At the sign of the Barking lion...

St George, Bradfield St George

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Bradfield St George

Bradfield St George Bradfield St George Bradfield St George

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Lost in the lonely hills to the south east of Bury, the church is a noble prospect, a hill top tower raising its head to heaven. It is said that you can see 16 other towers from the top of it. You certainly get a fine view of this one from the busy Bury to Sudbury road, but three miles later you find yourself very much in the outback. A field in this parish had the medieval name Hellesdun, and is one of the sites suggested as that of the martyrdom of St Edmund, which happened at a place of that name. To be honest, Hellesdon in Norwich seems more likely and even Suffolk's Hoxne, but there is also a Sutton here, the name of the place where the body was taken, and Hoxne has never satisfactorily come up with one of those.

As is so often the case with a church you've seen from miles off, the tower disappears as you get nearby. There is now a sign at the entrance to the narrow lane leading up to it, but on more than one occasion in the past I have cycled straight past. The track leads up between two gardens, and when you get there, it isn't a huge building at all, but quite homely, like its neighbour Little Whelnetham. That 15th century tower is impressive though, lifting to heaven. Unusually, it has a large dedicatory inscription at ground level, picked out in black flint in the stonework on the two westerly buttresses. Her begynnyth John Bacon owthe of the fundacyon Jhu pserve him it reads, which is to say that John Bacon was the author of the start of the foundation (building) of the tower, Jesus preserve him.

Her begynnyth John Bacon owthe (of the fundacyon Jhu pserve him) (Her begynnyth John Bacon owthe) of the fundacyon Jhu pserve him

The graveyard is a wildlife sanctuary, with open fields beyond. A light clerestory came with the north aisle, but Mortlock thought the rest of the building much earlier, probably Norman. In any case, there is a great sense of continuity, although perhaps the late medieval glory of the Perpendicular rules over all. Coming back in May 2019 I stepped through the doorway into the familiar, bright interior, the high windows flooding the nave with light. This is a very well done 19th century restoration, but not without the memory of the more distant past.

Two benches in the north aisle reveal it. One bench end is actually a 19th century replacement, apparently a flying dog but actually the flying lion evangelistic symbol of St Mark. The other is old, probably 15th century. It is a poppyhead which has a face in it with a protruding tongue. It might be intended a green man, but or perhaps the figure of scandal, found in exactly the same way across the county at Blythburgh.

Also in the north aisle is the parish's funeral bier. We tend to think of these as ancient as well, but of course they are mainly 19th and 20th century. Many were in use well into living memory. A few in Suffolk still are. This one has a plaque on it which reveals that it was paid for by the Entertainments Committee in 1924.

You could not be in doubt of the dedication of this church. There are fragments of a 15th Century figure of St George in a chancel window, and a 20th century carved image of St George stands in a medieval niche flanking the chancel arch, and the glorious reredos, a memorial to the lost boys of the Great War, is the best of its kind in the county. St George must have been a very high Anglo-catholic church in its day, and the reredos, with its depictions of the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Magi, and the figures of St George and St Felix flanking the piece, is a relic of those days. Above it, the crucifixion in the east window is to the design of Edward Fellows Prynne in 1913 and made by Thomas Fellowes, one of the last shouts of the triumphant pre-WWI Church of England.

reredos: St George reredos: Adoration of the Shepherds (20th Century) reredos: Holy Family (20th Century) reredos: Adoration of the Magi (20th Century) reredos: St Alban

I always leaf through the visitors' book when I visit a church, don't you? And so it was that a number of years ago I noticed that this church had a regular visitor who signed the book and made a comment on the occasion of every visit, sometimes daily. Some double page spreads consisted of nothing but the record of her visits. A contact of mine observed that this was typically 'Normal for Suffolk', and so it was, and why not indeed, but the person in question has obviously moved on, because they no longer feature in the visitors' book.

I stepped outside again into the busy late spring of deepest rural Suffolk. This was one of the parishes that Adrian Bell mixed into an amalgam as Benfield St George in his masterpiece Corduroy, the single best evocation of Suffolk rural life in the early part of the 20th Century. I had thought of him a few weeks before, cycling this way, and seeing the deep cut fields leading the eye to the horizon, like the corduroy of his imagination. Now, in April, the furrows were a deep green.

Not far from here is Bradfield Wood, an ancient woodland superbly maintained by the Suffolk Trust for Nature Conservation. There is a silence there that you find rarely these days in the southern half of England, so close are we so often to major roads. In this area, that unnoticed background noise falls away, birdsong and windrush rises imperceptibly, and here in Bradfield there is a sense of things beyond the present, beyond the material.

Simon Knott, October 2019

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looking east chancel looking west
fragments: St George (15th Century) St George (20th Century) winged lion (19th Century) Crucified (Edward Prynne, 1913) St John (Edward Prynne, 1913)
pulpit Bradfield St George and Rushbrooke M U sanctuary Norman window splay
1920s bier my life is so sad without you
Prynne Jennings

eroded skull and foliage who commended herself into the hands of her redeemer

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