At the sign of the Barking lion...

Baptist Church, Bildeston

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Baptist Chapel

The hills to the south of Stowmarket, and the villages that nestle in their folds, haunt the memory. Bildeston is not easily forgotten, because of its beautiful market place, and the fact that, despite being a large village rather than a small town, it still has three pubs. But where is the parish church? It is half a mile off, at the top of a hill, with a rather curious modern tower, the result of the old one collapsing in 1975.

People will tell you that the church is so remote because of the Black Death; there were so many dead around the church that the houses were fired, and the inhabitants built a new village a distance away. People will tell you this, but do not believe them. The historical development of Bildeston is fairly well documented; that part of the parish along the road between Stowmarket and Hadleigh was enlivened by the new wealth of Suffolk in the years after the Black Death. Inevitably, a new community grew up here, and the old one around the medieval church fell away.

If you travel out into the countryside along Church Road today, the buildings get older the further you get from the market place. This is a more interesting essay in medieval architecture than you would get in nearby Lavenham, I think, which is in comparison with Bildeston a relative parvenu. That said, there are modern buildings among the old ones, and set back from the road in what once might have been a farmyard is this splendid red brick chapel. Although it is dated 1844, it looks the work of a decade earlier, and might more properly be described as late Georgian rather than early Victorian.

A plaque above the door tells you that the Baptist community in Bildeston existed as early as 1737. The small lawns around the chapel are lined with gravestones, most of them late 19th and early 20th century, and obviously uprooted to their current positions to make mowing easier. The fence of graffiti to the north of the church is interesting, but not attractive - hardly the tourist version of Suffolk which might appear in the colour supplements.

There is no liturgical imperative for a non-conformist church to be open, and of course this one isn't. Looking through the windows, wondering what you might have missed, you will find that the answer is nothing at all. The furnishings have gone, to be replaced by cheap plastic chairs. I have no doubt that this is the liveliest congregation in Bildeston, but the loss of the interior, and the marginalisation of the gravestones, made me think that something of value had been lost.

Simon Knott, 2008

Baptists taken from us his end was peace
inside 1844 inside



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