||Of all Suffolk, I like
cycling the north-east best. Drop me
anywhere that's roughly in that area
beyond a line drawn from Diss to
Aldeburgh, and I'm happy. Mind you, there
are a few roads up here that aren't such
a joy, and one of them is the Beccles to
Lowestoft road. For much of the
Norfolk/Suffolk border, the traffic is on
the Norfolk side of the Waveney; but
here, it hurtles along relentlessly
through what must once have been pretty
little villages like Shipmeadow, Barsham, North
Cove and Barnby.
is easy to escape it; a quarter of a mile
either side, and you wouldn't know it was
there. But that is of little consolation
to the pretty church of St John the
Baptist, Barnby, which sits right beside
it, protected only by a few cottages
which front its ancient mound. Parking is
about as difficult as it could be for any
church in Suffolk.
first came here about ten years ago. I was
cycling from Lowestoft to Ipswich, a regular ride
for me in those days which seemed to have an
infinite variety of routes. Despite the traffic,
it felt here that I was entering the proper
countryside at last, and I was a little excited
about visiting this church, if I am honest, as I
had read so much about it. Coming back in 2009,
the same excitement was tinged with an
gorgeous little church is 13th century, all of a
piece. As is common in this part of Suffolk,
there are no aisles and no clerestory, and not
even a clear division between nave and chancel.
The result is a long, tunnel-like structure uder
a thatched roof. The east end is illuminated
within by Margaret Rope's last great work, Christ
standing with two of his Disciples beside St John
the Baptist. A simple crucifixion is set below
it, and would have formed a backing to an
east-facing altar. It is amongst the finest 20th
century glass in Suffolk. If you look closely,
you will see her signature at the bottom, a
tortoise. The sweet roundels depicting scenes
from the St John the Baptist story set in the
windows on the north side are also hers.
jewel-like windows punctuate an important
sequence of the wall paintings, which have been
extensively uncovered and restored in the 1990s.
The best is the Annunciation scene above a
Y-tracery window.. Mary is engrossed in her
prayerbook, as the angel descends quietly behind
her. Other paintings show scenes of the Passion
and the Seven Works of Mercy.
John the Baptist has a 15th century banner-stave locker, in which
pre-Reformation liturgical regalia were stored.
There are about a dozen of these surviving in
Suffolk, mainly in this area. What makes Barnby's
remarkable, however, is that it retains its
original door, a unique survival in all England.
It is set into the north wall of the nave. It is
smaller than the others, and the door of ancient
wood is pierced with tracery. And yet, one glance
at it tells you that it was never finished.
Photographs from the 1930s show the door hung the
other way up, but it has now been restored
correctly. The locker itself is still in use,but
mundanely, for storing hymn books.
early 20th century rood beam and cross have been
reset rather oddly at the west end of the nave,
beyond the font on its brightly painted
pedestal.To the north, there are photographs and
memorabilia depicting this church in its Anglo-catholic heyday of
the 1920s and 1930s. One picture shows the clergy
and choir. On the occasion of my first visit, the
old gentleman who let me in saw me looking at
this photograph, and observed sadly that
"there's less than that of us in the whole
|One reason that I love this
part of Suffolk is how, away from the
towns, this is a land of many churches
and few people. Barnby was once a busy
railway halt, but that has all gone now.
There was an American airbase here during
the Second World War, which now functions
as a heliport, with some industrial use
as well. But, generally, not many people
live around here.
years ago, I had thought it hard to see
how Barnby's church could survive and be
sustained even within its joint parish
with North Cove, other than perhaps as a
rural outstation for weddings and
funerals. However, I was delighted to
discover on returning that, since my
first visit, the numbers in the
congregation here have actually gone up,
and there are services at least once a
fortnight. My expressed fear at the time,
that this building must not be allowed to
fall into the hands of the property
developers at Diocesan House, is no
longer an issue.