At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Badley

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Badley Badley Badley
external monument window window lancet south door door grill

Badley in the 19th Century, courtesy of Nick Barmer

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    The poet John Betjeman once observed in a BBC radio broadcast that his poems were not intended for clever people. Rather, he suggested, they were jingles for those enslaved to their own passions. Some churches are like that. Mortlock says of St Mary, Badley, that it seduces the senses, and sticks like a burr in the memory. Even Cautley's stiff upper lip wobbled briefly. But to get to this church, you must find it first. There are two ways to reach it. No road goes within a mile of St Mary, and only by a sign to a track across the fields on the busy Needham Market to Stowmarket road would you ever know it was there.

The track is drivable, although too potholed to make cycling a pleasure. It winds lazily through gentle rises for a mile or so, and the noise of the modern world is soon lost behind you. eventually, a cluster of buildings appear below. It is a lost valley. You reach the Hall and a farm house with its and outbuildings, with the red brick church tower in front of it. That's all. Beyond, a hazy maze of trees and fields. No other building is in sight. It is utterly bewitching. In early spring, the wild fields are getting their greenness, and lapwings huddle in the furrows. In this setting, church, Hall and farm are camouflaged, for the grass, hawthorn and trees make a secret world amongst them.

Crows and jackdaws wheel above. The grassed path leads to a little wooden porch, with a drop-gate to keep out animals. As Mortlock observes, it seems to be original, but there is nothing else like it in Suffolk. The door into the church has a metal grill set in it, and this all seems original too, 18th Century at the latest. Through this grill, you can peep at remarkable things.

Alternatively, you might come down the long lane from Combs or Battisford, through Moats Tye and then take the lonely lane to the oddly-named Little London. Beyond here the jinking lane becomes an asphalt track, before petering out altogether as you approach a farm. There is nowhere to park, so at this point you'd need to turn back if you are in a car and seek wonder elsewhere. Those of us left on foot or a bike (and you are going to have to push your bike much of the way from here) will be directed by a sign through a gate and across a paddock. Beyond a second gate, a muddy track leads downwards under bowering trees, and just as you think you must inevitably end up lost in the woods you come out into the clearing described above.

The churchyard is still in use for burials, and what a peaceful spot this must be in which to see out eternity! It is pleasant enough to rest here if for only a moment, especially on a sunny day, among the scattering of 18th and 19th Century headstones and the large Robins monument set into the outside of the south chancel wall. The birds don't seem to mind us being here, although as with many remote spots it is not always so easy to be alone here on a Sunday afternoon in summer. At this point it is worth saying that the church is usually open at weekends from Easter to September, but if you are making a special trip it is really worth checking the CCT website to make sure there are no planned closures, and coming from the Needham Market direction, because a nearby keyholder is listed on a sign at that end of the track. At the very least, he will be able to tell you if the church is already open, and give you the key if it is not.

And you will really want to see inside, for Badley church is haunting and evocative inside. It is essentially an untouched 18th Century interior, with barely a sign of Victorian enthusiasm. The benches and box pews are bleached white by centuries of Suffolk air and sunlight, and flooded with sunshine by the remarkably large five-light west window. The tiled floor spreads, punctuated by ledgerstones and brass inscriptions, entirely rustic.

looking east 'seduces the senses, and sticks like a burr in the memory'
this do in remembrance nor his ox, nor his ass Badley
pews pulpit and reading desk pulpit and reading desk bench end

There are brass inscriptions and memorials to the Poley and Scrivener families. Perhaps the only jarring note is the unexciting 19th Century glass in the east window, typical of Frederick Preedy's 1860s work for the Norwich Diocese. It depicts three Resurrection scenes, not an inappropriate theme here, with Thomas placing his hand in the wound of Christ and Mary Magdalene meeting Christ in the garden, these two scenes flanking Christ breaking bread at the supper at Emmaus.

The church fell out of use in the 1970s, and is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. But it hasn't always been loved. The iconoclast William Dowsing came this way on the morning of Monday, February 5th 1644. Dowsing had a house nearby at Baylham, although by this time he was living further off at Stratford St Mary. It was the last full day of his first tour of Suffolk, and he was probably in a bad mood - certainly, he seems to have been only just realising the enormity of his task, and this was the week he appointed the brutish and scheming Thomas Denny as his deputy. Dowsing found an ally here at Badley in William Dove, the principal landowner and churchwarden. Dowsing himself had about half of the stained glass broken down, but he trusted Dove to get rid of the rest. He also charged him with the task of lowering of the chancel steps which had been raised by order of Archbishop Laud a decade or so before. No old glass survives, and the chancel steps were never to be made high again.

Kirby's 1764 Suffolk Traveller found 82 people living in this parish, although many of these must have been down on the main road, part of which is within the parish boundaries. In 1844, White's Suffolk Directory showed a population increase of just one, to 83 - there were three farms, a windmill, and William Mudd living in the Hall. You can find memorials to Mudds in the graveyard even today. You can see what the church looked like in the 19th Century from the old photograph at the top of the page lent to the site by Nick Balmer. Today, two farms remain, although the mill has long gone. Despite this, and it is a curious thought, out of all Suffolk's churches the journey here still most closely resembles that made by both Dowsing and Kirby.

It is a hard church to drag yourself away from, but eventually you must do so. If you have come here by car, you'll need to go back along the track to Needham Market, but if you are on foot or on a bike and you came that way, you can extend your journey into the past by continuing along the track west from the church. It forks here, and the right fork leads into the farmyard of Badley Hall, but the left fork is the public right of way I described earlier. The muddy track leads upwards from here, eventually taking you back to the gated paddock described above (the first time I came here in the 1990s I didn't notice this, and got a proper telling-off from the farmer for going through his farmyard). The track continues along the top of the ridge, and if it is winter and the trees are not in leaf then you can see Badley Hall and the tower of St Mary in the valley below.

After about another half a mile, the track becomes metalled again, and after a hauntingly beautiful little thatched cottage, the rather mundane bungalows tell you that you have reached the hamlet of Little London. The top of Combs church peeps rather surreally over the crest of a field, and you can walk to it in ten minutes from here, or take the long way round by road, about two miles. A bit further on, you fully rejoin the 21st Century at the junction with the Stowmarket to Battisford road, where the busy traffic will give you cause to wonder, just for a moment, if it was all a dream.


Simon Knott, May 2019

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looking east 'This do in Remembrance of me' font, organ, west window
beast emerging (15th Century) last year's lavender pulpit contributions inside looking out
commandments board Emmaus Resurrection scenes: Thomas places his hand in Christ's wound, the supper at Emmaus, Mary Magdalene meets Christ in the garden cross hymns

Edmund Brewster, 1633 Edmund Poley, 1613 Ralph Scrivener, 1 May 1605
Peter and Mary Scrivener, 17 December 1604 reade if thou canst and mourne not stones seldome speake but utter miracles

angel angel angel

their name is Mudd the Badley dead skull


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