At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Eyke

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Eyke Eyke

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Eyke straggles the busy road between Woodbridge and Snape. Since the closure of the nearby American airbase it is a much quieter road than it used to be, though I was pleased to see that the village shop was still doing good business. Across the road, and set back from it, All Saints sits quietly, with no tower to lead you to it from afar. At first sight, this is a simple if uneven little church, somewhat barnlike in its ancient churchyard. Tall elm trees around it are home to the jackdaws and rooks who cry into the air and wheel above you as you disturb their peace. A great yew caresses the south aisle. The modern little porch gives no indication that you are about to enter one of the more interesting churches in this part of Suffolk.

You enter into into the square south aisle and nave that together feel almost wider than they are long, and turn east to face a pair of Norman arches, one about three metres to the east of the other. This was the base of what was once a central Norman tower, although almost no indication of it remains from the outside now. It is perhaps not surprising that a Norman tower might be taken down at some point, or even fall of its own accord, but a curiosity is that Simon Cotton and Peter Northeast found a succession of bequests in the second half of the 15th Century to the tower at Eyke. In 1450 Stephen Osborn's will left money to the reparation of the tower, and six years later John Alberch left 40s to the building of the church and tower. 1465 brought Robert Cuttyng's bequest of a noble to the making of the tower at Eyke. These taken together indicate a flurry of activity, but frustratingly there is no indication as to whether it is the repair of the Norman central tower which is being referred to or a wholly new tower, possibly at the west end of the nave. If it was the latter, it was never built, even though almost a century would pass between the first bequest to the tower and the intervention of the Reformation that generally put a stop to such building projects. However, a very large buttress at the west end of the nave might suggest a reason why the tower was not built.

Beyond the Norman arches the chancel opens up, its height accentuating the lowness of the arches which lead into it. It is an intriguing succession of spaces. Mortlock argued that All Saints had probably been a cruciform church, with the south chapel leading off from the south-east corner of the nave taking up part of what was once a south transept. This would mean that the south aisle isn't really an aisle at all in the conventional sense, more a completion of the square between original nave and south transept. The site of the south transept (if such it was) had been a chantry chapel, often referred to as the Bavents Chantry. However, Munro Cautley considered a three part arrangement of nave-tower-chancel more likely, largely on the strength of the arches only having mouldings on the western side. One of the lower tower windows can still be seen on the eastern face from within the chancel, and looks most curious. A bell rope disappears up into the ceilure. Although the western arch only has one band of chevrons, the eastern arch has two. If you look closely at the nave roof immediately in front of the western arch, you can see traces of paint, evidence of a one-time canopy of honour to the now-vanished rood.

There is a small collection of medieval and continental glass in the chancel north window, including a scene of St Bridget feeding the beggars, two mermaids and the arms of the Borough of Great Yarmouth. It was brought here from the rectory of South Elmham All Saints where it had been for many years, and there is a suggestion that the English glass was originally in the now-lost church of South Elmham St Nicholas whose parish was subsumed into that of All Saints after the Reformation.

St Bridget feeds the poor (continental, 17th Century), arms of Great Yarmouth, two mermaids and a roundel St Bridget feeds the poor (continental, 17th Century) mermaids and roundel (15th Century)

Other medieval survivals include several figure brasses. John de Staverton and his wife date from the 1420s. He was Baron of the Exchequer under Henry IV and V. They are headless, but this is as likely the result of an attempt to steal the brasses, perhaps in the 18th Century, as of any form of iconoclasm. The other figure is Henry Mason, an early 17th Century rector of Snape who owned land and left bequests in this parish..

Edward Hakewill carried out the restoration here in the 1860s. His are the angels on the wall plate of the nave. Hakewill is also responsible for the west window, but the woodwork in the church is more recent, and an interesting story pertains to it. As with a number of Suffolk churches a family dynasty of rectors was responsible for the Anglican revival in this parish. These were the Darlings, pere et fils. Between them they held this living for eighty years, between 1859 and 1939. The father oversaw Hakewill's restoration of what had become a near-derelict church. His son James Darling who took over in 1893 had a passion for woodcarving. He taught his parishioners the skill at night classes in the village school. Between them the villagers produced the benches, font cover, organ case, chapel screen and reredos. The bench ends mostly date from the 1920s and include a squirrel, a penguin, an owl, a coiled snake, a bear and a big fish swallowing a little fish, as well as a minister who may well be the Reverend Darling, and another figure perhaps intended as St Etheldreda. The workshop's products can be found in half a dozen other east Suffolk churches.

red squirrel (Eyke woodworkers, 20th Century) penguin (Eyke woodworkers, 20th Century) snake (Eyke woodworkers, 20th Century)
beaver (Eyke woodworkers, 20th Century) big fish swallowing a little fish (Eyke woodworkers, 20th Century) pelican in her piety (Eyke woodworkers, 20th Century)
owl (Eyke woodworkers, 20th Century) Reverend James Darling (Eyke woodworkers, 20th Century) St Etheldreda? (Eyke woodworkers, 20th Century)

The parish's most famous treasure, the 15th century Eyke key, is now in the British Museum. Its wards are shaped to make the word IKE, an alternative form of the village name. I was disappointed to discover that the doorlock has been changed since, but I suppose retention of the original would have made this the easiest of all churches to break into. A fibre-glass copy hangs on the wall.

I remember that when I first visited this church on New Year's Day 2000, I was pleased to be the first person of the new century to sign the visitors book. On that occasion, the nice lady practicing the organ told me that one of the Reverend Darling's daughters was still alive, and occasionally visited to see again her father's and grandfather's handiwork, an extraordinary thought.


Simon Knott, January 2021

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looking east chancel looking west
Eyke Eyke Eyke
Eyke Eyke Eyke key I K E
angel of charity (Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, 1870s) angel of charity (Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, 1870s) Eyke Eyke west window lancet
George Albert Church in memory of HR Cholmeley


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