At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Barrow

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Barrow Barrow Barrow

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A delightfully-set church away from its village, a perfect choice to visit on a day in the early spring of 2019. The large graveyard with its three centuries of gravestones is a fascinating place to potter about. The church is crisp and neat, and was obviously given a thorough 19th Century going-over, but there is enough to show that here is a church that Norman in origin and was essentially completed before the Black Death arrived in the mid 14th Century, with only Perpendicular windows still to come. The Victorians were restrained, and it is all done well and looking fine. It is a taste of things to come, for you step into a church which is obviously much loved and well-cared for. And yet it is far from a run-of-the-mill interior.

Lewis Cottingham began the restoration here in the 1840s, an early date for Suffolk, and his son NJ Cottingham completed it after his death. The view to the east is full of light, for the later Victorians were sparing with their coloured glass, and the 1848 east window in patterned glass with medallions in an early ecclesiological style is perfect for its setting, as it should be given that it was designed by NJ Cottingham himself. The white light of the nave is a foil for the early 15th Century font with its painted shields. They show both ecclesiastical and secular powers, ranging from the Diocese of Ely to the State of France. The odd one out is to the local Despencer family who donated the font.

In a lancet in the north wall are the two curious shapes of medieval painted figures. The wall paintings were exposed by the Cottinghams' restoration, and the whitewash had been regularly renewed up to their outline. However, over nearly two centuries the exposed figures have faded completely, and only their faint ghosts in the plaster show us where they once were.

The Heigham family are ubiquitous in this part of Suffolk, and up in the chancel there is an elaborate brass to Clement Heigham and his family . Heigham died in 1570, but the brasses have been set in the back of an Easter Sepulchre of perhaps a century earlier. The 17th Century memorials to Heighams in the chancel were repainted rather garishly in 1969, which Pevsner declared a misfortune. The font was repainted at the same time.

 The benches are mostly modern, except for a couple of endearingly rustic ones in the south aisle and some bench ends up in the chancel. The early 21st Century reredos on the south aisle altar depicts a pastoral view of the church and its village, and replaces a rather alarming 20th Century triptych of St Michael dispatching a dragon in the prog-rock style of the 1970s that was here when I first visited the church.

A picture hanging on the north side of the nave depicts Mary Beale, perhaps the most successful of all female English portrait painters of the late 16th Century. She was born Mary Cradock in Barrow in 1633, the daughter of the rector who was an amateur artist. She married a friend of the Heigham family, and by the end of the Commonwealth she had established her business in Walton-on-Thames. They later moved to Hampshire, probably because of the outbreaks of plague in London in the early 1660s. She wrote an instruction manual for other budding female artists, and all in all seems to be someone that we should all know more about. Also worthy of note is that Barrow lays claim to be the parish where the last wolf in England was killed.

Simon Knott, January 2020

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looking east looking west chancel
Clement Heigham shadows Clement Heigham, 1634 war memorial (detail)
side altar floor level piscina and sedilia
Nativity (NJ Cottingham, 1848) Last Supper (NJ Cottingham, 1848) Baptism of Christ (NJ Cottingham, 1848)
Mary Beale, artist c1660 sepulchre Alleluia
patris matris que in memoriam fratres Beeling posuerunt AD MDCCCXLVIII (NJ Cottingham, 1848)

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