There has been a church on the Market Square in Haverhill since at least the early 1300s, which eventually became the principle parish church for the town of Haverhill.
More of the history has been documented by local historian Roy Tricker.
The History of St Mary's Church Haverhill
The medieval town first developed around Burton End, where there was an 11th-century parish church, dedicated to St. Mary’s, called Bovetownchurch. (In the 19th century this name was misrepresented to become St. Botolph's.) A second church also dedicated to St Mary’s, was established in the 13th century on the main highway, and was referred to as ‘the Chapel’ in the very early days.
Both churches were for many years under the patronage of Castle Acre in Norfolk. In 1551, however, the people requested that St Botolph’s be abandoned, and now nothing remains of that church. The town centre and the market then shifted to its present position around the church of St Mary’s.
Set now in the heart of the town, beside the market square, where a market is held on Fridays and Saturdays, the church’s venerable walls inspire people and minister to them simply by being there. Like all old churches, St Mary’s is a place where people of all faiths or of none may find beauty and inspiration, and which Christians may look upon as their spiritual home.
How old is the Church?
There are elements of the church possibly dating back to the 1200s. However, St Mary’s has been altered and restored over the centuries by people of different artistic tastes and Christian traditions, evolving to become the building we see today. Some of the landmarks in its history are given below.
Although there was a church here before this time (and it could be that the blocked arch in the north chancel wall is a lancet window of the 1200s), the earliest dateable work is in the lower parts of the tower (early 1300s). At the level of the present clock chamber, the single windows replaced larger openings (see from inside), which were probably the original belfry windows before the tower was heightened by its present belfry stage (in the 1400s).
This was a century of prolific church building and the fabric of St Mary’s received much of its character (the aisles with their Perpendicular windows, the Lady Chapel and the upper parts of the tower). Internally, the building was adorned with colour, and carvings in wood, stone and glass presented an array of visual aids to teach the faith to ordinary people who could not read or understand the Latin of the services and scriptures.
St Mary’s must have been sumptuously decorated in mediaeval times because, when William Dowsing came to inspect it for ‘superstitious images and inscriptions’ on 6th January 1643, he reported, “We brake down about 100 superstitious pictures, and seven fryars hugging a Nunn; a picture of God and Christ: and diverse others, very superstitious; and 200 had been broke down before I came. We took away two popish inscriptions with ‘Ora pro nobis’ (Pray for us) and we beat down a great stone cross on the top of the church”. Doubtless the 300 or so ‘pictures’ were stained glass and screen paintings, wall paintings, etc.
1667 A year after the ‘Great Fire of London’, Haverhill was itself devastated by a terrible fire, reducing many of its houses (including the vicarage) to ashes and destroying everything combustible in the church, leaving only the walls, arcades and tower standing. Lord Allington of Horseheath Hall was so moved by a sermon preached in his church by Haverhill’s vicar (the Reverend Benjamin Lathan), that he provided from his estate all the timber needed to repair the building which, with new roofs and furnishings, was soon back in use again.
When William Cole visited the church in 1744, he noted that the internal walls were ‘curiously painted’, with festoons in black and white, also at the west end with the names of churchwardens (Daniel Aldous and John Rolles) and the date 1689, and over the south chapel door the arms of (another) Mr Cole, who caused the work to be done by a German artist – a Mr Rite – who was an old man still living in Cambridge when Mr Cole wrote. Beneath the chancel arch was a screen, painted with the Ten Commandments and the figure of Moses. David Elisha Davy, who visited the church in 1831, noted that above the communion table was a ‘heavy altarpiece’, inscribed with the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed and adorned with woodwork, carved with leaves, flowers and festoons – clearly this and the screen were fine, late 17th-century pieces. In 1744, the pulpit stood against the second pillar from the east on the north side, with the font almost opposite, but by 1831 the pulpit had been moved to the south side of the chancel arch and the font to the south chapel. About 1887, a brick vestry was built to the east of the chapel and in 1898 the vicar, the Reverend Charles Hayward, had an organ erected in the gallery, which filled the west end of the nave. He also filled the east window with figures and ten coats of arms in old glass, which he had acquired from Hedingham, Dunmow, Clare and elsewhere. Alterations were made to the pews in 1823 and a plan of around 1865 shows the entire nave filled with a single block of eastward-facing pews (without a central gangway). There were further blocks in the aisles. Large box-pews stood beneath the west gallery, also at the eastern ends of the aisles, facing the commodious pulpit and reading-desk, and four box-pews filled the north side of the chancel.
The church, which was closed for over 12 months, was transformed at a cost of £2,300 by a thorough restoration to the designs of Edmund Elmslie and Frederick Franey of Parliament St., London (architects of Haverhill’s twin cemetery chapels, built in the same year). On the building committee was Mr Daniel Gurteen, Haverhill’s principal factory owner and prominent Nonconformist, who gave the town its town hall, also the splendid tower and spire (120 feet high) of the United Reform Church.
The fabric of St Mary’s (apart from the tower) was put in order: new floors were laid, new arcades built and new roofs constructed. The panelled nave ceiling and chancel roof were painted by Messrs Heaton, Butler & Bayne. The west gallery and pews were removed, the organ was replaced in the south chapel and the interior was furnished with new benches, stalls, pulpit, altar, font and alabaster reredos. The work was executed by Mr E M Green of Haverhill and Mr Edward Keogh of Sudbury (stonework) and Messrs Mason & Son of Haverhill (woodwork). At the re-opening service on Thursday, 14th November, 1867, the Bishop of Ely and Lord Arthur Hervey, Archdeacon of Sudbury, preached and the collection realised £72.17s. The 80-year-old vicar, the Reverend Robert Roberts, celebrated the 52nd anniversary of his institution.
In 1897 the brick vestry was replaced by a new one on the north side, to the design of J K Colling of London.
The 20th Century
Much was done in this century to maintain and beautify the church. The tower was restored, two bells re-cast and a new bell added. The completed work was dedicated by the Bishop of Ely on 10th February, 1904. In 1910, Colling’s vestry was replaced by a larger vestry and organ chamber to the designs of H Brown Thake of Haverhill. During the 1920s, the interior was beautified with chancel and Lady Chapel screens. A major re-ordering took place in 1985, when the western part of the nave was converted to provide welcome and community areas, using wooden glazed screens, under the direction of Mr Andrew Earl of Whitworth, Hall & Thomas of Bury St Edmunds. The latest addition – the nave altar – was dedicated in October 1993.
The Exterior of the Church
Although St Mary’s lacks the airs and graces of some other mighty East Anglian churches, it nevertheless has the dignity and ‘feel’ of a Suffolk market-town church. It grows out of the town’s centre and it is worth standing back to admire the building as a whole, with the open area to the north and the green oasis to the south. Its walls are of flint-rubble and, although most of the stonework of the windows and doorways was renewed in 1867, the restorers did their best to reproduce the mediaeval originals.
Look for the variety of carved heads and creatures that peer out from the sides of some of the windows and doorways and from the string-courses beneath the parapets, some of which serve as gargoyles to throw rainwater clear of the walls.
All of the windows in the body of the church are in the Perpendicular style of architecture, which evolved between 1375-1550. Those in the north aisle have three lights.
The north doorway, with its fine stone carving is a reproduction of the 15th-century original; its doors probably date from the rebuilding of around 1668-9. Beside it is a holy water stoup beneath a renewed arch. Here people dipped their fingers in the holy water and made a sign of the cross as an act of symbolic cleansing and rededication upon entering the sacred building. There is also a stoup in the south porch.
In the north-east corner is the embattled staircase turret, which has access to the rood-loft and the nave roof.
The handsome south aisle and its eastern chapel are crowned with battlements and pinnacles, and are lit by wide and elegant, three- and four-light Late Perpendicular windows. Above the aisles rises the nave clerestory – also embattled and lit by two-light windows. Notice the four fascinating creatures beneath its southern parapet. The chancel has a large, five-light east window and a three-light south window.
The 15th-century porch has an embattled parapet with pinnacles. Again there is much renewed stonework here, but the doors which it shelters are probably those provided around 1668-9 and three mediaeval corbels which supported its original roof remain at the corners.
The western tower is elegantly proportioned, reaching a height of 71 feet to the battlements and 75 feet to the summit of the south-east staircase turret (rebuilt in 1851), which rises above the parapet and is a feature of several towers in south-west Suffolk (including Withersfield and Great Bradley). The west window (with some original stonework) dates from around 1330 and traces of the original 14th-century belfry windows may be seen inside at clock level. The present 15th-century belfry windows are unusually tall and are divided horizontally. Beside the northern one are the remains of a simple niche. The tower is crowned by an embattled parapet, with three curious, mediaeval carved creatures, each about three feet tall, peering out over Haverhill from the corners.
The interior of the Church
The 1985 remodelling divided the interior into three distinct areas: the welcome area, the community area and the worship area, showing that this is not a museum, but a working building, equipped to serve its people.
Arcades of five bays divide the aisles from the nave and a further two bays divide the Lady Chapel from the chancel. These were entirely renewed (in the 15th-century style) in 1867, their predecessors having been found to be dangerous. Also of 1867 are the aisle roofs, the flat panelled nave ceiling and the arched and panelled chancel ceiling. Some of the carved corbel heads supporting the aisle roofs are thought to be mediaeval; many have very distinctive faces and could have been modelled upon real people.
The two western bays now form an attractive welcome area in the south aisle and the community area in the nave and north aisle. The former chancel screen (given in 1924 by the Bigmore family) is a fine piece of wood-carving in the 15th-century fashion. The community area is self-contained, although its screen (1985) can be opened to extend the worship area for larger services. Within this area there are two stone plaques listing the vicars of Haverhill from 1146. The tower arch, although renewed, originally may have dated from the early 1300s. Nearby is the original entrance to the staircase turret, blocked in 1851, when the external entrance was made to the 80 steps that gave access to the chambers above.
The tower contains a ring of six bells: two were recast and another added by John Warner of London in 1902-3; another two were cast at John Darbie’s Ipswich bellfoundry in 1669. The tenor bell, cast by Thomas Newman of Norwich in 1729, has a diameter of 3’ 5” and weighs about 12 cwt. Although the upper stages of the tower are lined internally with later brick, pieces of ancient stonework survive, some inscribed with graffiti of the 1600s and 1700s. In the nave’s west wall is a Sanctus bell window, giving a view of the altar from the ringing chamber so that a bell could be rung at the climax of the daily Eucharist to enable those unable to be present to join in the prayer.
The worship area has been adapted to give the sense of belonging together as a Christian family, worshipping around the nave altar, yet in a lofty and historic building, with chancel, nave and aisles.
In the nave and aisles, the benches, oak pulpit and font were part of Elmslie & Franey’s 1867 refurbishment. The modern font cover, in memory of Stella Fuller, who died in 1967, was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd, who planned the 1960’s expansion of the town and was also the Master Planner of Harlow New Town and the architect of Liverpool’s Roman Catholic cathedral.
At the east end of the south aisle is the old 17th-century communion table and a 16th-century parish chest, where documents and valuables were stored. This sturdy piece of craftsmanship, decorated with linenfold panelling, must have survived the 1667 fire.
The Lady Chapel screen was designed and carved by three local brothers named Wilson, in memory of those who died in World War 1. The little memorial to the fallen, with its crucifix, is a reminder of the moderate catholic tradition, which developed here under Canon W G Hodges (vicar, 1918-41) in whose memory the lecturn was made, also by the Wilsons.
In front of the chancel arch stands the nave altar, made in oak by Compasses Joinery of Stradishall and dedicated on 3rd October, 1993 in memory of Ken Morgan, a faithful parishioner.
An archway, cut through the wall on the north side of the chancel arch, gives access to the roof loft staircase that leads to the loft (or gallery) over the mediaeval screen, which long ago stood beneath the chancel arch.
The chancel stalls, with their poppy head ends, date from 1867. The organ is on the south side, in its chamber. It is a two-manual and pedal instrument with 18 speaking stops by Miller of Cambridge and was rebuilt by Hill, Norman & Bears in 1938 and thought to incorporate some old pipe work from the original organ in the west gallery. The blocked arch in the chancel’s north wall may have been a niche, or possibly a lancet window: if the latter, then it dates this wall back to the 1200s.
The communion rails, a memorial to Catherine Heckford, who died in 1952, stand at the entrance to the sanctuary, containing the high altar. In the south wall here, the windowsill has been lowered to form a sedilia, where the celebrant, deacon and subdeacon sat during parts of the mediaeval mass. Nearby, beneath a cinquefoil-headed recess, is the piscine drain, into which was poured the water from the washing of the priest’s hands at the Eucharist. On the north side of the sanctuary is an iron chest of considerable age.
The Lady Chapel forms a bright, intimate and devotional corner for small services and for quiet thought and prayer. Its communion rails were made by Mr Harold Onion, a local craftsman, and the altar by a local firm, Masons. The chapel was renovated in memory of William Farrant, who died in 1937. The aumbry was installed in 1991. The white light tells us that the aumbry contains some of the bread and wine from the Eucharist, reserved so that it can be taken to the sick and dying. It also reminds us of the special presence of Our Lord in this building.
Some of the furnishings already mentioned have been given in memory of past worshippers and the church contains a variety of memorials to people who have been part of St Mary’s and its community. These include:
- (welcome area) John Neville, 1773, and his wife Frances, who died in 1820, aged 102 years. This unusual memorial is painted on wood.
- (welcome area) The Reverend Thomas Milway, 1787. He was a ‘dissenting minister’ and his inscription tells us ‘What his character was / Will be known at that day / READER / Think what thine then will be’!
- (welcome area) His wife, Dorothy Milway, 1795.
- (nave west wall) Two diamond-shaped hatchments: one for a member of the Howland family (probably George Howland, who was Lord of the Manor in the late 1700s) and the other for Thomas Hungate, who died in 1729. Hatchments were hung for a time outside the home of a deceased person, before being brought for permanent display in the parish church.
- (north aisle) Edward Griggs (churchwarden), 1911 and Emma, 1927.
- (north aisle) Miss Joanna Howland, 1815. The inscription for this 92-year-old spinster informs us that ‘She bore a tedious illness of years …’
- (north aisle) The Reverend Charles Hayward, 1807 (aged 40). He introduced an organ to the church and filled the east window of his day with old glass.
- (north aisle) A beautiful headstone from the churchyard, for Charles Hardy Cocke, 1782 and Mary, 1790. In the floor nearby are some ledger slabs with very worn inscriptions.
- (Lady Chapel, south wall) A plaque to three of the Reverend Robert Robert’s children: Robert (died 1855, aged 33), Priscilla (died 1852, aged 23) and Harriet (died 1827, aged 9 months).
- (chancel, north wall) The church’s finest memorial commemorates Dr John Warde, an Elizabethan vicar here and an eloquent preacher, with strong Puritan leanings, who died in 1602. He was the father of Samuel Ward, well known in Ipswich as its ‘Town Preacher and Lecturer’ from 1605-1635, and also of Nathaniel, who, having preached in Germany and held a living in Essex, went to settle and preach in Massachusetts and of John, who was also a preacher of the Gospel. This curious memorial is surrounded by rather crude strapwork and its inscription (now rather difficult to read) is in Latin and English and is framed with mottos like ‘Watch, Warde’, ‘Lightes here’ and ‘Starrs hereafter’. The framed portrait beside the memorial is dated 1622 and shows John’s eldest son, Samuel Ward.
- (chancel) The Reverend Robert Roberts, who died on Christmas Day 1875, aged 88 years.
This was a superb teaching aid for mediaeval people and St Mary’s must have had a very fine array of mediaeval glass until Dowsing and the locals removed it in 1643. Even the glass which the Reverend Charles Hayward imported for the east window has long disappeared. Some of the windows are now filled with colourful scenes in 19th- and 20th-century glass, mostly given as memorials, which are as follows:
- (Tower, West Window) ‘The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple’ and ‘Noah and his Family after the Flood’, by Gibbs & Howard of London, around 1880-90.
- (South Aisle, West Window) Re-set figures of St Paul, King David, a bishop and Roman solider (St Alban?)
- (South Aisle, 4th from West) SS John, Paul, Peter and James with their emblems, by Percy Bacon of London. In memory of James Manders Walker (vicar 1896-1900) and his wife, Anne.
- (North Aisle, Eastern Window) ‘Jesus with the Children’, by Percy Bacon. “From the children here new-born, Easter, 1900.”
- (Lady Chapel, East Window) ‘The Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel to Mary’ and ‘The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple’. In memory of Jane, widow of William Wakelin Boreham (a local brewer). Made by Shrigley & Hunt in 1897.
- (Chancel, East Window) This was given by Mr H W Jackson (a local solicitor) at the 1867 restoration. It is a splendid window, probably by Clayton & Bell, showing the Crucifixion as its main subject, beneath which are ten scenes tracing the story of Our Lord’s Passion from His Agony in the Garden to the carrying of His cross to crucifixion.
With thanks to Roy Tricker, 1994 - and acknowledgement to Michael Horne).
St Mary's Woodwose
The St Mary’s Woodwose is to be found on the north end of the church tower. Although woodwose are often found inside churches, sometimes carved on the end of pews, around the base of fonts, in arch spandrels, etc., it is believed that this is the only woodwose on a tower in Suffolk.
The Woodwose is a creature that appears in the artwork and literature of mediaeval Europe. It resembles the Sasquatch, also known as ‘Bigfoot’. The Anglo Saxon version of the name was ‘Wuduwase’ (wood being) and the defining characteristic of the Woodwose was its wildness; from the 12th century they were consistently depicted as being bearded and covered with hair. Unlike the Bigfoot however, the Woodwose is not thought to be ape-like, but rather more human in appearance.
Reports of woodwose have come from several continents; sightings range from the lakes of Scotland, to the mountains of the Himalayas, to the Pacific Northwest of America.
The exact origins of the woodwose are unclear. Some people believe that they were forest-dwelling aboriginals, possibly the last surviving community of Neanderthals. Others believe that they were originally human beings who had moved to the forests in search of food and then settled there. Others believe that they were a particular genus of human being, with extra hair on their body and of a wild nature, who had been left to the forest by mainstream human society.