Tucked away in the beautiful Brett Valley – Shelley is a corner of old Suffolk waiting to be discovered, yet its church lays claim to international fame.
How old is Shelley All Saints?
A fascinating guide book on sale in the church reveals the early history of the village going right back to 1002.
Shelley was attached to East Bergholt later in the 11th century though there is apparently no specific mention of a church until 1254 and it’s been suggested the lancet (slit window), opened up for the millennium, remains from the 13th century as well as the doorway to the Tilney chapel.
Ah Tilney – that’s the name that will forever be linked to Shelley church. Sir Philip Tilney was of the landed gentry in his own right but went on to make royal connections via his cousin Elizabeth Tilney, and then sister Agnes, marrying Thomas Howard 2nd Duke of Norfolk, styled Earl of Surrey. Katharine of Aragon and King Henry VIII both play a part in the intriguing tale superbly narrated by Edward and Joanna Martin in the church guidebook.
Elizabeth Tilney’s granddaughter was Ann Boleyn no less, and another was Katherine Howard. Great granddaughter Elizabeth I came to Shelley in 1561 as the guest of Sir Philip’s great grandson, also Philip. His brother Thomas brought yet more fame to the family by marrying Elizabeth Gosnold, the sister of Bartholomew Gosnold, one of the founding fathers of America in 1607.
What’s left to see?
Not a great deal obviously but it’s thrilling to read the bronze plaque commemorating the burial of Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney in the chancel, given to the church by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Why? Because the church was the centre of media attention in June 2005 when an attempt was made to compare the DNA of a skeleton thought to be that of Elizabeth with another found in Jamestown, thought to be Bartholomew. Sadly no match was found so the Jamestown link remains elusive.
Anything else Tilney?
You will come across the Tilney arms all over the place in this church, including on shields carried by two griffins on the chancel stalls.
And the fine tomb, probably commissioned for Sir Philip Tilney and his wife Jane Teye can be seen on the north wall of the nave, also featuring coloured shields of the later tomb for Dame Margaret Tilney, his mother, whose effigy features black dress and neck ruff.
Then there’s the red brick Tudor building that juts out from the chancel. That’s the Tilney chapel, now the vestry, where Sir Philip is actually buried.
- The beautiful miles-from-anywhere feel of the churchyard
- The hatchments and black ledger stones of the Kerridge family – the subject of more compelling tales in the Martin’s guidebook
- The tower, the top of which was said to have been rebuilt with 40s bequeathed by Thomas Tilney in 1557
- The handsome Elizabethan pulpit with its linenfold panels
- The stained glass window commemorating the apprentice of the glass maker William Warrington, Henry Partridge of Shelley Hall who died at 21.
What happens today?
Shelley is a beautiful out-of-the-way hamlet, well worth discovering. It is worth a visit if only for its wonderful location and the chance to linger in the churchyard for a picnic.
The church is wheelchair accessible though the grassy path can be muddy in winter.
Details of who to contact are here.
What can I find nearby?
You are spoilt for choice in this beautiful corner of Suffolk.
Take a lovely circular walk from Shelland through the gorgeous Brett Valley. Download the leaflet here.
Visit the historic market town of Hadleigh.
Stoke by Nayland has great places to stay and eat at the Angel and the Crown.
Dedham and Constable Country are on the doorstep
A visit to this church is a must, if only to follow the Tilney trail which will take you to other lovely churches, notably Framlingham with its colourful Surrey tomb, and Long Melford with its beautiful stained glass depicting Elizabeth Tilney, Countess of Surrey.
You can take a guided tour of the Gosnold family seat at Otley Hall.