Saturday, 5 January 2019

Enoch Girling put it out

One of my Christmas highlights was the series of Late Junctions on Radio 3 hosted by Stewart Lee. Lee’s passion for interesting (if obscure) music made for some very enjoyable discoveries, which included for me the Suffolk-based violinist Laura Cannell. Cannell’s recent album, Hunter Huntress Hawker, featured on the set list, and I subsequently discovered it had been recorded in St Andrew’s church, Covehithe, on the Suffolk coast.

This reminded me of the visit we made to St Andrew's in August last year, while taking our (now customary) Suffolk holiday. It was a somewhat typical late summer’s day – for which read grey, cold and rainy. I had not been to Covehithe before but had heard much about it – not least from the China Miéville short story. (Miéville once worked in Chapel Books in Westleton, not far from Covehithe.)

Covehithe is significant because half of the church is no longer there. The bulk of the 15th-century fabric is now ruinated, having been pulled down in the second half of the 17th century when the costs of repairing it had become too prohibitive. Instead, the parishoners downsized, and built a smaller thatched church on the footprint of the earlier one, abutting the still-standing tower.

The medieval ruins are evocative. But then so is the 17th -century church. Inside is a 15th-century font. Two curious medallions on the north and south walls record the rebuilding of the church with the words ‘James Gilbert put it out 1672’ and ‘Enoch Girling put it out 1672’. Gilbert and Girling were officers of the parish, who ‘put out’ the contract for the rebuild.  

St Andrew's church is now partly looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust, and is well worth a visit.

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