St Mary's Church, Huntingfield, Suffolk
The CeilingThe ceiling is a masterpiece of Victorian church decoration, painted from end to end in brilliant colours, with carved and coloured angels, with banners, crowns and shields, all in the medieval style and of a most intricate and detailed finish.
The scheme of decoration is important as it reflects the ecclestiastical devotion of the late Victorian period clergy and their patrons, combined with the heightened liturgical practices of the Oxford Movement.
It was painted by Mildred Holland, the wife of William Holland who was rector for 44 years from 1848 until his death in 1892. The church was closed for eight months from September 1859 to April 1860 while she painted the chancel roof. Tradesmen provided scaffolding and prepared the ceiling for painting but there is no record to show that she had any help with the work, and legend has it that she did much of it lying on her back. We may imagine Victorian ladies wearing tight laced corsets and many petticoats, and wonder how she managed the ladders, scaffolding and hard labour of painting. She had an adviser on her schemes, a Mr. E. L. Blackburne F.S.A., an authority on medieval decoration.
Above the Chancel Arch, the Lamb of God is depicted with the words 'Glory, Honour, Praise and Power unto the Lamb for Ever and Ever', lines taken from the Book of Revelation.
Three years later Mildred Holland began to paint again in the nave. In 1866 her husband William makes a note 'scaffolding finally taken down, September Ist'. The whole cost of repairing the nave roof, preparing it for painting and for materials amounted to £247.10s.7d of which £16.7s.6d was for 225 books of gold leaf and £72 for colours. William Holland's notes show that between 1859 and 1882 a total of £2,034. 10s.0d was spent on the church restoration, of which, apparently, he gave all but £400.
Mildred Holland died in 1878; William served on until 1892, a total of forty years. He gave the font cover in memory of his wife and also the brass lectern with its graceful angels and winged dragons. Their graves are in the churchyard to the west of the entrance gates. Side by side they lie, beneath a table tomb alongside a standing cross.
Today, their roof may be lit up by visitors putting a £1 coin in a meter.
The roof itselfIt is natural to speculate about the roof. It is of a single hammer-beam construction, arch-braced principals alternating with hammer-beams ending in carved angels. The angels in the nave carry a crown or a banner, those in the chancel have heraldic shields bearing arms. The question all ask is: are these angels genuinely medieval work which escaped the axes of the post-Reformation Puritans, (and remember that William Dowsing, the arch-destroyer, came from nearby Laxfield) or are they all the handiwork of Victorian craftsmen?
Traditional East Anglian hammer-beam roofs generally terminate in a carving of some sort, and the de la Poles made angel roofs in the churches of their manors, even taking Suffolk carpenters to Ewelme in Oxfordshire to make one there. But our angels are too perfect to be so old. Entries in a tradesman's account of 1865 would seem to settle the matter; or do they?
Mr Spall's extras included 8 angels with expanded wings, Chancel, £12
The account does not actually say 'making'.
RestorationIn 2005, extensive conservation and cleaning of the painted roof, together with repair and repainting of the internal walls, was carried out thanks to grant aid from the Heritage Lottery Fund and supporting donations. See the Ceiling Conservation page for more information.
Serving the people of Huntingfield since the 11th century