At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Great Bealings

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Great Bealings

Great Bealings Seckford porch Great Bealings

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Despite our proximity to the sprawl of greater Ipswich this church has a decidedly rural setting in the rolling, wooded fields to the north-east of that fine old town. In the thin light of winter the building seems organic in its wild churchyard surrounded by open land on all four sides, from which it is separated by a moss-bound wall. A path through an avenue of trees leads from the main road to the north east corner.

The Victorians and Edwardians were busy here,as we shall see, and much of the stonework of the nave and chancel is new, especially on the south side, but the tower is essentially still that of the 15th Century. The large early 16th century brick north porch carries the iconography of the Seckford family who paid for it, an image niche showing this was before the 1540s. In addition, beneath this, the white band bears the remains of a painted dedicatory inscription. The inner doorway retains the original door, put here when the porch was built, and carved with standing cloaked figures. They are curious, apparently of indeterminate sex. One prays, one holds hands in blessing, a third holds a rosary.

south door: a cloaked figure with crossed arms (16th Century) south door: a cloaked figure blessing (16th Century) south door: a cloaked figure with a rosary (16th Century)

You step into a long, narrow, slightly dim nave. To the east, the chancel seems high above us, the eyes drawn to it by the coloured light. If you've come here from the church of neighbouring Little Bealings then the contrast between the two churches will striking. Little Bealings, set in the middle of its lovely village, is simple and rustic, and full of light. Great Bealings, by contrast, is darker and rather serious inside, glowing gently from the range of late 19th and early 20th century glass.

Probably the best of the glass is the set of the Works of Mercy in the west window, which Mortlock attributes to Ward & Hughes. Much of the rest of the glass appears to be by Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, but there is also typically sentimental work by Mayer & Co in the chancel of the young Christ preaching in the temple. Nearby, a lancet depicts the Raising of Jairus's Daughter, a popular subject in the 19th century as a memorial for a dead daughter. The inscription beneath it remembers Charlotte Olivia Alice.

The nave bench ends are a mixture of interesting 15th Century figures and high quality copies by the 19th Century Ipswich carver Henry Ringham. As usual he reimagined the existing medieval pieces which are mostly towards the west. There are three images of the Pelican in her Piety, two are15th Century and one is Ringham's. Another 15th Century example of the subject can be found at nearby Tuddenham St Martin, almost certainly by the same medieval carver, and possibly even originally from this church.

fisherman, 15th Century seated figure, 15th Century Pelican in her Piety (Henry Ringham, 1850s)
Pelican in her Piety, 15th Century Pelican in her Piety, 15th Century

The tall 1850s finials on the choir stalls are quite a contrast. They are grand symbols of families who held the manor over the centuries as well as of the rector and even the churchwardens. Here is Ringham's work at its grandest, less delicate than his bench ends in the nave but lively and amusing nonetheless. They were commissioned by the antiquarian Edward Moor, who was the father of the rector here in the second half of the 19th century. Memorable among them are the rhinoceros (for the Webb family) and the boy's head (for the Moors). The dog represents the Seckfords, the swan is for the Hennikers.

Moor finial by Edward Moor, 1840s Seckford finial by Edward Moor, 1850s Bridges finial by Edward Moor, 1850s
Henniker finial by Edward Moor, 1850s finial finial
finial finial finial

The church contains two grand monuments. One is in the chancel, to John and Jan Clench, who face us with stern puritan expressions, as if contemplating their fate. Their kneeling sons beneath are accompanied by two painted skulls. That in the nave is to Thomas and Margaret Seckford, descendants of the Thomas Seckford who built the porch. Most moving of all is the late 19th century brass by the north door to Charlotte Allen, grand-daughter of the Edward Moor who carved the chancel finials. She died at the Holme, New Galloway in 1891, at the age of 38. A week later, her remains were laid to rest in the south-east corner of her old home churchyard.

Simon Knott, February 2020

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looking west

two-decker pulpit Christ the Good Shepherd with Works of Mercy memorial
angel with a scroll Gethsemane, Crucifixion, Empty Tomb by Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, 1877 angel with a scroll
Raising of Lazarus Supper at Emmaus Last Supper Adoration of the Magi
works of mercy: comfort the sick clothing the naked Raising of Jairus's daughter The Young Christ preaching in the Temple (Mayer & Co)



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