You don’t have to go far north of Ipswich to be deep into the countryside. On its low mound, Hemingstone church is well out of its village, adding to the feeling. From the south side (1) this building looks 14th century, but that comes from the window tracery, and there is more to it than that. A church may have been on the site for a long while, with a rare dedication to Saint Gregory, the Pope who sent Augustine to Canterbury in AD 597. A closer look at the building suggests that at least part of the tower dates from more like 1500 (there is a bequest towards it in 1489), and the walls may be 11th century in part, to judge from long-and-short work. On the north side (2), there is an early 16th century brick porch, to its east another small brick construction which looks like a vestry. That is what it is used for now, but its history is more complicated than that. It was erected by the lord of the manor Ralph Cantrell and his wife, who were Catholic recusants. Cantrell’s father William was a close associate of the Duke of Norfolk, and is commemorated by an altar tomb monument in the nave, further evidence of the Catholicism of the Cantrell family. The parish did not conform to the new religion of the late 16th century and was presented at Bishop Redman’s Visitation in 1597, when it was said of the Cantrells that they ’repaier not into the church to hear divine service, but they sitt usually in a lyttle newe house built by him to hear divine service’. It has an external door to enable the Cantrells to enter the room without going into the church, and they cut a hole through the church wall, with a shutter on their side of what is known even today as ‘Ralph’s hole’ (3), so they could ‘attend church’ without being part of the service.

Map Reference: TM 145536

Simon Cotton