History of St Mary's Church

Steeple Bumpstead Church has lost the steeple which gave it its name, but it has a group of old houses, farms, and barns, and by the road from Haverhill to Baythorn Bridge are entrenchments of an ancient stronghold. Gone, too, is Bower Hall, though a fine avenue of tall trees still leads to the site. Its six-sided  dovecot was built about 1700, its brick walls honeycombed with 220 nesting-holes. Another unusual dovecot is at Claydon’s cottage; it is nine feet square and built of mud. It is said that in 1914 something fell down inside it, so frightening the birds that they never returned.

Little Walton’s Farm was built about 1500, and has something of its moat still left. Remains of another moat are at 17th century Herksted Hall; and here too is a 17th century weatherboarded barn with a thatched roof. Another thatched barn of the same date is at Latchley’s manor house, a timbered and plastered Tudor building surrounded by a moat complete and unusually wide

One ofthe finest houses of this countryside is the magnificent Moyns Park, an Elizabethan home in grounds of 200 acres; it has bay windows, pinnacled gables, and three many-cornered chimney stacks. The Moot Hall, a pretty timbered building at the cross-roads in the middle of the village, has a projecting storey, and on the roof is a stone lion holding a shield with the royal arms of the Tudors. The ancient church has a Norman tower, though its upper stage has been repaired with Tudor brick. There are three narrow Norman windows, and a gargoyle below each length of parapet. The porch is 14th century; its roof and a pair of rough and gnarled benches are 16th. The door is partly 16th century and by it is an ironbound almsbox of about 1500 on a traceried post.

The tower arch stands on round pillars and was set up about 1500 a century after the wide chancel arch. In the aisles are six poppyheads 400 years old, attached to modern seats, and in the back of a pew is old panelling which says "Onsel and Thomas Lond, her son, did these stools make in l568." There are two Tudor stalls in the chancel, a 17th century oak chest in the vestry, an altar table of about 1700, and a cupboard door with Jacobean carving. The font is 500 years old. In one of the windows are fragments of medieval glass, and on a wall hangs a wooden helmet with a Tudor crest.

Near by is an 18th century monument to Sir John Bendish and his wife, with their busts, by which stands a cherub holding a flaming torch upside down. A finer monument against the same wall is to Sir Henry Bendish, the last baronet, showing him reclining in lace cuffs, cravat, and buckled shoes, his curly wig falling over his shoulders. Playing by his pillow lies his infant son, Henry, a lively little fellow.

On the wall near by is a stone to Dick Dare who made his last long journey a few years ago: he, his father, and his grandfather were carriers from Bumpstead to London for 150 years.

We gathered two items of news here from the vicarage, where the greatest treasure of the church was once put to base uses as a shovel - an 8th century bronze boss with panels of ornament and sockets for 18 jewels. It used to be on the chancel door of the church and is now in the British Museum.

The other news from the vicarage was that Nurse Edith Cavell who died in Brussels on 12th October 1915, shot by a German firing squad for helping Allied soldiers to escape. She became, of course, a legend for bravery and sacrifice. But her ties with Steeple Bumpstead occurred long before that and before she became a nurse. During 1886, Edith was appointed governess to the four children of the Reverend Charles Powell, vicar of Steeple Bumpstead.

The vicarage, where a stone plaque commemorates her stay, is no longer the residence of the local vicar, but it is still there, a private residence, on the corner of Chapel Street and Finchingfield Road. There is, in the 11th century village church, a plaque to Edith Cavell.

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© Excudo 2012