649 when Cromwell strove to remove all signs of idolatry from the church. The church became a preaching house with the emphasis on the pulpit, not the altar, and pews were introduced with the most ornate pews for the members of the big house. St Peter's is a good example, with the large box pew in the chancel. The Soame family enlarged the church to accommodate the enormous memorial to Sir Stephen Soame, which comprises recumbent alabaster effigies of Sir Stephen and his wife and the kneeling figures of his family. It is likely that the family also inserted the clerestory windows and the altar rails during the 1600’s.

In common with countless other country churches, the present interiors of both churches have been much restored in the later centuries. All Saints was restored in 1741 by the Vernon family (who also owned estates in Hundon) and again in 1880. Holdich of London built the organ in 1782 and it was again restored in 1981. The present interiors owe more to these restorations than any other age and St Peter’s was 'new pewed ' in 1843 when the choir stalls were installed. The oak pulpit is dated 1876 and probably replaced a much more ornate affair, although the brass chandelier is much earlier and dates from 1720, as does the 18th century sundial on the south face of the tower.

In addition, the church has several interesting memorial tablets referring to the Soame family, including one referring to a family member of Belle Garden in Tobago, a reflection of the far-flung business interests of the family. Others are memorials to previous incumbents of the living, but one tucked away in the tower offers a salutary warning to us all.

Beneathhis fav'rite Bell poor Andrew lies
No pitying Naiade heard his dying cries
When in the Stour he fell, His Spirit rose
To brighter Climes and left this World of woes
Paues Ringer, Pause for serious thought on vast Eternity,
Perhaps thy God this night may claim
The forfeit Life of thee.