The Spire of Long Melford Church
The original church tower (from a map)
The splendid church tower we see now at Long Melford is not an ancient structure as most visitors imagine but an eighteenth century brick structure encased in twentieth-century stonework to disguise it. Long Melford Church once had a most majestic spire. It was destroyed by lightning in around 1710, and was replaced by a rather poor thing of rendered brick. The replacement looked awful.
To take up the story, we should turn to the great Ernest Ambrose from his splendid book 'Melford Memories' which we had once hoped to see reprinted
The 1710 brick tower
After the great upserge of patriotism evoked by Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee and the imminence of the new century, the leaders of the church began to feel it would be a good opportunity to have some fitting memorial of these two outstanding occasions. The Rev. G. St. John Topham, who was now rector, suggested the raising of the church tower to bring it more in harmony with the beauty and size of the main building. This suggestion was quickly taken up with much enthusiasm and a committee was formed in 1897 to raise funds and to appoint an architect for the purpose. The original tower had been destroyed by lightning about the year 1710 and had been replaced by a square red brick tower covered with cement, which had in many places broken away and was very ugly.
The architect appointed was Mr. George F. Bodley and the builders were Messrs. Rattee and Kett of Cambridge. It was decided to build on to the brick tower rather than pull it down; and to chip off the old cement replacing it by decorative flint work and stones, adding buttresses at the corners faced with stone work, thus giving the tower a new though ancient look in keeping with the 15th. century church. Several Melford workmen were engaged for the re-building among them being William Griss, nicknamed Schemer Griss, an expert bricklayer and a man who took very great pride in his work. Mr. Griss had the honour of laying the first brick of the new foundation in 1898. Special hard stone was delivered to the church being brought there in great blocks by horse and waggon. So also were the flints which were dug out of the gravel pits at Acton. An awning was set up near the church porch and here the stone masons cut their stone according to their needs, and flint knappers from Brandon prepared flints to fit in with delicate accuracy. The head stone mason, a clever craftsman, who came from Cambridge, used to lodge during the week with my grandmother, and we became very friendly during the three years he spent on the work. He was very appreciative of grandma's cooking, especially her pies! I watched him at work many times and was most interested.
The ceremony of the laying of the foundation corner stone on 10th. April 1899, was a very impressive occasion. As the Freemasons had contributed so generously to the funds they were chiefly responsible for the service. A Masonic Lodge was held in the village school before proceeding up the Green for the ceremony. The Rev. G. J. Martyn, our former rector, who, as well as being Chaplain in Ordinary to the Queen, was Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Suffolk and Past Grand Chaplain of England, conducted the service and ceremony. Underneath the stone were placed a specimen of each coin in use at that time.
In 1900 a further appeal had to be made as funds were running low and a second contract was made with the builders to raise the tower to include a ringing chamber, roof, gutters etc. In October 1902 the Rev. Topham resigned through ill-health, and work was suspended during the winter months. In March 1903 a further contract was made with the builders and work resumed, which included additions to the battlements and pinnacles and extension of the circular staircase to the tower. In memory of the (now) late Queen Victoria and the accession of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, the four new pinnacles were named Victoria, Edward, Alexandra and Martyn. On 14 October 1903 the new tower (now 118 ft. in height) was dedicated by the Lord Bishop of Ely.
Two of the pinnacles from the old tower went to Melford Hall. The other two were placed on the gates at Kentwell Hall. However one of these was later retrieved from the old rectory garden, and the fourth one was bought by Sir Richard Hyde Parker at the Kentwell Hall sale in 1970. So the four pinnacles are now in the grounds of Melford Hall.
first published by The Long Melford Historical and Archaeological Society, reproduced with permission. The LHM&AS wish to reserve copyright)