04 July, 2009

East Bergholt Church

East Bergholt is famous as the birthplace of John Constable and the location for some of his most celebrated paintings. (Can there be anyone in the world who hasn't encountered Flatford Mill, even if only on a chocolate box?). It still looks a little like that today, with the addition of a popular tea room and a large population of very well-fed ducks.

East Bergholt stands on the high ground (44 metres above sea-level! In East Anglia that counts as Alpine) above the north bank of the River Stour. (Map link here)

I have a particular liking for East Bergholt church, and not only because it marks the end of the climb up from Fen Bridge (which is noticeably uphill, especially on a hot day). Here it is:

If you think it looks a bit, um, unfinished, well spotted. Yes, it was supposed to have a tower, but the money dried up after the Reformation.

Which means East Bergholt, uniquely in England as far as I know, has managed to acquire a ring of bells without having a bell tower to put them in. Normally an English parish church will have half a dozen or so bells hung high in the tower, to be rung for Sunday service, weddings, civic alarm and high days and holy days in general. If you've read Dorothy L Sayers' The Nine Tailors, you get the picture. But at towerless East Bergholt, the bells are housed in a bell cage in the churchyard:

Peering in, you can see the bells, a handsome ring of five:

The bell cage was built in the 1530s as a temporary solution until the money for a tower could be raised. In the way of temporary solutions, it became permanent.


Rick said...

And here I thought the 'temporary' buildings built in Washington for World War I were long in the tooth.

Meghan said...

Wow. Bells without a proper bell tower? Interesting!

Kathryn Warner said...

I love that the 'temporary solution' of the 1530s still exists as the permanent solution!

Carla said...

Yes, 400 years for a temporary solution is impressive :-) Though, considering how solid the timbers look, I do wonder if the original builders had an idea that it was going to turn out to be permanent.

kevin said...

East Bergholt is a lovely village. That whole Constable Country by the Stour. I was at Flatford Mill very recently. It is another example of how the National Trust is doing a great job. The thing about Constable is that his paintings were considered not at all chocolate boxy at the time. They are beautiful paintings nonetheless. The bell tower story is great. I'm gonna post about my visit. Dovetail nicely with yours!

Carla said...

Kevin - yes, it's a lovely part of the world. No doubt it's because Constable's paintings are so beautiful that various companies wanted to use them to sell chocolates :-) Constable's fame must have contributed to the NT's decision to buy the estate and preserve it, and I daresay he would have been pleased about that.