At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Letheringham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Letheringham

Letheringham Letheringham Letheringham
Letheringham Letheringham: the priory gatehouse Letheringham 
Letheringham Letheringham Letheringham

   
   
somtime principal Secretarie and after Maister of the Wards & Councellor of State to our late King James of happy memorie & to our now Souverain Lord King Charles   Although Easton is only two miles away, with its busy village centre and the Farm Park full of visitors, Letheringham is a place apart. St Mary can seem more remote than almost any other Suffolk church, especially on a drowsy summer's day, with only the bees in the churchyard to break the silence. There isn't really a village here. The church stands in a farmyard, and at first appears to have no access. But if you go down the narrow lane beyond the farm, a track leads along the edge of the fields, then turns back towards the farm. Access is through a wicket gate, and this is where things start to get interesting.

The church is pressed right against the north edge of its churchyard, and there are several curious ancient structures nearby. The reason is simple. This is the site of an Augustinian Priory, and there are substantial remains of at least one of the outbuildings. The present church is just a part of the former priory church. The eastern end fell into decay, and was demolished in the 18th century. The churchyard wall is aligned with the north wall of the church because it is part of the former chancel wall.

The east window was rescued from the former chancel, and no other ruins remain. So St Mary seems unified, and unlike other shortened churches - Orford, say, or Great Walsingham in Norfolk. The church was derelict by 1730, and the interior was comprehensively sacked. Monuments and furnishings were ripped out. Collectors tore up brass memorials and broke the sculptures off of tombs. The church was, however, restored to use before the 19th century Anglican revival, which is why it doesn't appear particularly Victorian.

During the late 20th Century it fell under the care of a very determined group of people who have ensured its continual use, and, quite wonderfully, tracked down bits of the missing monuments and memorials. They have been returned to the church on permanent loan.

two halves of a woodwose kneeling figure knight kneeling figure remnants

A marble memorial tells us that <i>Favour is Deceitful, and Beauty is Vain, but a Woman that Feareth the Lord, she shall be Praised</i>, which probably played better in the early 18th Century than it would now. The north doorway which led into the Priory cloisters is now filled in, and everything is of necessity modern, but still, there is a quiet loveliness here, and the happy lion on the royal arms seems well-pleased with it all.

Coming back onto the road to Hoo, the true situation of the building on the edge of the farmyard can be seen, the former priory gatehouse looking out across the fields. Beyond, a walled area surrounds the grounds of Letheringham Hall, which was demolished in the 20th Century. A boiling of elder trees at the top of the hill shows its former location.

This is not Suffolk's most beautiful church, or its most interesting. But I think it is lovely, and valuable, and it has one of the best settings in the county. It doesn't take much imagination to see how the dissolved priory could have become a farm, and the priory church, like many others, allowed to become ruined. But it was saved, and that is an accident of history. That so much love has been lavished on it since, is a sign of hope.
1685
   

Simon Knott, June 2008, updated October 2016

   

looking east south doorway looking west sanctuary
happy lion former north doorway killed in action memorial roll of honour
sundial cross royal arms favour is deceitful

Letheringham Church Prayer Book, October 2nd 1863

Amey Syred Letheringham graveyard William Syred

 

 

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