At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Peter, Bury St Edmunds

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Bury St Peter

south door west door St Peter

Set in the 19th Century terraces just to the west of the town centre, near to the famous Greene King brewery, sits the pleasing church of St Peter. It was built as a mission outstation of the vast church of St Mary, and until recently still had a sign saying 'St Peter's District Church' outside. When I revisited in September 2017, the nice lady on duty inside told me that it had been built for the poor area of the parish, so that the presence of the unwashed wouldn't offend the well-heeled congregation of St Mary, a not uncommon arrangement in urban parishes of the mid-century.

St Peter is a surprisingly large church, typical yellow banded brick and Suffolk flint of the 1850s, with a tower that serves as a south porch in the Ipswich manner, surmounted by a sturdy spire which perhaps would be more familiar on an Essex church.

The architect was John Hakewill, brother of the more famous Edward. John's major moment in Suffolk is the rebuilding of Thurston, but that is in a thudding mock-Perp style, while here is something more thoughtful. St Peter's construction coincided with the urban burial acts of the 1850s, so the wide grass area around the church can never have been used for burials. At one time it formed the playing fields for the adjacent St Mary's School, but this has now closed.

The interior has undergone a series of substantial reorderings and makeovers in the 150-odd years of its life, the most recent in the first decade of the 21st Century, but surviving highlights include a surprisingly good Hugh Easton Window of the 1950s depicting the Annunciation in front of St Edmundsbury Abbey and the Norman bell tower.

The east window is an early 20th Century job by Clayton & Bell, installed when the church underwent its ritualist makeover of the time, the previous decalogue and Creed boards relegated to the back of the church, leaving only those painted to the wall in 1856 which they had replaced. The reredos that accompanied the new east window went in the 1970s, and thirty years later the stone screen wall to the chancel was removed and the chancel raised and cleared of furnishings, not without controversy and the complaints of the Victorian Society. But the overall effect now is of a decent, well-used space, seemly and fitting for Anglican worship, a building which has kept up with the times.

This church is invariably locked, but the exterior alone is worth a look, a quiet and perhaps a surprising Victorian moment in a town full of surprises, lots of interesting areas, fascinating churches, and the feel of a town far larger and more important than it is.

  Annunciation by Hugh Easton, 1955

Simon Knott, September 2017

looking east altar with creed and Our Father looking west
font Annunciation (Hugh Easton, 1955) St James (Clayton & Bell, 1902) St Peter (Clayton & Bell, 1902) St John (Clayton & Bell, 1902) St James, St Peter, St John (Clayton & Bell, 1902) angel and chalice
organ speakers 1914-1919, 1939-1946 CL St Mary's with St Peter's



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