English Churches - Suffolk
An unusual church with splendid medieval glass
Melford was an important medieval wool town with a weekly
market and annual fair. The three main wool tycoons were the
Cloptons of Kentwell, the Cordells of Melford Hall and the
Martyns of Melford Place. All three provided money for
building Holy Trinity Church.
Holy Trinity Church is set at the top of the village by the large triangular village green. In front of it is the brick built Hospital of the Holy and Blessed Trinity erected by Sir William Cordell in 1573 as an almshouse for a warden and twelve aged men.
Holy Trinity Church has been described as a treasure house of English medieval art and was built in the C15th on an earlier foundation by John Clopton of Kentwell Hall. The tower was built in 1903. The original tower had been destroyed by lightning and the Georgian brick and plaster replacement was felt not in keeping with rest of church. The tower was design by Bodley and built round the Georgian tower.
From the outside it is an impressive building with flushwork tower with battlements and small spires at the corners. There is a long battlemented nave and chancel with lower, heavily buttressed side aisles and south porch. The walls are covered with flint flushwork. This was a wealthy church and it showed.
A three gabled Lady Chapel was built onto the end of the chancel and has a pointed tile roof, a bit out of keeping with the rest of the building with its flat roof. The Lady Chapel is completely separate from the rest of the church and reached through a small doorway in the south wall.
Inside it is a big church. The slender pillars with pointed arches and clerestory windows with clear glass, above give an impression of height. There is a wagon beam roof with carved figures on the base of the beams. Pews are modern.
At the back of the church is the C15th font with crests carved on the side panels and a splendid crocketed spire lid. There is a hatchment by the south door and a carved wooden Royal Coat of Arms.
The north aisle contains one of the finest collections of late C15th Medieval glass in the country. The stained glass in the clerestory survived the iconoclasts - it was too high up for them the reach. It has now been reassembled in the north aisle.
This is a roll call of Clopton family members, saints and heraldry. The detail is amazing. The portrait of Elizabeth, Duchess of Norfolk (on the left of the picture below) is thought to have been the inspiration for John Tenniel’s drawing of the Duchess for Lewis Carrol’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’.
A doorway leads into the smaller Clopton chantry, where priests would say masses for the dead of the Clopton family. It is now used for private prayer.
It has a beautifully painted ceiling. Below it, the walls are painted with verses by John Lydgate, the poet monk of Bury St Edmunds.
The east window has a rare Lily Crucifix depicting Christ on the leaves of a lily against a sky blue background.
The tomb of John Clopton d1497, founder of the church, stands between the chantry and main chapel. A plain table tomb with no carved effigies, this was used as an Easter sepulchre. The canopy has faded portraits of him and his wife with painted shields on the walls.
Back in the chancel, there is a massive stone reredos above the altar with a carving of the crucifixion.
On either side are the Ten Commandments, Creed and Lord’s Prayer. On the wall to the right is the massive tomb of Sir William Cordell, lying in armour and praying.
This is set under a double arched canopy with marble pillars, at the top is his coat of arms. On the back walls are four statues watching over him; Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude. He was a judge and Speaker of the House of Commons and his entertainment of Elizabeth I at Melford Hall set a standard for extravagance which others found hard to follow. He founded the Hospital of the Holy and Blessed Trinity almshouses on the green near the church.
On the south side of the chancel is the Martyn Chapel, empty apart from the stone base of an unidentified tomb and an old wooden chest. In the floor are splendid brasses to members of the Martyn family with their wives and children.
The Lady Chapel is completely separate from the rest of the church. There is access through the vestry but this is usually kept locked. The entrance is through the south door on the outside of the church.
The Lady chapel is unusual as it contains a central altar with a modern painting behind. This is surrounded by an arcade of pointed arches which form an ambulatory round it.
There are empty niches where statues were destroyed in the Reformation. The wooden roof is carved and there are angels at the base of the beams.
The walls have been recently whitewashed, covering the Tudor multiplication tables mentioned in some of the guide books. On the wall is an old clock.
The church is open 10-5 and there is on street parking round the village green.
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