The Foxearth and District Local History Society

Pentlow, its History and Romance

Originally, part of a project to visit, photograph and describe all the Essex Parishes. The Pentlow part was first published in the East Anglian Daily Times in July 14 1937. Recently, the original photographic plates for the photographs turned up at auction. They were bought as a job lot. Sadly, many were sold off before the remainder were donated to the County Records Offices, from whence maybe they will one day surface.

Church of St Gregory and St George

Many people travelling the road between Sudbury and Cavendish have caught a glimpse of Pentlow Church nesting amongst the trees some distance from the main highway. But the actual village of Pentlow is nowhere near the pleasant vicinity of the house of worship, and whereas Pentlow church is to be found in a hollow, the main part of the parish - if so it may be described - exists in a position sufficiently elevated to allow its people to gaze downwards on a countryside which, although containing nothing striking, reveals that quiet charm and friendliness ever belonging to fruitful fields and the rich green grass of rolling meadowland.

It is in this district that the home of Pentlow's rector stands, and its aspect is rendered somewhat different from the usual style of country parsonage through the fact that here has been raised a tall octagonal tower- But, actually, this is not merely a piece of decorative workwork, but a memorial erected during the last century by the incumbent of the time, the Rev. Edward Bull Who chose this original and certainly striking method of keeping green his father's memory

Moreover, for those who appreciate the glimpse of a countryside which has suffered little by the march of so-called progress, a position on the summit of the tower provides almost a bird's-eye view of the restrained beauties which are such an obvious and yet pleasing feature of the less travelled districts of Essex and Suffolk. And, certainly the prospect revealed is extensive enough for it is said that on a clear day over forty churches can be seen from this remarkable memorial.

One of the country cottages for which this part is famous

In the vicinity of the rectory are several cottages, some of them comparatively new and others whose overhanging thatch tells a story of a ripe and still vigorous old age. it is in a spot a short distance from the village street that the village hostelry is raised, a building which, quite apart from its actual appearance, is interesting enough to the stranger through the curious name it bears; that of the Pinkuah Arms. Now, however, we will return to the neighbourhood of Pentlow Church, and close by here are one or two homely habitations, whilst against the drive leading to the house of worship is a trim cottage, in whose flowering garden is the very essence of the unspoiled rural districts. In fact, despite the traffic which ever hastens along the road by which this cottage stands, the whole aspect is entirely rural, almost as if the friendly fields and meadows have conspired to ignore the thundering of the less-attractive world outside.

From the churchyard one can look across the road over a country rising steadily, with on the uplands the rectory tower we have left. And thus, despite the distance between, both the church and the home of its rector seem to be brought much closer together.

Pentlow Hall, a most delightful residence with a wide moat.

It is in a very delightful situation that the church of St. Gregory and George is reared, for close by, amidst the spreading branches of innumerable trees, is Pentlow Hall, the magnificent timber of its exterior and its mellowed and dignified atmosphere harmonising splendidly with the moat surrounding its time-tinted walls, and the trim lawns and sweet-scented gardens, whose very appearance and fragrance seem to suggest an England remote from all that is sordid and grim. Here, in fact, the wanderer from the drab city can realise something of the priceless heritage which is the true heart of a great country, even although his own particular walk of life leads him in far less pleasant paths.

Moreover, the church at Pentlow is certainly in keeping with its sylvan environment, for in it we discover a building which bears many signs of a ripe old age,' a fact not surprising, when it is realised-that this village-house of worship originally came into being during the days of the Normans, and that even now, despite the various alterations which have been rendered necessary on several occasions throughout the ages, the Norman influence still persists.

An ancient farmhouse almost hidden by a wide-spreading tree

Apparently most of the original building was destroyed during the fourteenth century, but even so the structure one sees today is of considerable interest. First of all, we notice that it possesses a chancel rendered exceedingly dignified by' an. apse, always a very striking addition to any place of worship, and a chapel on the North side, and this chapel, as will be seen directly, is in some respects the most historical part of the church.

The nave, also, is interesting- more, especially through the fact that at its West end is a rounded arch of the Norman period, but not so striking as many of its kind, for here is none of the elaborate carving one associates with that particular style.

It is against this Western doorway that the tower is reared, an affair singularly massive, its walls some four feet in thickness, and suggesting all the magnificence and the splendour of a rugged age. Apparently, of late Norman construction, the tower is of the round type, in which there is always something appealing, partly through virtue or contrast, but chiefly because round towers are comparatively rare.

Detail of the beautiful
norman ornamentation of the font

And mention of Norman workmanship naturally leads us to the font for this is a very sturdy specimen of the period, a tremendous affair, with excellent carving and m exceptionally good condition, considering its years of existence. Yet it is not, the font alone which immediately attracts1 the attention. The cover gracing it is probably unique or, at any rate, I cannot remember seeing anything of a similar nature. This cover forms a worthy crown to the font. It seems to date from the fifteenth century, and is a most elaborate survival indeed, with its delicate carving and its general aspect of age, through which can be glimpsed the ideals and the 'conscientiousness which inspired the mediaeval craftsman who brought such a beautiful work of art into being. Naturally this remarkable relic has not escaped unscathed throughout its years of existence. So much is obvious at a glance. Yet the essential restoration has been carried out as tactfully and as efficiently as possible, so that most of its original beauty is emphasised.

Other excellent woodwork can be seen in the altar rails, which date from the Jacobean period, and are quite good specimens of that particular style.- In contrast to these brilliant examples of the wood-carver's skill, however, the seating accommodation of Pentlow Church is plain and modern.

Pentlow Church, in fact, suffered somewhat just fifty years ago from rather too intensive restoration in which, however, it is not alone, for far too many of our houses of worship met a similar fate. There is, however, a piscina in the chancel, and a rather curious niche in the North wall of the nave, with, on the opposite side, two smaller, whilst just against the South door is what appears to be a much restored holy water stoup.

The north chapel contains this striking monument
to judge George Kempe and his wife Eleanor, and John, one of their sons

But now we come to the most interesting item in Pentlow Church. This, as I conveyed earlier, is the chapel to the North of the chancel or, rather, the very striking monument which the chapel contains. In here is a very ornate affair indeed, showing, as it does, three recumbent effigies, those of Judge George Kempe, who died in 1606. his wife, Eleanor, and John, one of their sons, whilst also depicted are the kneeling figures of four other sons, and no fewer than ten daughters.

This in many ways remarkable memorial to a family who held one of the manors in Pentlow in days long gone has been damaged somewhat, for some of the fingers are broken off, although the pieces still rest rather pathetically on the monument. Even so, however, it can be described as very impressive and therefore assists to counteract the modern effect of Pentlow Church, caused by zealous but misguided renovation, more especially as, close by, is the apsidal chancel to emphasise an atmosphere of age far older than the monument itself.

Other members of the Kempe family are commemorated by a floorstone in the chapel bearing dates of the early eighteenth century. Also, against the North wall of the chapel is an ancient tomb, massive and carved, which has no inscription of any kind, but which commemorates one or more more of the Feltons who were buried here some five hundred years ago.

Through the various features mentioned above, therefore, the Church of St Gregory and George at Pentlow is well worth a visit for with its round tower, its monuments and, most striking of all, its apse. It is a very impressive building indeed. And the vicinity of this pleasant little house of worship is rendered exceptionally attractive through that magnificent and beautiful residence known as Pentlow Hall, so that in the combination of the two buildings, set as they are amidst a countryside friendly and attractive of aspect, there exists the atmosphere of a past unruffled and undisturbed by the close proximity of the hastening present.