St Peter and St Paul's Church, Clare

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St Peter and St Paul's Church, Clare
Clare - Church of St Peter & St Paul.jpg
St Peter and St Paul's Church, Clare
52°4′43.88″N 0°34′51.44″E / 52.0788556°N 0.5809556°E / 52.0788556; 0.5809556Coordinates: 52°4′43.88″N 0°34′51.44″E / 52.0788556°N 0.5809556°E / 52.0788556; 0.5809556
LocationClare, Suffolk
DenominationChurch of England
DedicationSt Peter and St Paul
Heritage designationGrade I listed
DioceseDiocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich
RectorRevd. Stuart Mitchell[1]

St Peter and St Paul's Church, Clare is a Grade I listed parish church in the Church of England in Clare, Suffolk.[2] It is one of the largest and most beautiful in East Anglia, described as a "large and handsome church... within a spacious churchyard",[3] and is included by Simon Jenkins in his 2009 book England's Thousand Best Churches, where he awards it three stars.[4]


The church is principally of the 14th and early 15th century, with 13th-century work in the west tower, in the perpendicular style. The list of past priests extends as far back as 1307.[5] "The tower is unfortunately a little short for the church.....all the windows of the aisles and clerestory are slender and closely set, the effect has the same erectness as Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford and St Peter and St Paul's Church, Lavenham. The remodelling of the interior made it very airy."[6] 'Seen from any angle it floats on the skyline like a great ship, with a small tower for a fo'c'stle and two turrets for masts.....The interior is ablaze with light.'[7]

The sun - a fragment of medieval stained glass saved from William Dowsing

The church possesses a late 15th-century brass lectern in the form of an eagle with three dogs as feet rather than lions; this may have served as a collection-box, money posted at the beak exiting at the tail. There are two fine private pews, one with the emblems of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, the other an ostentatious Stuart gallery pew with scroll-sided poppyheads "so like those at Little Thurlow that they may have been carved by the same man".[8] In the chancel there are rare Jacobean carved choir stalls. The motto above the sundial over the south porch reads: 'Go about your business', not a mercantile admonition but a peremptory version of St Paul's advice: "For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies".[9] Around the doorway may be seen carved ten faces of the Green Man, a somewhat pagan image to be seen on a church, but widely used across Christian Europe.

The greatest disaster to befall the church was the visit of William Dowsing in 1643. The Puritan Parliament decreed the demolition of altars, removal of candlesticks, and defacement of pictures and images. 'Basher' Dowsing, a fanatical anti-Romanist, was appointed as 'Parliamentary Visitor for the East Anglian counties for demolishing the superstitious pictures and ornaments of churches'. 'Cromwell's iconoclast'[10] kept a journal of his visits. On 6 January 1644, he visited six churches, including Haverhill. As for Clare, he wrote: "We brake down 1000 pictures superstitious: I brake down 200; 3 of God the Father, and 3 of Christ, and of the Holy Lamb, and 3 of the Holy Ghost like a Dove with Wings; and the Twelve Apostles were carved in wood, on top of the Roof, which we gave order to take down; and 20 Cherubim to be taken down; and the Sun and the Moon in the East window, by the King's Arms to be taken down". Bullet holes in the roof suggest one inaccurate method; the rest being done with arrows, stones, poles and whitewash. The Sun and Moon still survive.[11]

Like most English churches, it was altered in the Victorian era. It was first 'repaired and beautified' in 1834-36, and a gallery was also added. In 1876 a plan was given by the architect James Piers St Aubyn for work done between 1877-83. In 1898, Detmar Blow, architect for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, was brought in to repair the tower. [12]


The Parish of Clare with Poslingford also includes St Mary's Church, Poslingford, now a chapel of ease. It is part of the Stour Valley Benefice, along with the parishes of:


The organ

In the eighteenth century an organ stood at the west end of the church, but this was moved to the current position in 1864. A new organ was obtained in 1888, originally built in 1847 by Gray and Davison for St John the Evangelist's Church, Regent's Park, London.

In 1977 a replacement was acquired from St Peter's Church, Ipswich as a memorial to Clare Wayman (1892-1976). A specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register.[13]


The church has an excellent ring of eight bells, noted as the heaviest peal in Suffolk.[14]

The 7th bell is unusually inscribed Trintas Sancta Campanum Istam Conserva ("Holy Trinity conserve this bell") and was probably cast in the early 15th century.[15] The sixth bell dates from 1579, and is by John Dyer.

In 1781 the ring was increased by from six to eight when William Mears cast two additional bells. The third and fifth are by the Gray family of Colchester. The tenor of 28 cwt was recast in 1893 by Charles Newman of Norwich, and the fourth was recast in London by William Mears.

The gotch[edit]

The gotch

An unusual item in the church is the gotch, a beer jug presented to the bell ringers in 1729 by the vicar, Matthew Bell. It is nearly 20 inches (51 cm) high and has a capacity of 32 imperial pints (18 l). It has a pun in its inscription campana sonant canore ("the bells ring in harmony"). The bell and crown, embossed upon it, are a reference to the Crown Hotel which was owned by the family of the vicar.

The church today[edit]

The church is open for visitors every day. The Friends of Clare Church holds regular fund raising and social events to support the church. The Society for Music in Clare Church organises concerts throughout the year. There is an active branch of the Mothers' Union and a Flower Guild.[1]

The choir sings at every principal Sunday service. The church has a well-stocked shop and bookstall. Parking is available around the church in Clare and the nearest car park is at Clare Country Park, about five minutes away up a moderate incline.[1]



  1. ^ a b c [1]
  2. ^ Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk
  3. ^ D P Mortlock, The Guide to Suffolk Churches, Lutterworth Press 2009, ISBN 978-0-7188-3076-2 p114
  4. ^ Simon Jenkins, England's Thousand Best Churches, Penguin 2009, ISBN 978-0-14-103930-5
  5. ^ Thornton op. cit. p139
  6. ^ Pevsner op. cit. p166-167
  7. ^ Simon Jenkins, op cit p743
  8. ^ Mortlock op. cit. p 115
  9. ^ Bible, King James version, 2 Thessalonians 3.11
  10. ^ Simon Jenkins op. cit. p734
  11. ^ Hatton op. cit. IV p 86-88
  12. ^ Riches, Ann "Notes on Victorian Churches", in Henry Munro Cautley (1982) Suffolk Churches 5th edn, ISBN 0-85115-143-4
  13. ^
  14. ^ [2]
  15. ^ Mortlock op. cit. p115

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