At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary and St Peter, Barham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Barham south doorway

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The large combined village of Barham and Claydon sits to the north of Ipswich. It has two hilltop churches, half a mile apart at each end of the village above the high street. St Peter at Claydon, the more southerly of the two, sits by bungalows, new housing and Claydon High School. But it was declared redundant in the 1970s, and Barham church, out on the western edge on the way to Hemingstone, serves the whole community alone. Its dedication of St Mary has been extended to include that of Claydon church.

The hilltop setting here is quite different to that of the church that formerly served the Claydon part of the parish. Here, the church is above the houses, above the village, in a vast open graveyard, one of the biggest in Suffolk. You climb the narrow lane up the hill, and then cross from the corner of the graveyard to the big church. There is a comfortable bulkiness to the church, the massive south tower forming a porch as many do in the Ipswich area. The southern face of it has been generously decorated with flushwork, the first indication of the thorough yet restrained 1860s restoration by Edward Hakewill. Curiously, the nave has a clerestory on the south side, but no aisle. The view from the west is singular, the tower/porch balanced across the stark western face of the nave by the modern meeting room on the highest point to the north. The early 16th Century terracotta window on the north side of the vestry was probably made at the same time as those of the original Shrublands Hall - there is another one in the church at Henley nearby. The reason for its location will be revealed inside.

At one time, Barham church was kept locked, and there was a very good reason for this, as we shall see. But CCTV has been installed, and since the end of July 2019 the church has been open every day. You step beneath the tower down into a richly coloured interior. Hakewill's restoration has been softened by the feel of the ritualism of the early part of the 20th Century. The western end of the nave is raised and carpeted to form a baptistry, the font a 19th Century reimagining of the kind of wide fonts of the early 14th Century that you more commonly find outside of East Anglia, in areas where no 15th Century wealth could provide a replacement.

Although there is no south aisle, the Middleton chapel forms a raised aisle on the north side of the church. The aisle was built by the custodians of Shrublands Hall, and what is now the vestry at the eastern end of the aisle was their chantry chapel, hence the placing of the terracotta window. The western end of the aisle has been enclosed by part of the 15th Century roodscreen, and between the two sits one of the most striking objects in any Suffolk church. This is the Claydon war memorial, a 1948 sculpture of the Madonna and Child, by Henry Moore. It was moved here under Moore's direction when Claydon church closed and the two parishes combined. It must have been quite something, getting it in and out the churches, up and down the hills. Mary sits patiently, quietly, her arms relaxed but encircling her son protectively, pondering things in her heart.

Madonna and Child (Henry Moore, 1948) Madonna and Child (Henry Moore, 1948) Madonna and Child (detail, Henry Moore, 1948) Claydon war memorial (Henry Moore, 1948)

The chancel was largely rebuilt in the 19th Century, and obviously intended for shadowy, ritualist worship. However, it still contains a tall mid-17th Century memorial with the recumbent figures of John and Margaret Southwell. If moving Henry Moore's work from one end of the village to the other in the 1970s seems an extraordinary feat, then consider the inscription on the Southwell monument, which reveals that this memorial is sente over from the cittie of Limrick Ireland by Sir Richard Southwell K second sonne of John Southwell of Barham Esq and Margrett his wife as a pious remembrance of them to be left to their posteri(tie) An Do 1640. She raises herself on one elbow, looking into the face of her husband who stares heavenward, holding a small skull in her left hand.

The sanctuary is beautifully ordered with what appears to be 17th Century panelling and a painted reredos designed to suit it. Enclosing the sanctuary, the communion rails are striking and memorable. They are richly carved with angels, sea creatures, flowers and fruit, and one panel is dated 1700. Mortlock thought they were probably Italian. Do they perhaps show another connection with Shrublands Hall? The glass is largely by Ward & Hughes for Hakewill's restoration, and if it is not exciting it contributes to a harmonious whole. The exception is a rather good window set high in the clerestory. The vinework suggests it is by Powell & Sons. It depicts Christ with his hand on the head of a small child, and remembers Henry Pye Phillips who died at the age of ten in 1895. Oddly, the glass is not glazed into the clerestory as you might expect, but set in front if it.

Barham church provides a stark contrast with the church at Claydon, now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, looked after but no longer home to a community. And half a mile to the south of Claydon church is a third church, St Mary Akenham, also now redundant and in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. In contrast with its neighbours Akenham is a lost and lonely place, half a mile from the nearest road with only an abandoned farmhouse and a couple of cottages for company. As the survivor of the three, Barham church now serves a community of not far short of 6,000 people, and it is obvious to any visitor that is well-used and well-loved, a happy eventuality.

Simon Knott, August 2019

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looking east chancel looking west
John and Margrett Southwell, 1640 John and Margrett Southwell, 1640 John and Margrett Southwell, 1640
reredos: I am the bread of life 'Suffer little children to come unto me' flanked by the four Evangelists (Ward & Hughes, 1860s) Christ and a child (Powell & Sons? 1890s) Christ calms the waves (Ward & Hughes, 1860s) Baron and Baroness Saumarez, 1937
crucified tomb recess font
altar rail gates (1700) This Monument is sente over from the cittie of Limrick Ireland 1700 (altar rails)
died of wounds in honoured memory of the men of Barham who gave their lives in the Great War this tablet is erected and a wheeled bier presented by the parishioners Died at Cairo

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