Lonely and somewhat pathetic it stands - a place of infinite interest and undoubted attraction, and yet so seemingly remote and forsaken that even the mighty, cathedral-like church of Holy Trinity is more or less ignored by the many. But there are others-Americans, Australians, visitors from the four corners of the earth - for whom Blythburgh village and Blythburgh Church possess a charm that proves them something greater than mere land marks in the county of Suffolk, and to these appreciative visitors an hour spent in the district is not an hour wasted, but a time of acute interest and unalloyed pleasure. Journeying along the Great Yarmouth road, with its rolling expanse of heathland and woods and fields, the traveller probably thinks that he is going through some of the must out- of-the-way and wildest parts of Suffolk imaginable, and in this supposition he is not far from the truth. For miles - or so at least it appears - he seems to have reached the end of everything, and the first sign that causes him to realise that civilisation is not, after all, so far away as he imagined is the tower of Blythburgh Church - a tower, which reared on high to the West of the road, gives a fleeting impression of magnitude and importance.

But once Blythburgh village itself is gained, such au idea is immediately dashed to the ground. For although from the distance the village seems to be almost - to use a hackneyed expression-an oasis amid all the wildness and solitude of the surrounding countryside, the place soon appears as it really is - a village of small thatched and tiled cottages, farmhouses and cultivated fields, with the somewhat dismal expanse of the river behind, and above all its ancient and once magnificent church, a shell as it were, of its former self.

To stroll around Blythburgh Church is at once an object-lesson and an excuse for wonder-a saddening experience and a pleasure that such treasures have not altogether gone into decay. For although the church – some hundred and thirty feet long by over fifty broad ---has suffered much throughout the centuries it is still a place of pilgrimage for those who appreciate the treasures of the past - a past of some splendour, when Holy Trinity was the house of worship for the inhabitants of a large and flourishing port.

In the long ago, Blythburgh was not only a place of some size, but a town of affluence, and like several others in North-Fast Suffolk, its business gradually declined until it eventually became the small and insignificant village it is today. This loss of prosperity seems to have occurred chiefly through the choking up of its rivers-and a river has often been the artery of most small towns - so that Blythburgh has now only the wonders of its dead past to muse upon - a past far from inglorious, and full of incident.

The church now consists of nave, lower chancel, aisles and South porch, and, with the exception of the tower, was probably erected during the latter part of the fifteenth century. In 1442 John Greyse left twenty marks towards the rebuilding of the chancel, and various bequests of a similar nature were made for about thirty years afterwards. Undoubtedly the oldest part of the edifice is the embattled Western tower, which is Norman, and now contains one bell, whilst at one time it possessed a spire. In the church is a "Peter Pence" box, most uncommon in the country. At one time the windows seem to have been extremely beautiful being richly decorated with tracery, and several of them contained images. In fact prior to the Reformation there were a large number of these latter in various positions including representations of St.Mary and St.Anne, and in the will of a certain Robert Pine. dated 1457, he orders his executors to glaze a window in the North side and paint it with the history of St. Andrew. For much of the destruction, which has unfortunately occurred, neglect is undoubtedly responsible, but it is also less true that the ready hand of Dowsing has left its fell mark to a considerable extent.

Some of the old bench-ends-it is a sad commentary on the decline of Blythburgh that only the nave now possesses seating accommodation-show various strange carvings which the magnificent work of our ancient craftsmen has made familiar. Near the vestry is the small figure of a man clad in armour of the sixteenth century and holding a battle-axe. This was formerly on the ladder in the tower, and is commonly called "Jack-smite-the-Clock," because it strikes a bell for various purposes. The chancel contains a tomb with a marble canopy, and according to some authorities, this is believed to belong, to either one of the Swillington family, who were Lords of the Manor here centuries back, or to another Lord of the Manor, Sir John Hopton, Knight, who founded a chantry dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin in the 30th year of the reign of Henry the Sixth. Others aver, however, that it marks the resting-place of either Anna, the first King of the East Angles, or that of his son Firminius. Anna, and his son were both slain in 654 whilst fighting against Penda, ruler of the Mercians, at either Blythburgh or Bulcamp -again facts are doubtful, and their bodies were supposed to have been interred in the church, or removed to Bury St. Edmund's. Another place near the South porch has been suggested as Anna’s grave, whilst there is also a tomb in the North aisle, but at any rate it is definitely known that both Sir John Hopton and one of the Swiltington line are buried in the church, so the tombs are much more likely to be theirs than those of the ancient Anglo-Saxons.

Besides the Hopton chantry there is another dedicated to St. Anne, but this presents a bare appearance almost depressing. Perhaps the most beautiful, and at the same time most attractive part of the church, is the magnificent roof of the nave-a roof which, covered with monograms, the figures of angels, and other devices, gives an artistic effect infinitely pleasing. In the North aisle is a tablet to John 5eymour Lucas, member of the Royal Academy, who was born in 1849, and died in 1923. Art is further commemorated by a mural monument to Ernest Crofts, Keeper of the Royal Academy From 1898 to 1911, near this being a further memorial in the form of a stained glass window erected by his wife and daughter.

There are a large number of floorstones, but unfortunately the brasses, and in many cases the inscriptions are missing. In fact, it is a matter of great regret that Blythhurgh Church, despite its size and its magnificent past, seems stripped almost bare of its treasures, so that to the casual glance it seems almost barnlike in its well-nigh empty vastness. For in its immensity there is also something sad, and throughout the whole edifice there runs the memory of so many things dead and almost forgotten, so that its very appearance becomes a tragedy -a tragedy that is at the same time a reproach.

One of the stones in the chancel bears the inscription:

"Here Lyeth ye Body of Mary ye wife of John Fowle of Brome Hall in Ye County of Norfolk Esq. the daughter of Thomas Else of St. Andrew's in this County Esq, and relict of Thomas Neale of Bramfield in ye same County Esq. who departed this Life ye 6 of Dec. 1722 aged 66 year."

Another is to Captain Thomas Meadows, whose death took place in 1729, whilst there is a much earlier one in another part of the church, which has the following:

"Heere Lyeth interred the body of Mr. Thomas Brock of Darsham, who deceased this Life ye 24th of June 1667 aged 48 years Leaving behind him Mrs. Mary Brock his Wife and Thomas Brock his sonn and Mary Brock his Daughter."

There is a modern shrine presented by the wife and sister of Lieutenant-Colonel Dudley George Blois, D.S.O., who was killed in the disastrous Somme Battle of 1916, and this contains the Roll of Honour for those Blythburgh men who made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War.

Believed to be of Norman work, the font has a large fourteenth century platform, upon which is a worn inscription in Latin, practically indecipherable, whilst the pulpit and lectern arc beautifully carved in oak. Some of the choir-stalls, believed to belong to tile, sixteenth century, have ink-wells attached, in connection with which there is a story I am unable to discover. The rood steps are in excellent state of preservation, although, as would only be expected, the loft has disappeared. There are a few remains of the original stained glass, and an attractive fifteenth century screen, has which has been partly restored. Several piscinae are distributed in various parts of the church, one being in the chancel.

As far as the outside of the building is concerned, this presents some unique features. For instance, the South porch - restored in 1906-has surely one of the largest and most magnificent holy-water stoups it is possible to see, whilst the porch itself consists of two storeys, and positions about the church. In the ceiling was at one time the carving of a man in a sitting position which has been suggested as representing either Henry the Sixth or the Holy Trinity. The chancel window is also interesting, above it being a parapet with pinnacles at each corner, and the figure of a king seated upon a throne in the centre, whilst below the window are eleven antique letters, each surmounted by a crown, although, unfortunately, the hand of time has dealt rather unkindly with the appearance.

Mention has already been made that the decay in the prosperity of B1ythburgh was partly due to the river which transformed the place from a large town into it more or less insignificant village. How important it was is proved by the fact that the sessions for the division of Beccles took place here centuries back, whilst it also had a weekly market, and at least two annual fairs, held on February 2nd, and September 8th - privileges which were obtained by the Lord of the Manor, John de Clavering, in the seventeenth year of the reign of Edward the Second. A priory for Black Canons was founded here, probably as a cell to the Abbey of St.Osyth, during the time of the first Henry, and in 1528 Cardinal Wolsey obtained a grant of this from the Pope to endow his college in Ipswich.It was later given to Sir Arthur Hopton, the Lord of the Manor, when "Bluff King Hal" set his face against the monastic orders, ant the loss of this priory had a considerable effect on the business affairs of the town, and no doubt contributed towards its commercial deterioration. Part of the remains of the building have been utilised for the repair of roads and other purposes-an instance of crass ignorance and folly, and public lack of interest. Another religious house- Holy Rood Chapel – stood on the north side of the main street, and some of its walls were standing until about the middle of the 18thth century.

Another calamity which overtook the town and had a bearing on its decline was a terrible conflagration, which destroyed a large number of buildings in the year 1677, or thereabouts. Through this disastrous affair, and despite the fact that over £1,800 was raised for those unfortunate inhabitants who had suffered the loss of their homes, many of the people were either unable or unwilling to rebuild, with the result that they removed to other places. A severe storm is recorded as having occurred on August 4thth 1577, which happened during Divine service, and besides badly damaging the church, burned several persons, and killed a man and a boy.

One of the walks near the town was once the scene of a gruesome event-the execution of Toby Gill, a "black drummer" of Sir Robert Rich's Regiment, who was tried and convicted in 1750 at Bury St. Edmund's for the murder of one Anne Blackmore.

Believed to have been the site of a Roman Camp-and that there is some justification for this idea, is proved by the discovery in 1678 of a number of Roman urns and coins-Blythburgh now possesses a Primitive Methodist Chapel and a railway station-the latter looking strangely out of place in such a spot, where the present seems so subservient to the past. But after all, the past is dead and buried and well nigh forgotten, and neither regrets nor brooding can recall it with its attendant prosperity, nor transform Blythburgh from what it is today-a village, which, although near a busy highway, yet seems far removed from the outside world.
August 26thth 1927