At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Andrew, Cotton

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Cotton Cotton Cotton
Cotton south doorway south doorway: man eating grapes south porch windows

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    Cotton lies along a quiet village street on the other side of the railway line to the much larger and busier village of Bacton. The churchyard is set back from the street, a lush, secretive place, and the church within it seems relaxed, if slightly buffeted by the centuries. It is a softly settled and almost completely 14th Century Decorated building in contrast with the upstart rigours of late medieval Perpendicular found more commonly in Suffolk, of which Bacton church a mile or so off is a perfect example. It is as if the relationship between the two churches replicates that between the villages. Two niches in the east wall face the road, their crowning turrets rising either side of the lovely five light east window with its reticulated tracery. As you walk around the south side of the church the building unfolds, firstly with the surprise of the late 15th Century Perpendicular clerestory, with its monograms between the windows, so similar to that at Bacton that they must be the work of the same mason. And then, coming around to the west side of the tower, there is the even greater surprise of the wide open mouth of the ringing chamber. It is one of only two towers in Suffolk which are open to the west like this, the other being at Wetheringsett. There is no west doorway, the wall space within being filled with a large 14th Century window. One possible reason might be that the tower was built using the west wall of the nave as its east wall, and if the structure is only supported to the south and north it reduces the chances of the tower settling towards the west in the soft ground and taking the church down with it.

The south porch has decorated tracery in its windows, and within there is a lovely 14th Century doorway. The three fluted columns support orders of elegant lines, and within two of them there is painted vinework. Low down on each side at the feet of the vine are two small figures. Are they eating the vine, or is it growing out of them? The door itself has Decorated tracery which may be contemporary, and you step through it into one of the most atmospheric of all Suffolk churches. There is almost no coloured glass apart from a few 14th Century fragments in some of the upper lights, and the overall impression is of brick floors, old stone and simple wooden furnishings. The space seems larger from within than without. Most striking of all perhaps is the remarkable lean of the north arcade, which has pushed the aisle wall outwards too. It is heavily buttressed from the outside.

The stark white walls and arcades rise up into the shadows, surmounted by one of Suffolk's most beautiful double-hammerbeam roofs. It is the same design as the one at Bacton, clearly by the same workshop, with the addition of angels and the canopy of honour to the rood left unpainted. Simon Cotton transcribed the 1471 will of one Thomas Cooke who left the rent of a close called Garlicks in Cotton to the building of the new roof. Six years later Richard Thurbern bequeathed new scabelle (which is to say seating) to be made in the same church from my goods to the laud and honour of the same church, and then in 1485 John Grene left 3s 4d to the reparation of the new candlebeam, by which time the roof must have been complete. Although nothing survives of either the rood screen or the rood loft, you can see the way they were roughly cut into the 14th Century chancel arch, which suggests they had not been thought of when the arch was built.

In the chancel itself, the sedilia and piscina are crowned with decorated canopies which stretched across the opening of a window, the middle two missing. Back in the nave, the 17th century pulpit is unstained and golden. An alarming creature acts as a handhold, a griffin, perhaps. Back at the west end of the nave the font bowl is a later replacement, but the stem is 14th Century, with jolly clerics around the stem. It is easy to imagine that they are based on real people who once went about their devotions in this, one of the most beautiful of Suffolk's medieval spaces.


Simon Knott, March 2023

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looking east chancel looking west
font font and leaning clerestory leaning north arcade
praying figures (14th Century) king and prophet from a Jesse Tree? (14th century) angels (19th Century?)
nave roof nave roof


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