WISSINGTON, SUFFOLK

Grid Ref: TL 954 332
Date: 18 May 2010

church spacer door
St. Mary's   Door to vestry
apse   porch
The Apse   Belfry and porch
tympanum   pulpit
Tympanum in the porch   The pulpit
wall painting   nave
North wall showing some of the paintings   The nave and chancel
chancel arch   font
Detail of arch between nave and chancel   The font

Wissington or Wiston, as it is also called, lies just north of the River Stour, roughly equidistant from Sudbury in Suffolk and Colchester in Essex. It is in the parish of Nayland with Wissington, Nayland lying about a mile to the NE. Although there is a road to Wissington from Nayland, we chose to park in Nayland and walk on the footpath on the river side. The church stands within the moated area; part of the moat remains.

At first sight St. Mary's is a Norman church but it underwent substantial restoration in the 19th century which enhanced the Norman appearance. Rosemary Knox in her Guide Book records that Wissington or Wiston is an ancient parish, far older than nearby Nayland, which began as a chapel of ease under Stoke-by-Nayland. Wissington is first recorded in 1135 when it was given by the lord of the manor, Robert Godbold, to the priory of Little Horkesley. Records show that the priory appointed a vicar in 1300. At the Dissolution, the patronage went to the Crown where it remains to the present. Although there are no records of an earlier building on the site, some brickwork has been found below the walls on the south side of the nave.

Inside the porch one can see a Norman tympanum and a holy water stoop. There is a Norman doorway into the vestry and two Norman arches within the church, as shown in my photograph of the nave and chancel. On the north side of the nave the windows are original but those on the south are Victorian copies. The octagonal font is in the Perpendicular style with panels showing angels. There are a large number of wall paintings within the church, dating from the period 1250-75 and illustrating various Biblical scenes such as the nativity, the childhood of Christ, the Last Supper, Crucifixion and Resurrection. On the west wall is the Last Judgement.

In the 18th century the church was modified although some of the work was obscured by the Victorian restoration. The the bell tower dates from 1722 and is believed to have replaced an earlier steeple. By the 19th century the church was neglected because of the common practice at the time of clergy having multiple livings, being absent from their smaller parishes and putting in curates. Charles Birch became vicar in 1832 and lived in the parish. He spent much of his life restoring the church from its state of disrepair. He built the apse on the foundations of an earlier sanctuary and rebuilt the south porch. It was during the restoration work that the wall paintings, covered by whitewash at the Reformation, were rediscovered. Birch obscured them once more and they were found again in 1932.

The church has been named a monument of national importance by English Heritage. In the churchyard is the grave of Dr. Jane Walker, one of the earliest women doctors in England. She trained in Belgium and ran a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients.

Sources:

A Guide Book written by Rosemary Knox, published in 1988 is available at the church.
The Buildings of England, Suffolk, Nicklaus Pevsner, first published in 1961, revised by Enid Radcliffe, Penguin Books, 1974, ISBN 0 14 071020 5
There are many more pictures on the Suffolk Churches site, but they show the church with scaffolding in place. I refer visitors to that site for a more detailed discussion of the wall paintings.

 

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