At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Chelsworth

At the sign of the Barking lion...

 

www.suffolkchurches.co.uk - a journey through the churches of Suffolk

 





Hover to read captions, click to see enlarged images:


North side, showing exterior of the Philibert tomb.

That north side in full.

Victorianised north door - I like it.

The south porch - now a vestry.

looking east.

looking west.

The Philibert tomb in the north aisle.

south-east window of south aisle and parish chest.

That doom in, umm, full.

The font by the north door.

Image niche and piscina in the north aisle - there was once an altar here.

Pocklington memorial.

Medieval tiles in the rood stair.

 

As broad as it's long - All Saints, Chelsworth.

There is no other church in Suffolk quite like All Saints. When you learn that it is entirely cement-rendered, you might be put off it; in fact, this gives it a character quite in keeping with this pretty village of half-timbered houses. 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.

One of the delights of All Saints is that you approach it through someone's front garden. This is an accident of history; once, so many churches must have been like this, but they've all had their access rerouted along ignominious dogleg driveways - I think of Hargrave, and Wickham Skeith, and South Elmham All Saints. Only Cookley still forces you to say hello to the person putting out their washing, or strimming their borders. I think this is lovely.

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 south side is even grander than the north, and that amazing beturreted porch is no longer in use, but has become a vestry. 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.

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.

Suffolk, spring 2003

 

 

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