At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Andrew, Chelmondiston

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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south side from the gate a simple essay

angel   Pin Mill is a favourite haunt of fashionable Ipswich; you can sit in the Butt and Oyster nursing a gin and tonic, looking out over the yachts and pretending you own one. Arthur Ransome set We didn't mean to go to sea here. Chelmondiston is the village above, and is a busy, pleasant place: the name is pronounced with the stress on the third syllable. Its church is quite remarkable, though. Like many along this coast, it was derelict by the 19th century, and was rebuilt by E.B. Hakewill, a ponderous architect that I always imagine working with the tip of his tongue poking ever so slightly from the corner of his mouth. Hakewill pretty much rebuilt the entire church in the 1860s. He was very fond of low, north aisles. He built them at nearby Brantham, Rushmere and Shottisham, and he added one here, too. However, one night in late 1944, a V2 rocket took a particular fancy to Hakewill's work, and came in for a closer look. The little church was almost completely destroyed.

Being close to other villages, perhaps rebuilding was not a priority, and it was not until 1951 that Basil Hatcher was given the commission to provide a replacement. You might imagine, at such a date, that he would design something in a jaunty Festival of Britain style, but he did not. Later in the decade, his would be the most significant post-war Anglican church in Suffolk, Ipswich St Francis, but this is a simple essay in Suffolk Perpendicular. Cautley was appalled; When you read his account in Suffolk Churches and their Treaures, you can almost hear him red-faced and blustering. This is a bit rich, considering he'd done the same thing at Ipswich St Augustine himself 15 years earlier.

But I rather like it. Stepping inside to a feel of the Fifties, you are confronted with a glorious array of propped kneelers, giving a sense of a faith community in possession. Although much is new, there are survivals from Hakewill's church, and even from the church before Hakewill. At first sight, you might this includes the font, which is fairly typically 14th Century, but in fact that was Hakewill's as well. But the best work of all here is the glass in the chancel. It is the 1960s work of Francis Skeat, his only work in Suffolk.

St Luke the summoning of Peter Luke heals a child three Marys east window

The east window is fairly traditional in content and arrangement, rendered modern by Skeat's style. It depicts the Crucifixion, flanked by two separate scenes depicting Christ the Good Shepherd. Interestingly, in both scenes it is the Resurrected Christ we see. At the back of the church is a memorial plaque, telling us that it was given in 1961 by Major John Grove-White in memory of his brother Alfred who was drowned in the River Orwell 7th August 1905. This window replaces a similar one inserted by his mother in the churchwhich was on this site and which was destroyed by enemy action on 10th December 1944. On the south side of the chancel are the Summoning of St Andrew by Christ, St Luke healing a child, and the Three Marys at the Tomb.

The 18th Century hour glass, installed to make sure that Ministers' sermons did not shortchange the customers in the congregation, is still in situ - or, at least, where situ would have been. It is a very fine example.

I had a slightly spooky experience revisiting this church in late 2008. I had assumed, as almost always, that I was alone in the church, and wandered around carelessly scuffing my feet, clambering on pews to get a better angle, and humming tuneless selections from the Chemical Brothers. It wasn't until I wandered up into the chancel that I got the brief frisson of discovering that a hooded figure was sitting in the old choir stalls. She was sketching an arch on the north side of the chancel. Obviously, I apologised profusely, but she made absolutely no response. It wasn't just that she didn't answer me - she didn't even look at me. I walked across her field of vision several times to photograph the Skeat windows, but it was if I was invisible.Was she deaf? But no, because she would still have noticed me, and made some response. I can only imagine that she was some kind of local character.


Simon Knott, November 2008

looking east kneelers looking east altar
Hakewill's font hour glass hour glass PercyTovell
drowned in the River Orwell in memory of his father





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