St Andrews on the Box

St Andrew’s is set to play a prominent part in a half hour history programme about Walberswick, due to air on local television in December and again as part of a 6 part BBC 2 series in the New Year. The series, as yet untitled, will follow 6 English coastal villages through their cycle of prosperity, poverty, and recent renewed prosperity.

Since St Andrew’s demonstrates to an unusual extent in its body the history of its village, the producers propose to focus on the church and have already spent some hours filming Churchwarden John Simpson and some villagers.

Our first church, along with the original village, was sited at the back of Stocks Lane and was subject to flooding. In the early Middle Ages, a wooden chapel of ease was built on the current site, the first of its three churches. The town of Dunwich originally controlled our only mouth to the sea, occasioning some violent rivalry and so Walberswick did not really prosper until the sea had, with a little nocturnal human help, opened a way in. The sale of dairy products (not wool!) and shipbuilding allowed 4 wealthy Walberswick merchants in the time of Henry VI to demonstrate their piety and wealth by obtaining permission to build the Tower which remains today. Their contract with the stonemasons remains one of only 4 such in existence. Our 90’ tower once bore gilt on the finials and, on the roof, “a wooden spire on top of which perched a goose”. Our existing ruins relate to the church which was then attached.

For about 40 years we continued in prosperity. Decline set in due to the harbour silting up and the intervention of history, until only some 40 villagers remained to care for their church while using its stones in rebuilding their wooden houses. For a period, worship in churches was discouraged and so the church was effectively abandoned in about 1660. It was remodelled in its current form, attached to the corner of its predecessor, in 1696 after the sale of 4 of the 5 bells. Our Local History Society keeps accounts written by the churchwardens then involved.

Pleasure that our dear church may be enjoyed by a wide audience has been tempered by the thought of the potential increased footfall in the village.

Joanna Saunders

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