At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Ixworth

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Ixworth south porch

The Sower is the Son of Man, the Seed is the Word (Hugh Powell, 1966)   Coming back to Ixworth after almost twenty years away, I found that I couldn't remember where the church was. Being too lazy to get out my map, and not stupid enough to use a satnav, I cycled up the long hill of that remarkably good high street until I reached the fire station at the top, and then I was back in open country. Finally checking the map, I found that the church was at the bottom of the hill. Still, it didn't take long to get back there.

Ixworth is one of those small towns, or large villages, that Suffolk seems to do so well. The Bury St Edmunds to Diss and Stowmarket to Thetford roads cross here, but both are now carried past the village on bypasses, and so Ixworth has the pleasant air of a relatively remote and self-sufficient place, with a shop, a post-office, a couple of decent pubs, and that pre-requisite of modern rural civilisation, a ladies' hairdresser. There's a super little water mill on the road to Pakenham, actually in Pakenham parish but closer to here. Ixworth is not to be confused with Ixworth Thorpe, a tiny hamlet a mile or two to the north, with a stunning little thatched church, and especially not with Ickworth, home of the Marquis of Bristol, some ten miles to the south-west.

As I say, the church is immediately beside the high street, but as it is concealed from it by a row of shops and houses I felt vindicated for cycling past it without noticing. A short driveway leads into a small churchyard, out of which rises a big church, at first sight all built on the eve of the Reformation. This is pretty much the case, since the late 15th and early 16th century replaced everything except the porch and the chancel, and there are even contemporary dates for the completion of the tower. All that remained to be done happened in that other great age of faith, the late 19th century, when they replaced the chancel. All pieces of the ensemble are fairly typical of their dates.

Look west of the church, and you can see the site of the former Ixworth Priory. Most of this has now gone, but the vaulted undercroft has been retained as part of the current house on the site. There are more ruins visible from the High Street further west.

You step into the feel of a thoroughly urban church, as at Yoxford. This is partly a result of the rather mediocre 1854 restoration, early for the century and before people cared too much about rescuing old things, hence the sombre replacement benches. But it is also to do with the sheer size of St Mary, and perhaps that serious east window too. The aisles are wide enough for the nave to feel as broad as it is long. Towards the west, the space beneath the tower has been converted into a meeting room, all finished rather well in the early 1980s manner. Sam Mortlock tells us about something rather fascinating we would be able to see inside the meeting room if it wasn't locked. Several of the dedicatory tiles that were set in the buttresses of the newly-finished tower in the 16th century have been reset here.

One of them is to a local man called Thome Vyal. I could just make it out through the glass door. Mortlock tells us that his will was proved in 1472, and he gave four pounds to the steeple. The interesting thing about it is that we know Vyal was a carpenter, so he probably worked in this church, where no woodwork of the period survives, but perhaps also at nearby Ixworth Thorpe, where much does. Additionally, many of the churches round about here are famous for their bench ends. Perhaps this suggests that Ixworth might once also have had wonderful carvings before the Victorian restoration.

The sombreness of the nave is barely enlightened by the clerestory, and isn't helped by several heavy memorials around the north doorway. But the lady chapel at the end of the north aisle is rather sweet. In medieval times, it was the chapel of the guild of St James, says Mortlock. In any case, there is plenty of evidence of the busy life of the parish, so the gloom doesn't weigh you down too much.

The base of the roodscreen survives, and you step up through it into the 19th century chancel. Now, this is really serious - the great east window positively frowns on you. But all this lightened by a gorgeous window of 1966 by Herbert Powell depicting the parables of the Sower and the Good Shepherd, all very much in the contemporary style of the day. There would be a loss of nerve over the following half century from which stained glass design is only now recovering from.

Parables of the Sower and the Good Samaritan (Hugh Powell, 1966) A sower went forth to sow (Hugh Powell, 1966) Parable of the Good Shepherd (Hugh Powell, 1966) I am the Good Shepherd (Hugh Powell, 1966) Inniskilling (Hugh Powell, 1966)

The east window is an early work by the O'Connor Brothers of 1854, and is really rather magnificent, showing two angels flanking the Good Samaritan at the bottom, and a Crucifixion flanked by the Resurrection and the Ascension. Clearly, the window is before George Taylor took over the firm and rebuilt its fortunes, and their earlier style is more harmonious than it would become by the 1870s. Up in the sanctuary, the Victorians reset the perky tomb of Richard Coddington. Brasses of Coddington and his wife are set within a semi-circular relief, and the tomb chest beneath glows with heraldry.

Coddington was not from Suffolk at all, and could never have expected to end up buried here. However, when the monasteries were suppressed in the 1530s, Henry VIII offered the estate and lands of Ixworth Priory to Coddington in exchange for the village he owned near Ewell in Surrey. This was good business for Coddington, but unfortunate for the villagers of the little settlement of Cuddington, because Henry had their houses and church erased from the map.

In their place, he built the massive pile of Nonesuch Palace, the largest, grandest and most highly decorated single construction in England during the course of the 16th century. It was furnished with all the great riches that continental Europe had to offer. It was surrounded by an amazing park, woodlands and rides. I suppose that it is good to know that the irreplaceable treasures of the English medieval church weren't all frittered away on pointless and fruitless sieges of French coastal towns.

Nonesuch Palace no longer exists. When the English royal family could no longer keep itself in the manner to which it had become accustomed, the house was demolished for building materials. This seems to have taken a considerable time, for destruction began in the 1680s, but at least one of the towers was still standing in the early 18th century. Oliver Cromwell himself had overseen the selling off of the contents during the Commonwealth, and his parliament had ordered the cutting down of most of the trees for shipbuilding. Hardly a memory survives today. But Richard Coddington lies here, probably still feeling quietly pleased with himself.

  died on active service in Burma on July the first 1944 (Hugh Powell, 1966)

Simon Knott, March 2018

looking east font and view east
Three Marys and an angel at the empty tomb (O'Connors, 1854) Blessed Virgin, St John and Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross (O'Connors, 1854) Disciples and an angel at the Ascension of Christ  (O'Connors, 1854)
sorrow not even as others which have no hope (O'Connors, 1854) The Good Samaritan (O'Connors, 1854) Even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him (O'Connors, 1854)
Abraham takes his son Isaac to be sacrificed (Lavers & Barraud, 1867) crucified An angel stays Abraham's hand from sacrificing his son Isaac (Lavers & Barraud, 1867)
For 45 years Carpenter on Ixworth Abbey estate

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