Grave Stones and Pentlow Church
Twenty one intrepid members and guests of the District Local; History Society assembled on the evening of 11th June (one of the cold ones!) in Pentlow churchyard to hear Isobel Clark talk about gravestones. “Talk” is an entirely inadequate word for someone who professed a life-long fascination with the subject and who has explored many cemeteries including some in Turkey and the Sudan.
Isobel is now involved with a group based at Sudbury library researching some of the graves in the area and her enthusiasm was apparent as we toured Pentlow churchyard and various features were pointed out. For example when lettering is almost illegible the style will often indicate a particular time period. One of the reasons why engraving is worn and faint is due to the practice at one time of covering the memorial stone with plaster upon which the lettering would appear in sharp relief but the ravages of time, weather etc would cause the plaster to fall off leaving just a slight impression.
The fact that the initials and date of deceased often appear on the foot stone is a help and access to burial registers will often provide confirmatory evidence in the case of names difficult to read. In some cases lead lettering has been prised out leaving just the fixing holes – but we saw no examples of this in Pentlow! A trick of the trade Isobel explained is to lather the faded writing with shaving soap; alas this was not demonstrated so we may have to try it at home!
Moving inside the church Andrew Clarke discussed the origin of the building. What was once thought to be a Norman foundation is now considered to be of much earlier date. Various configurations including the width of the nave point to a Saxon building i.e 650 – 850AD. This could place Pentlow among the earliest stone churches in the country. The original main door would have been at the west end and there would have been a three-arched opening to the chancel. Wall paintings would have represented the educational function of the early church. Of particular interest is the square font – thought to be 12th century - with its elaborate carvings of interlacing ornaments and foliage. Some of the commemorative wall plaques were discussed as were the well-known Kempe and Felton tombs in the North Chapel.
Chairman Alan Fitch expressed thanks to Isobel and Andrew for their contribution to an interesting and enlightening evening. He reminded members that the next two gatherings of the Society would be visits to Halstead – to explore the town’s industrial heritage - on 13th July and to the Nuclear Bunker on 17th August.