At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Chelsworth

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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proud lion Chelsworth stern gryphon

14th Century tomb canopy  

There is no other church in Suffolk quite like All Saints. Chelsworth is one of the prettiest villages in Suffolk, and its church is only approachable through someone's garden, as at Cookley. This forces you to say hello to the person putting out their washing, or strimming their borders. I think this is lovely. The church is no match for the village, I fear, being cement-rendered and Victorianised inside.But it is bold, and majestic, and seen across the fields has a beauty of its own that none can match.

Chelsworth is the thinking-person's Prettiest Suffolk Village - much classier than blowsy Kersey. That said, as a cyclist I prefer Kersey. Chelsworth's village street is a ratrun for those taking the shortcut through Bildeston between Stowmarket and Sudbury, and is no pleasure to wander along anymore.

I try to make it a habit to walk around a church before going inside. This sounds easy, but so often I am tempted to rush and see if the church is open, and end up going inside first. All Saints repays the effort of resisting this more than most; if I tell you that I have never found it locked, and even if it is you can pop back to the house and ask them to open it, perhaps you will also walk around it first. You will find, with some surprise I hope, that the hidden south side is even grander than the north, and that the amazing beturreted south porch is no longer in use, but has become a vestry. In its windows is reset 17th Century continental glass, but these are locked away from public sight. This side is a familiar Perpendicular rebuilding of the late 15th century; it reminds us that we are in Suffolk. As a bonus, several of the buttresses still bear consecration crosses.

We now go into All Saints from the north, and this porch has been Victorianised in the nicest possible way. This description holds true for the whole church, really; there is an enthusiasm about Chelsworth which is tenuous elsewhere. It is all done very tastefully, except for one awful, dreadful mistake, which we will come to in a moment.

Before going in, you will have wondered at the extraordinary structure set into the wall of the north aisle. Inside, this turns out to be a huge 14th century tomb canopy. Mortlock argues that it was originally free-standing before being sited here, presumably in one of the arcades, but possibly up in the chancel, in which case it might once have been an Easter sepulchre. The case is made for it being the tomb of Sir John Philibert, who died in 1334. It is a magnificent piece.

The windows are almost entirely glazed in 19th century glass of an understated kind; although this is a big church, it doesn't feel the least bit urban. You never doubt that you are in a rural outback, so presumably Diocesan architect Richard Phipson didn't get his hands on it. The millennium window by Paul Quail at the west end of the north aisle is barely noticeable, which is probably the best thing that can be said about it.

Above the chancel arch, there is a doom painting. These are rare enough survivals, given that most churches must have had them. Unfortunately, the people who found it in the 19th century thought it was so significant that they repainted it. Now, it sits up there in garish colours as a testimony to Victorian ignorance; which is a shame, considering the good things they did elsewhere here. The rainbow in particular, on which Christ sits, looks as if it has been done for a children's party in the 1970s.

A significant family in these parts in years gone by was the Pocklingtons. They have a hatchment, and several memorials, but the most interesting is probably to Sir Robert Pocklington, who died in 1840. He was a knight of the military order of Maria Theresa, created as such in the late 18th century by Francis II, the last emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Legend has it that Pocklington saved the emperor in person from the attentions of the French. I wonder what they made of that in this rural outback?

Another name worthy of mention is Charles Peck. Incredibly and mercifully, this village of more than 300 people lost only one of its sons to the horror of the First World War. He was 19 when he died in September 1917, a teenage innocent on the killing fields of Flanders. Because of this, he gets the pretty little war memorial all to himself. Across the church, a memorial to John Venables Scudamore, killed at Gallipoli, reminds us that he too was born in this parish.

  Charles Peck

Simon Knott May 2003, updated July 2015


looking east north aisle side altar font
died at Gallipoli a hundred years ago today George Stracey Smith, real portrait Good Shelphed, Light of the World millennium window by Paul Quail brilliant services in Flanders let us remember the young and tall who passed before us once, then vanished in a mist

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