At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Bucklesham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Bucklesham Road leaves Ipswich through its unpromising south-eastern suburbs and runs along the top of the old Suffolk Showground, now rebadged as Trinity Park. But you are soon among fields and quiet wooded lanes, and once the road has crossed the A12 you reach Bucklesham. Set down a quiet lane not far from its village centre, this is an attractive little church. Small churches which were largely rebuilt during the second half of the 19th Century can sometimes be a little characterless, but not so here.

The architect was William Smith, and the rebuilding took place throughout 1878. The nave was extended and a new south aisle and chancel added. Smith retained the north wall of the nave which, as James Bettley in the revised Buildings of England volume for East Suffolk points out is Norman, with herring-bone layers of flints. When the church reopened after being closed for nearly a year, there were, according to the Ipswich Journal, gasps of astonishment at the impressive and radical alterations.

The south porch which suits it well came in the 1960s, the work of Basil Hatcher who rebuilt Chelmondiston church on the other side of the Orwell. Inside, the church retains its 17th Century pulpit and 15th Century font. In medieval times this must have been quite an impressive church, judging by the foundations of the west tower which were excavated in the 1920s. But centuries of neglect meant that by the 18th Century it had fallen, and like many rural Suffolk churches, St Mary was virtually derelict by the time of its restoration.

A sign of changing attitudes to old buildings is the London newspaper which reported at the time of the rebuilding that the old church had been conspicuous by its ugliness. It went on to reassure its readers that fortunately, its situation was not a prominent one, so that only those living in Bucklesham remember it as an eyesore. As much as we might have preferred the old church to the new one nowadays, I think this trim little building would still please the Victorian villagers who stepped into it on its very first day.


Simon Knott, February 2021

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looking east looking west
sanctuary font in honoured and grateful memory

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