St Mary’s Church, Denham, Suffolk, IP29 5EF
The Reverend Lynda Sebbage
T: 01284 811280
Times of services are posted in the church and can be found in the Stile
A Short Guide to Denham Parish Church
Researched and written by David Sherlock
There was a church here in 1086 when the Domesday survey was made but nothing is known about it. In 1141 Alice, widow of Aubrey de Vere who was killed in a riot in London, sought refuge in the Augustinian priory of St Osyth near Clacton, where her son William was a canon. In gratitude to the prior for providing her with sanctuary she gave it land at Denham which she had inherited as a portion of her marriage dowry. From this time until the dissolution of the priory by Henry VIII in 1539, Denham church belonged to St Osyth’s and was served by a chaplain from there. (The farmhouse in the village known as Denham Abbots therefore refers to the abbot of St Osyth, and not to St Edmundsbury.) After the dissolution Denham passed through various lay owners, coming in about 1570 to the Lewkenor family.
Some of the nave is Norman in date, while the inner porch arch, most of the chancel and the east window are fourteenth-century. The arches of the chancel and tower are both fifteenth-century. The plain octagonal stone font of the fourteenth-century is the only surviving medieval fitting within the church. The Lewkenors found the church in a poor condition and rebuilt it in the sixteenth century, adding the large and entirely new brick chapel on the north side of the chancel to serve as a mortuary chapel for their family. The church was again thoroughly restored in the nineteenth century. The photograph of the little water colour by Thomas Lyus dated 1783, now hanging on the organ case, shows how the exterior of the church has changed since then. Notice particularly the two small windows in the chancel and the Tudor window in the nave. The painting shows the nave roof continuing on the south side of the tower, while the tower has the roof line of an earlier and higher roof.
Inside, the pine pews are entirely Victorian as is the pulpit, the metal lectern and the stone altar on its raised sanctuary step, with glazed and decorated floor tiles, contrasting with the plain brick pamments elsewhere in the church. The wooden panelling behind the altar is seventeenth-century with painting added and came from Denham Hall. The glass in the east window was given by the Revd Edward Tompson in memory of his daughter. The organ, which once stood in the Lewkenor Chapel, was removed to its present and less intrusive location at the back of the nave in 1981. It was built in 1868 by W. H. Prosser of London and given in memory of William Farmer. The roofs of both nave and chancel are also Victorian. Notice the corbels with carved faces supporting the scissor-frame trusses. The church now has only one bell, which is uninscribed, but in 1553 there were two great bells. The registers of births, marriages and deaths, now in Bury St Edmunds Record Office date from 1538, when parishes in England were first ordered to keep them. The patrons of Denham are now St John’s College, Cambridge.
The tombstone of the Rev. Mr. Gerard Peele Minister of Denham. Obijt 25 Oct. 1727. Aetat 54. is on the floor of the chancel, near that of the Revd Edward Thomas, who died in 1707 aged eighty-three, having been minister here for 45 years.
By far the most interesting contents of the church are the monuments to members of the Lewkenor family housed in their specially built mortuary chapel which is accessed through three pointed archways in the north wall of the chancel. The family, the first seignurial presence in this small village, came and went in only three generations between 1570 and 1678. The huge canopied monument is to Sir Edward Lewkenor, his wife, Susan, and their eight children. He and his wife, who died of smallpox within a day of each other in 1605, kneel at the front, followed by their sons and daughters. He and his two sons are bare-headed and in armour, while she and three of their daughters wear caps with long black flaps at the back. The three younger daughters wear bonnets to signify that they were unmarried. The figures are enclosed by columns with Corinthian capitals supporting a massive canopy, its cornice surmounted with pyramids on the corners, numerous coats of arms and one enormous coat of arms in the centre surrounded by strapwork decoration. There is also strapwork on the ceiling, the pyramids and the plinths of the columns.
There is a long inscription in Latin and Greek on the main side extolling the virtues of the family. The whole monument was originally brightly painted but the colours are now much in need of restoration. There is more information about this extraordinary monument in the church. Lewkenor had sat on seven Elizabethan parliaments and had been in the service of Elizabeth I. He was a militant member of the Puritan movement, believing that the reformation of the Church of England begun under Elizabeth was incomplete. In this he worked closely with the pious Robert Oldmayne alias Pricke, whom he appointed minister of Denham in 1577. Lewkenor’s distinguished career has earned him an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Some of Oldmayne’s sermons survive and remains of his tombstone lie in the ground just to the south of the church tower.
The other monument in the chapel is to the Lewkenors’ grandson, also Edward, who died in 1635 also of smallpox, aged only twenty. His recumbent effigy in white marble is dressed in full armour and lies on a rush mat. It is supported on a black marble slab on coloured marble columns. The side panels of the tomb are carved with winged shields, scrolls and cherub heads. On the wall is a large oval tablet between columns which support a coat of arms within a curved pediment. Two cherub boys recline on the pediment, with a skull in the centre. The inscription tells us that his most beloved wife Elizabeth ordered his body, ‘this once most beautiful garment of a yet more beautiful soul, to be buried under this marble in the hope of immortality through Christ’. The monument was made by the London craftsmen, John and Matthias Christmas, whose signature is on the bottom of the front panel.
One of the two black ledger stones on the floor of the chapel marks the burial place of Mary Lewkenor, the youngest daughter of the second Edward Lewkenor. She died unmarried aged 60 in 1678, the last of the line.
Go outside the church to see on the ends of the arch of the porch the carved faces of a crowned king and queen. Notice another face high up on the east side of the tower. These are Victorian in date, as is much of the outward appearance of the nave and tower. On the other side of the nave you can see the blocked Norman north doorway with its plain round-headed arch. Between this doorway and the window you can you can see at ground level the remains of a former flint buttress, its scar continuing up the wall. The projecting masonry in the angle with the Lewkenor chapel probably once housed the stairs up to the former rood screen between the nave and chancel. Next to it are the slight remains of a blocked-up square-headed window.
The bench and oak tree in the north-east corner of the churchyard commemorate the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2012.