The Church of St. Andrew
St Andrew's Church is a simple but beautiful building standing in a favoured position high above the village, protected on the north-east by the Castle Mound and on the south-west by the River Kennet. The site is an ancient one. The church sits on a raised oval churchyard, partially levelled at the west end in the late 19th century, which indicates that it is probably a pagan holy site.
It was first recorded in the Domesday survey with an endowment of 20 acres of land. Nothing of this early, probably wooden, building remains. The present flint and stone structure was built by successive Bishops of Rochester between the 13th and 14th centuries. In 1867-1869 major restoration and alterations were sympathetically carried out by the architect G. E. Street. Work included a new vestry, south porch, tiled floor, roof decoration and stained glass windows. A decade or so later the thatched roof was replaced with clay tile.
The Chancel was completed in the early 13th century. The east above the altar takes the form of a triple lancet with intersecting mullions and dates from around 1300 and illustrates three episodes from the life of Christ: the Nativity, the Last Supper and the discovery of the empty tomb. (1) The glass is modern, circa 1869, by John Hardman and is considered to be a good example of his work in East Anglia. Two recently restored commandment boards of the Lord's Prayer and The Creed, dating from 1845, stand either side of the altar.
In the south wall, close to the altar, is a late 13th century double piscina. Above it, a band of carved stonework is finished with a decorated corbel from which the head of a small lizard can be seen emerging from the foliage. There are other animal carvings, possibly representing lion's heads, on the altar. Three stained glass windows adorn the chancel's south wall: the first in two panes of the Annunciation (2), designed and installed by the rector, the Rev. Henry Henman (1897-1917). The second illustrates the Christ child debating with the elders in the Temple (3) and the third and largest window portrays the Healing of the Leper (4), its sill graduated for a sedilia, or seats for the priest and attendants. All the stained glass is modern, dating from the late Victorian period.
The chancel roof is canted and dates from the 15th century. It has painted bosses at the intersections, one taking the form of a Green Man. During the restoration, small painted shields, alternately depicting St Andrew's crosses and the crossed keys of St Peter, were added in honour of Peterhouse College, Cambridge, who acquired the advowson in 1750. The pulpit is a simple octagon of Caen stone.
The nave is fourteenth century. Two windows have been cut into the roof space, so positioned to illuminate the rood screen, no trace of which now remains. The south light, considerably deeper than the north, introduces a graceful division between window styles on the exterior elevation. The windows here date from the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries and are filled with modern plain glass. The plain south door is late 13th century, shown here decorated for the annual flower festival but the south porch was rebuilt during the Victorian restoration.
The oak bench ends are carved, some with poppy heads demonstrating the mediaeval woodcarvers' art. A pelican in her piety, a lion, eagle, a clerk reading his bible, a nun telling her beads, a lady at a prayer desk, a maiden at prayer, an angel with a scroll, and a devil thrusting a sinner into the jaws of hell represented by the monster's mouth.
The fourteenth century north aisle is divided from the nave by five arches, supported by three graceful quatrefoil limestone pillars. The easternmost arch is late fifteenth century and opens into a chapel of the same date, the remaining arches are slightly earlier. Its roof is supported by richly carved tie-beams finished with small carved angels with folded wings. The brace-ends terminate in carved heads. The font is a plain stone octagon. The tiled floor was laid during the 19th century restoration.
On the north wall is a curious 15th century alabaster plaque of (5), patron saint of blacksmiths. It was discovered in 1777 reversed and plastered into the wall, presumably for protection against Puritan iconoclasts. Legend has it that St Eligius intervened to help shoe an unruly horse by the simple expedient of detaching the leg, then miraculously reattaching it newly shod, with no ill effects to the beast. The plaque depicts the saint in a typical blacksmith's shop, dressed in his bishop's robe and mitre, with the severed limb in his left hand and a hammer in his right, while a tiny three-legged horse waits patiently nearby supported in a blacksmith's cradle. There was a similar cradle, designed to hold unruly horses, still in use in the forge at Freckenham as late as the 1890's.
The square flint tower was constructed in the fifteenth century, originally to a height of sixty-two feet. The tower fell in late December 1882, luckily away from the main fabric of the church. It was rebuilt in 1884 in the same style but two feet higher. The fine stained glass window is of SS Peter and Andrew.
There are five bells: two from the seventeenth century, one from the eighteenth and two from the nineteenth century. The treble is inscribed William Dobson fecit Downham Norfolk 1809, and weighs approximately five hundredweight. The second and third bells are inscribed John Draper made me 1623, and weigh approximately five and a half and seven hundredweight respectively. The fourth, inscribed The Revd H Bates, Wm Westrop, Wm Mainprice, Churchwardens 1809, was cast by William Dobson, grandson of Thomas Osborn of Downham Market, and weighs around nine hundredweight. The tenor bell weighs a mighty ten and a half hundredweight and is inscribed T Osborn fecit 1792.
Three peals of 5040 changes have been rung since 1937 when they were rehung with modern bearings and fittings. An unusual Sunday custom, discontinued in the early 1950s, was the tolling of the days of the month after early morning service.
Sources: Suffolk Archaeology, FRK 019/02681: Ernest Callard, The Manor of Freckenham, London (1924), pp. 92-121; David Hey, The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History, OUP, (1996), p. 92
© Sandie Geddes & Robert Oakley, March 2000
A Forest Heath District Council (Suffolk) Project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Millennium Festival ©2000 Designed by ArtAtac