At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Darsham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Darsham

Darsham Darsham Darsham 

   
   
Blessed Virgin   Darsham will be familiar to many as the name of a railway station on the Ipswich to Lowestoft line. Although in Darsham parish, the station has survived because it serves the nearby small town of Yoxford, to which it is closer. The station name is an accident of history; but Darsham does have a curiously cosy, suburban feel to it that may be explained by its proximity to the railway. Darsham station is on the busy A12, beside the former Stradbroke Arms Hotel, but the village straggles eastwards of here, and you travel for more than a mile before you reach the church. The road makes way for the churchyard, diverting widely to get round it, as at Rendlesham. This is a sign of antiquity, and All Saints presents a grand aspect as you approach it from the west, its 15th century tower rather more slender than we're used to, and its narrow buttresses very elegant. Bequests were left for it in 1460 and 1500 by members of the Lewich family; the latter bequest specified battlements, so we may assume that the tower was all but complete by then.

There is a large cast iron pedestal memorial to the east of the chancel, similar to the one at Dunwich and probably the work of the Leiston iron foundry. The porch is one of those built to celebrate the 1887 Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. When I first visited, in the summer of 1999, the south wall looking out over the wide graveyard had been rendered in a sort of bland porridge, which had caused some structural problems, and shortly afterwards was removed. Underneath, it had caused the decay of the mortar, and the south wall in particular had been very much in danger of collapse. But all is safe and very sound today.

I had left it a long time to come back to Darsham, and when I returned in the summer of 2010 I really could remember very little about it. I saw from my notes at the time that the interior walls had been damp and peeling, but I stepped into a church which felt bright and alive, full of light, the brick floors lending an organic quality which overcame any crsipness of the 19th Century restoration or more recent repairs. The walls were immaculate. This was a church which had been very much loved and cared for since my previous visit.

There are three good brasses in the church, the most interesting of which is to Anne Bedingfield, which lies brightly in the middle of the chancel. She wears her widows weeds and carries a large purse, but already you can see a deterioration in the style from the similar figure of Ann Butts at Redgrave from some thirty years earlier. Interestingly, the inscription misspells her surname, and reads Here lies ye body of Mrs Anne Bedingfeild late wife of Eustace Bedingfeild of Holme Hale in the Count of Norf: Esq who put off her mortalitie the 29 day of March Ao 1641 being of age 80 yeaes and 7 monthes. Mortlock thought she had probably died while visiting her cousin Sir Thomas at the Hall. The inscription is not as crude as some of this decade, but still you might imagine from it that the Bedingfields were rural oafs rather than people of consequence. As I have observed elsewhere, inscriptions like this were produced at a time when the Renaissance was in full flower in continental Europe, and are a telling reminder of the price which the English paid for their Puritanism.

From a little over a century earlier, the font carries a dedicatory inscription, as at neighbouring Middleton - indeed, the Darsham and Middleton fonts are so similar they must surely have been the work of the same hand. The inscription here asks for prayers for the soul of a former resident of Darsham and priest of Bradwell, one Galfri Symond. The two pre-Reformation brasses in the church also carry requests for intercessionary prayers, anathema to the Anglicans and Puritans alike. So, they have done well to survive. Perhaps Catholicism had powerful friends in this parish, or perhaps it was simply that the ordinary people here, despite any protestant sympathies, were disinclined to desecrate the parish dead, and amen to that.There is an image niche set in the window splay on the south side of the nave.

The white light piercing the three narrow lancets at the east end creates a sense of mystery in the chancel. This is a proportionately long church, and the windows the length of the south side, in both nave and chancel, are filled with some good glass, some of it signed by Cox & Buckley and dated 1910. I think the grand image of David with his harp may well be by Heaton, Butler & Bayne, though. The most interesting glass is a continental roundel on the north side. It depicts Christ and St Peter, with St Peter attempting to follow Christ's example by walking on the waters of the sea of Galiliee, as recounted in chapter 14 of St Matthew's Gospel.

When the church underwent its major early 21st century renovation, the old roodloft stairs were opened up. Inside were found a number of skulls, which proved to be medieval. They had probably been disturbed by building work in the 19th century, and were sealed in the rood loft stairway as a joke on future generations. You will be pleased to learn that the proprieties of the modern era ensured that they were given a quiet and respectful burial.

  Christ and St Peter
   

Simon Knott, July 2010

looking west looking east font font
St Peter and St Paul Blessed Virgin and St John Mary Magdalene and Martha Mary Magdalene Martha St John
Mary Magdalene Martha Cox & Buckley, London 1910 
King David Royal Madras Artillery dedicatory inscription G IV R royal arms
King David Mrs Anne Bedingfield Mrs Anne Bedingfield memorial
Mrs Anne Bedingfield decalogue, creed and war memorial

 

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