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The Setting of Flowton Church

As an unusually complete example of a 13th century medieval parish church, St Mary’s Church in Flowton is comprised of a nave, chance, south porch and west tower. Furthermore on the south side of the sanctuary is a great rarity: the piscine that formerly served the altar. It retains its original credence shelf. Another unusual feature in the church is the tower door that is fitted in the south wall. St Mary’s Church, Flowton is listed as a Grade 1 heritage asset with Historic England.

Taken from the East side of St Mary’s Church, Flowton, looking towards the church on the right and main entrance to the churchyard on the left.

One of the main attractions of the church to visitors is it’s setting. The church sits on quite high ground, and this affords it beautiful views across the open and undulating historic countryside. Visitors can sit in the churchyard to eat some food and enjoy the views at the same time, and is regularly used by cyclists on the Sustrans National Cycle Route 48 which passes by on the road right in front of it.

However the setting of this Grade 1 listed heritage asset is now under threat from the Enso Energy solar application. Enso Energy haven’t supplied any photomontages of what the impact would look like from the church, so we’ve contacted a graphic artist to do it. Enso have submitted a photomontage looking at this field, albeit from a less intrusive angle, so our graphic artist had a good basis for comparison.

According to Historic England the setting is “The surroundings in which a place is experienced, its local context, embracing present and past relationships to the adjacent landscape.” It must be noted that the setting is the surroundings in which a place is ‘experienced’ and makes no requirement that you can see the heritage asset in the same view. (Even though you would be able to see the solar panels!)

Use the slider in the middle of each photo below to see the before and after. Before photos are on the left, and after photos on the right.

Taken from the footpath within the grounds of St Mary Church, Flowton. A Grade 1 listed heritage asset.
Taken from the hedge along Tye Lane within the grounds of St Mary’s Church, Flowton. A Grade 1 listed heritage asset.
Taken from the bench within the grounds of St Mary’s Church, Flowton, a regular resting spot for cyclists, walkers, tourists, and residents.
Taken from the entrance to the grounds of St Mary’s Church, Flowton. A Grade 1 listed heritage asset.

The immediate setting of the church is the churchyard, but the wider countryside is also part of the setting, given that the church serves a rural community, is the only public amenity building in the village, and is historically connected to its rural surroundings.

Every year since the late 1990’s Flowton has held a weekend flower festival in the church, and every four years an Open Garden event alongside it around the village. These events attract hundreds of visitors and raise vital funds to maintain the church building, with 10% of funds being donated to local charities. Lunches and cream teas are always served, and even when the weekends have on occasion been dripping wet people still come to have lunch and tea whilst and dodging in and out between showers to visit the gardens. The overriding comments made by the visitors are that they love to come to Flowton because it is just so beautiful and they adore the views. The last event in June 2019 raised £5000, with 10% donated to FIND.

Every September the Suffolk Historic Church Sponsored Cycle ride participants call at the church to have their sponsorship forms verified. On one particularly wet Cycle ride day a group of about 30 mature cyclists from Holland asked it they could shelter in the church to eat their packed lunch. They come to UK every year and alternate their starting place. This particular year they had started their journey in Edinburgh and were on the last lap to Harwich to get the ferry home. They were very impressed that the church history was translated into so many languages!

Despite being specifically asked by Heritage England to fully assess the impact on St Mary’s Church, as well as other listed buildings within a 1km area of the site, Enso Energy haven’t done so. Enso Energy claim that because their desk-based study says you will not see the site from the church there is no need to assess it. Clearly a site visit should have taken place because you can see it!

On 14th September 2016 BMSDC wrote to The Planning Inspectorate regarding the DCO for East Anglia Three. Page 7 of their response references St Mary’s Church, Flowton. Under Contribution of Setting to Significance it states: ““Village” location contributes greatly to setting as does the open land to S.” Some of this land to the south is the same land that the applicant intends to build on with 3m high solar panels, and large shipping containers with either inverters or storage batteries in.

On 7th May 2021 Essex Place Services (as consultee to the Council) stated “The Cultural Heritage Chapter has not assessed this heritage asset. However, it is considered that the proposal will have a negative impact on the rural and agrarian landscape surrounding the church, it is considered that the setting of the church will not be preserved and will result in low levels of less than substantial harm to the significance of designated heritage asset.”

Field 5 is very visible from several places at the church. Field 5 has an elevation difference of around 50m and is visible from the church even with the mature trees already in place. So new screening will not hide the development. During the winter it would be even more pronounced. If the development were to be approved, it would be seen from the church and would be out of keeping with a setting appropriate to the church.

If you’d like to learn more about St Mary’s Church from a visitors perspective we recommend this article.

1 thought on “The Setting of Flowton Church”

  1. Flowton church also boasts a ‘mass dial’ on its south-facing external wall. This is an early form of sundial scribed into the stonework in the form of a circle with a series of radial lines in the lower half. A simple stick would have been inserted horizontally into the central hole to cast a shadow. It would originally have been painted to emphasise the lines. It would have indicated the times of the masses so that the priest could ring the bell. They existed over a long period from the 11th to the 15th or early 16th centuries and so it is very difficult to date individual examples.

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