St Mary, Dalham
www.suffolkchurches.co.uk - a journey through the churches of Suffolk
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|Some of the loveliest villages in
East Anglia nestle in the gentle hills along the
Suffolk/Cambridgeshire border south of Newmarket, and
Dalham is one of them. It was years since I had last been
to Dalham. The young River Kennett runs up the western
side of the main street, the Affleck Arms looking
thoroughly inviting beside it. The church sits a good
half a mile from the village, and seems further. The lane
(not much more than a track really) takes off near the
beehive-like 18th Century malt kiln and runs between a
pair of impossibly pretty thatched cottages with their
old fashioned gardens, threading steeply through woods
full of birdsong and bursting with life on a day in
spring or summer, to reach the top of the ridge where the
church sits beside Dalham Hall, looking out across the
Villagers must always have been conscious of coming 'up the hill' to their Masters' church. The churchyard cuts into the Hall grounds from which it is separated by an 18th Century wall and, as James Bettley observes in the revised Buildings of England volume for West Suffolk, it is like another compartment of the Hall's formal gardens. The Hall was home to the Afflecks, who acquired the manor in 1714 just a few years after the Hall had been rebuilt by the Bishop of Ely. The old Hall had been home to the Stutevilles, and we will find the patronage of both families falling heavily both inside and outside the church. The Afflecks held the manor here until the first years of the 20th Century, when the Hall was sold to Cecil Rhodes of all people, although he died before he could take possession.
Beside the porch stands a grand pinnacled monument to General Sir James Affleck, Lord of the Manor, who died in 1833. Walking around the church you come to a quite different memorial set into the north wall of the nave which was also obviously paid for by the Hall. It is to his contemporary Frances Watts, dairy and poultry woman at Dalham Hall twenty nine years, trusty and punctual in her employments, devoutly attendant on the services of the church, diligent in reading the scriptures, having exemplified during a long and painful illness the patience and hope of a faithful Christian, she departed this life on the 30th December 1844 aged 72. Thus, two very different sides of life in an early 19th Century Big House and the relationship between the two. Further on, you come to a very strange extension east of the north aisle towards the vestry. It is now roofless with an open doorway and window slowly sinking into the soft ground, but it was once the 18th Century Affleck mausoleum. In 1901 when the Hall was sold the coffins were removed and buried, and the memorials placed in the north churchyard wall, where, not surprisingly, they quickly became illegible.
The tower is a curiosity. Its crispness is due not to a 19th Century restoration but because it was rebuilt in the early 17th Century when many churches were undergoing beautifying experiences under the influence of the likes of Archbishop Laud. There are inscriptions around the parapet, Reverence My Sanctuary facing eastwards, Keepe My Sabbaths facing south towards the village. The inscription towards the Hall reads Deo Trin Uni Sanctum, another clue to the Laudian imperative here.
That there was an earlier tower we know from wills found by Peter Northeast and Simon Cotton, because in 1454 John Byrde left 6s 8d to the reparation of the bells, although just seven years later Richard Courdon left 20d to the making of the new tower. This seems the wrong way round, unless the tower was already reaching completion, but then five years further on Thomas Stuteville left a larger sum of 20s to the reparation of the tower. Whether this means a repair to an earlier tower or the building of a new one is not clear, and perhaps it was never finished. We shall never know. Certainly by 1625 Sir Martin Stuteville felt it necessary to pay the larger part of the costs of a new one, including a spire which fell half a century later. We know this because the large inscription above the tower arch inside: To the Honor of God this steepl was reedified in the yeere of Our Lord God 1625 by Sir Martin Stuteville Knight patron of this church. Thomas Warner Doctor of Divinity rector of the same. The inhabitants and land-houlders of the town of Dalham. Assisted by the religious bounty of divers barronetts, knights, ladyes, gentlemen, gentlewoemen, and other of the patrons, friend whose offering at his request yelded cleerlie to this worke 124l-1s-4d the whole charge amounting to 400l.
You step into a tall nave, full of light from the clear glass in the aisle windows. The font is a simple early 17th Century octagonal piece, contemporary with the tower. Was it a part of the Laudian-inspired attempt to beautify the church or, intriguingly, a suggestion that the earlier tower had fallen and destroyed the font? Beyond it on the north arcade are faded wall paintings. The most complete is of the Seven Deadly Sins with a seven-pronged tree growing out of the devil's head, as at Hessett, and then comes a fragmentary Seven Works of Mercy. There are traces of painting above the chancel arch which Pevsner thought scenes from the Passion. However, the lower halves of the two figures standing either side of the arch are reminiscent of the Blessed Virgin and St Michael in the same positions on the doom at nearby Cowlinge. There, Mary reaches across with a long wand to tip the balance of St Michael's scales in favour of sinners who have asked her to intercede and I think this is the same thing at Dalham, although here it is St Michael on the north side and the Blessed Virgin on the south.
At the time of the 1851 census of Religious Worship, the parish of Dalham was most unusual in not having a single non-conformist chapel in it, but this can perhaps be explained by the influence of the Hall. The rector (one Reverend J D Affleck) could claim the attendance of roughly a third of the parish population of 583 for his afternoon service that Sunday, a high figure for rural Suffolk, and he was happy to confirm that this was about the usual attendance (most ministers talked up their average congregation for the census). Presumably the dissenters of the parish had to wander over the hills to the Independent chapels at Moulton, Lidgate and Gazeley.
Simon Knott, September 2021
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