At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Peter, Elmsett

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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14th Century porch Elmsett Elmsett

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      Elmsett is a large working village to the west of Ipswich. It straggles around a number of lanes, but the church is out in the fields, the landscape dropping away dramatically to the north. And there is something fascinating across the road, which we'll come back to in a moment. The graveyard is secretive and attractive, a lovely setting for the long nave and chancel, and the neat 13th century tower. This is a building which appears to be larger than it actually is. The porch is interesting, because it has a wooden framework similar to a number of others in this area, but here the framework is infilled with clunch and plastered. Were the others also once like this? Or was this done later?

You step into a long building, full of light. The lack of coloured glass lends an air of dignity, seemly and fitting for traditional worship. At the west end, a fairly awesome Norman font sits on its blockish pedestal. It has a stubborn quality about it, as if, being quite the oldest thing here, it has no intention of ever changing. The pulpit is from the redundant church of Ipswich St Mary at Quay, now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. It is panelled with mermaids flanked by sea monsters. The crisp royal arms, which are lettered to George II and dated 1758, are in fact the arms of Queen Anne of earlier in the century, and the reason that the words Dieu et mon Droit appear cramped in the banner below is that they would originally have read simply Semper Eadem.

Perhaps the best single feature of the interior is the 1609 memorial to Edward Sherland. He kneels at his prayerdesk with a scythe, an hourglass and the paraphernalia of death. Beneath, two wickedly grinning skulls seem to be enjoying their moment enormously. The inscription is reflective and cautionary: Tombes have noe use, unlesse it bee to showe The due respecte which friende to friende doth owe; Tis not a Mausolean Monument Or Hireling Epitaph that can prevent The flux of fame: A painted sepulchre Is but a rotten trustlesse treasurer, And a faire gate built to oblivion. But he whose life, whose everie action, Like well-wrought stones, and Pyramides, erect His Monument to honor and respect, as this mans did: Hee needes noe other herse, Yet hath but due, having both tombe and verse.

The Elmsett war memorial nearby lists eleven boys who never returned from the horror of the First World War, including three members of the Keeble family. Below this are ten names of villagers killed by German bombs on the 12th May 1941, including five members of the Taylor family. Most of the dead were children.

Back across the road, then. Here is the famous Elmsett tithe wars memorial. This recalls an incident, just one of many, in which possessions were seized from the home of a land owner in lieu of payments to the Church. It reads: 1934. To commemorate the Tithe seizure at Elmsett Hall of furniture including baby's bed and blankets, herd of dairy cows, eight corn stacks and seed stacks valued at 1200 for tithe valued at 385.

The relationship between East Anglian parish churches and their villages is an easier one today than it has been for generations, since the abolition of the hated tithe system, by which landowners had to contribute a proportion of their income to the church for the upkeep of its incumbent. This was the case even if they were not Anglicans, which in Suffolk many were not.

It is salutary for us to recall that the tithe controversy has lingered well into the collective folk memory of modern Suffolk. This part of East Anglia gave strong support to the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, who were vocal in their support for the tithe rebels. George Orwell documented the struggle in his novel A Clergyman's Daughter. A fascist councillor was elected by the tithe protesters at Eye and, in 1936, massed lines of police confronted fascist blackshirt thugs protesting against the tithe system outside Wortham Rectory. Hard to imagine, now.

Simon Knott, March 2019

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looking east three-sided altar rails looking west
painted table of kindred and affinity (18th Century) pulpit from St Mary at Quay, Ipswich font war memorial
Stuart arms relettered for George II mermaid panel on pulpit Edward Sherland, 1609
tombes have no use unlesse it bee to showe

Elmsett Tithe Memorial (from Elmsett church)



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