At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Gregory, Barnham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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'Non Angli sed angeli' by Ak Nicholson   Barnham church sits in north Suffolk halfway between Euston and Elveden, two villages with churches that are much more famous, and also much more locked. St Gregory, on the other hand, is open to pilgrims and strangers every day. There were once two churches in Barnham, but St Martin has been a ruin for almost half a millennium, though you can still find part of the overgrown tower in a nearby garden. Barnham was the place that the Liberties of St Edmund and Thetford met, and there was one parish in each Liberty.

I have to confess that on an earlier version of this entry I described Barnham church as dull. My only defence is that I didn't know what I was talking about. Unfortunately for Barnham, it has taken me seventeen years to come back here, and about seventeen seconds to realise that I was quite wrong. This is a lovely little church, full of simple light and colour. Externally it looks all of an Early English piece, and if this is largely due to the 19th Century restoration then never mind, for it is most harmonious. Only a fool could think it dull.

Stepping inside, you realise that the church was extended northwards by the Victorians, with the addition of not just a north aisle but a north transept too. All this is hidden from the road. In the south wall of the nave and in the east window of the chancel are two wholly excellent windows by AK Nicholson. The nave window depicts St Augustine and St Genevieve (she is the patron Saint of Euston church, and we are on the Duke of Grafton's Euston estate here). Below the two main figures are two pretty roundels, one with St Augustine blessing the English slave children in Rome, and the other of St Germanus baptising the young St Genevieve, with a curious misspelling in the legend.

Blessed Virgin by AK Nicholson Christ crucified by AK Nicholson Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross by AK Nicholson St John by AK Nicholson
Crucifixion by AK Nicholson Holy Trinity shield by AK Nicholson St Augustine and St Genevieve by AK Nicholson

The two windows are different enough in style to show they probably came from two different periods, the east window before the First World War and the nave window later, perhaps as late as the 1930s. As lovely as the east window is, the real star of the show in the chancel is the elegant piscina, which Pevsner thought late 13th Century, and so this and the contemporary font probably suggest a date for the rest of the church before the Graftons restored it. From a quite different era comes a royal arms for William III.

In the north transept there is a replica of the village war memorial with nineteen names on it, a reminder of quite how many people worked on these estates in the days before technological modernisation. But to the west, on the north wall of the aisle, is something quite different and really rather wonderful. It is a collage which builds up, house by house, a map of Barnham as it was at the 1911 census. The houses are named, the people named, and those soon to head off to the horror of France and beyond are shown too, proud in their new uniforms. It is a remarkable work, and deserves to be better known.

Sixty years earlier, at the 1851 census, Barnham had a population of a little over four hundred, and almost half of them attended church on the day of the Census of Religious Worship that year, a remarkably high percentage for an East Anglian parish, especially given that there was a primitive methodist chapel in the village as well. Perhaps the influence of the Dukes of Grafton had something to do with it.

  'Have firm beleif (sic) in God' by AK Nicholson

Simon Knott, August 2016

looking east William III facsimile war memorial
collage of the village at the 1911 census



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