Bures, St Mary's Church
Bures, St Mary's Church
The imposing church of St Mary's gives its name to the Suffolk version of Bures (technically, there is no such place as Bures; on the Suffolk side of the River Stour is Bures St Mary's, and on the Essex side is Bures Hamlet). The church dates in part to the 13th century, but much of the present building is 14th century. There was obviously an earlier church on the site, as the list of clergy goes back all the way to 1180.

The most immediately impressive feature of the exterior is the Early Decorated tower, which has extremely sturdy angle buttresses rising up almost its full height. But architectural historians will soon pass over the tower and turn their attention to the 14th century wooden north porch, one of the finest in Suffolk. The porch's main arch is crafted from two solid oak timbers, and the porch is decorated with open tracery all around.

The 16th-century south porch is an attractive later addition, though this time built not in wood but in brick. This has a water stoup with a carved corbel bowl to the right of the doorway, which is 14th century. The door itself is 15th century, and shows very nice carving detail with bird designs.

There are two outstanding interior features; the Waldegrave memorial and a wooden effigy of a knight. Let's start with the Waldegrave memorial, located in the chapel on the south side of the chancel.

The large standing tomb in the chapel is that of William Waldegrave (d. 1613), his wife Elizabeth, and their ten children. If you take a close look you will see that all the effigies are missing their hands. This may have been the work of that enthusiastic Puritan iconoclast William Dowsing, who came through here in 1643 and records that he broke up '600 superstitious Pictures'.

Painted panels on the Perpendicular font
Painted panels on the
Perpendicular font

Sir William was a powerful local noble, who rebuilt the manor of Smallbridge and entertained Elizabeth I there on two occasions. He also raised troops to fight against the Spanish Armada, but it was this last act that helped impoverish the Bures branch of the family. Against the south wall of the chapel is a tomb chest, now missing its brasses, believed to be that of Sir George Waldegrave.

In the north aisle is the second major monument in the church; a wooden effigy to an unknown knight. This is carved from sweet chestnut wood and dates to about 1330. It shows the knight's armour in great detail and is one of only two such wooden effigies in Suffolk from the early 14th century.

Current thinking is that effigy is that of Sir Richard de Cornard, whose body is thought to be buried under the north wall. Sir Richard's effigy (if indeed it is him) has an odd, polished appearance, due to it having received a coat of paint at some point in the past, presumably with the aim of preserving the carving.

One of the most unusual features of St Mary's is one of the most difficult to spot. Look up on the south side of the pillar supporting the chancel arch and you will see an odd stone projection. This is a piscina, presumably built to serve the now-vanished rood loft. The piscina has a drain hole which empties into the hollow centre of the pillar.

At the east end of the north aisle is a vestry, built by Sir Richard Waldegrave (d. 1410), who was responsible for building the tower. The vestry was rebuilt sometime in the 16th century. Between the vestry and the sanctuary is a much-worn tomb, thought to be that of Sir Richard Waldegrave, the first official Speaker of the House of Commons, and his wife Joan (d. 1406). According to records of the Court of Star Chamber, Sir Richard's tomb slab and canopy served for a time as an Easter Sepulchre.

Under the sanctuary, in a private vault, lie the remains of Mary Constable (d. 1792), the aunt of painter John Constable, who grew up in this area and painted so many of his famous works near here.

The font is 15th century and appears to have been recut. The font faces are decorated with coats of arms including those of the de Vere, Waldegrave, and Mortimer of Clare families.

St Mary's is an attractive church n a lovely location, surrounded by a wealth of historic buildings. It is well worth a visit. While you are exploring Bures, take the time to walk or drive up the hill to St Stephen's Chapel, a 13th-century chapel founded on the site where St Edmund was crowned in 855 AD.