According to David Addy’s St Edmundsbury Chronicle the road from Bury St Edmunds to Haverhill used to pass through Chevington. The road was called The Abbots’ Way as the Abbots had a retreat at Chevington next to the church. The road was diverted in around 1810 when Ickworth Park was created. What remains of the retreat is now Chevington Hall, surrounded by high hedges and a moat.
I set out for Chevington with a friend on the number 15 bus from Bury St Edmunds, turning off from the Haverhill Road via Chedburgh. Stopping at The Greyhound Pub we were delighted to be met by Paul Thacker, who knew the place very well from living there.
We walked up to All Saints’ church together. It is beautiful Grade One listed building standing now in a quiet lane (the old road). He explained that it used to be longer, but the East end had been shortened in 1697 after problems with subsidence into the moat of the Abbots’ retreat. I looked down into the moat, but could see nothing but brambles:
Why would the Abbots’ retreat have a moat? It is likely this is far older than even the church. Perhaps the Abbots chose the site for being prestigious in some way, now forgotten.
We entered through the lovely Norman door:
The interior is a hybrid of a building from 1130-80 with additions in the C13th and subsequent revisions, which have continued until now, giving a sense of involvement from a community over many, many generations. The effect was surprisingly coherent and peaceful. Paul pulled back some floorboards to show me a stone coffin. This was described by Gage in 1828*:
It contained a very perfect skeleton of a young ecclesiastic. The hands were found raised on the breast, and the remains of a leaden chalice, which had fallen from them, lay near the right shoulder.
Modern pews at the front had been removed, which produced a clean space. Medieval pews remained at the back with C15 carvings of musicians.
We stepped outside as a sweep of sunshine hit a black cloud behind the church:
Paul showed me other treasures, too- including a labyrinth cut into the grass with a log at its entrance. He insisted the cut edge of the log looked like a madonna, but I couldn’t see it myself!
The walk back to Bury St Edmunds was straightforward, walking along the old road into Ickworth Park through pretty countryside. The park entrance had seen better days:
The path led to the church of St Mary, recently restored by the Ickworth Church Conservation Trust under the current Marquis of Bristol. There is a gallery to separate and elevate the Hervey Family from the rest of the congregation. The church had previously served the village of Ickworth, also moved along with the road during the creation of Ickworth Park. There was a cheerful-looking Gabriel at the East end whose feet seemed to be on the wrong way round:
The path took us though the park and up to Horringer Church, then over the A143 and road to Whepstead. We were in deep countryside, yet close to Bury St Edmunds:
The old road probably went a different way back into Bury along the path of the River Linnet, but the footpath joined the St Edmunds Way. I hadn’t realised before how close Chevington was to Bury, but if you go by car the way is further due to all the rearrangements. Why do we have to make things so complicated!
*Chevington: a Social Chronicle of a Suffolk Village. Frank Cooper. Published by Phillimore 1984 ISBN 0 85033 558 2