Mysterious initials and a tragic death

A stone inside the staircase of Great St Mary’s tower had been puzzling me with its inscription.

Tower inscription

Tower inscription


W.D. Bushell’s history of St Mary’s came to the rescue. These are the initials of George Watts, minister, and John Warren and Marmaduke Frohock, Churchwardens. When this was carved, one of them had less than a year to live.

John Warren was the churchwarden who oversaw the final stages of building work on the tower in 1608, but tragically died just as it was completed. You can read his rhyming memorial plaque in the narthex:

A speaking stone

Reason may chaunce to blame;

But did it knowe

Those ashes here do lie

Which brought the Stones

That hid the steeple’s shame,

It would affirm

There were no reason why,

Stones should not speake

Before theyr Builder die.


Sleeps among the dead,

Who with the Church

His own life finished.

Anno Domini 1608. Dec 17.

His son, also named John, cast the saint’s bell for Great St Mary’s at a foundry in Benet Street the year before his father’s death. The saint’s bell would have been rung in the chantry when the Eucharistic host was consecrated. It can still be seen in the church, the oldest bell that still survives. It serves as another memorial to the Warren family, who gave so much for their parish church.

Dirty Laundry

In 1782, Great St Mary’s Parish meeting complained about local people drying their laundry in the churchyard. They decided that laundry would be taken down by the sexton or clerk on duty (and presumably returned to its owners). If it appeared in the churchyard again, the damp washing could be thrown over the wall.


– W.D. Bushell’s History of the Church of St Mary the Great, p. 161.

Lady Margaret and Creake Abbey

On a recent trip to Norfolk, I was surprised to come across a mention of Lady Margaret Beaufort (mother of Henry VII, generous patron of Cambridge University and a favourite at GSM) – along with her son’s deadly enemy, Richard III. Great St Mary’s has an unusual stained glass window which commemorates Margaret, Henry VII and Richard III together. Enemies in life, the leaders of the Lancastrian and Yorkist forces were united by their generosity towards the University of Cambridge, the Church and Great St Mary’s in particular.

The Abbey of St Mary in the Meadows at Creake was a small Augustinian house. Founded in 1206, it provided hospital beds for 13 ‘Christian paupers.’ Soon after, it adopted the Augustinian rule and became a priory. Then, with the support of its royal patron, Henry III, it was made an abbey.Creake from the path


In 1484 fire tore through the abbey and Richard III made a large donation to help pay for the rebuilding. Despite Richard’s generosity, the canons were struck down by plague until, in 1506, the abbot died and the buildings passed to the Crown.
Creake side small


Here, Margaret Beaufort stepped in. Long before Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, Margaret used the lands of the defunct abbey to endow her collegiate foundation at Cambridge, Christ’s College.

Only the abbey ruins stand today, with children excitedly hunting eggs in the sunshine on the day I visited. I found the roofless nave a fascinating reminder of the rise and fall of the religious foundations whose dissolution provided so much of the wealth of Cambridge.

Kentwell in the spring

Kentwell Hall in Long Melford is particularly stunning in springtime – I expect the daffs will have gone over by now, but why not visit this Sunday to see the lambs? In the meantime, you can watch them frolicking on the lambcam!

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: