At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Kenton

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Kenton Kenton Kenton
Kenton Kenton Kenton south porch doorway

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    The village of Kenton sits in that most intensely agricultural part of Suffolk between Eye and Framlingham, not a place you'd expect to find the holiday homes of North Londoners so much as a living community, albeit a small one. Remarkably, this tiny village once had a railway junction, although you'd need a fairly vivid imagination to picture it now. The Mid Suffolk Light Railway ran through to the north of the church, and in 1912 the company put in a spur to Debenham, the only town anywhere near the route of the line. It was an ill-conceived plan, for they were never able to obtain a passenger licence for it, and its usefulness for freight was somewhat curtailed by their inability to bring it closer to Debenham than a field a mile to the north of the town, meaning it remains the largest place in Suffolk that the railways never reached. The spur line absorbed a huge amount of the company's capital, and it was probably partly responsible for the Middy's demise in the 1950s. It is ironic that the only substantial relic of the Mid Suffolk Light Railway is on this spur, for the embankments of a bridge survive over the B1077.

All Saints has survived much more successfully, despite the enthusiasms of Edward Hakewill in the 1870s. The tower, as commonly around here, is of the 14th Century, although Pevsner pointed out that the flushwork ornamentation of the parapet is probably of a century later when there was a general refurbishment of the the nave and the south porch was added. The north porch is Hakewill's, as is the east wall of the chancel with its triple lancets, but in any case the most memorable external feature of the church is the fine red brick south aisle and chapel, flush with the south porch and with its own entrance from it. It was built as a chantry chapel for the Garneys family in about 1520, and was dedicated to St John the Evangelist. Peter Northeast and Simon Cotton transcribed John Garney's will of 1522 which directed that my body to be buried in my chapell on the south syde of Kenton church late by me edified and ther to be layd upon me a merble stone with suche other coste as myn executours shall thynke mete.

A couple of other wills transcribed by Northeast and Cotton give a vivid picture of the life of the late medieval Catholic Church here in Kenton. In 1423, Roger Starlyng, who was the perpetual vicar here (which is to say the incumbent was paid by the impropriator of the tithes) asked to be buried in the chancel of the said church, and bequeathed 20s towards the representation of God sitting in majesty on the Day of Judgement with the associated subjects relating to the Last Judgement. This is fascinating, for it clearly refers to a doom painting, probably above the chancel arch. It may have been a wall painting as at Stanningfield and North Cove, or more excitingly perhaps a painted tympanum as at Wenhaston, not so very far away. Whatever, not a trace of it survives, and even the chancel arch has gone. Nicholas Wade would certainly have seen it though, and in 1507 he left a bequest to sing for my soule and all my frendys soulys, and asked further that the same priest to go a pilgrimage with in the said yere to our lady of Walsingham and there to syng a masse and to the good rood of Beccles and there to syng another messe and also to to to Bawburgh to Seynt Walstans and there to singe the iijrd masse for my soule.

The south porch conceals an early 13th Century doorway, and you step though it into the nave. As restrained as Hakewill was outside, his mark is fully stamped on the interior. The furnishings and floors are all his, and the nave is dominated by his great chancel arch which is supported on Early English style columns, perhaps a nod to the south doorway. The font is also of the 13th Century, one of the Purbeck marble series commonly found in East Anglia, but it is a little different because the sides are canted rather than straight. Hakewill reset it on marble columns in the style of its time, but intriguingly a drawing from earlier in the century shows it set on a typically East Anglian 15th Century font stem. This now stands in the south aisle supporting a statue of the Blessed Virgin and child. There are a number of possibilities, but the most likely one seems to be that there was once a 15th Century font here, and perhaps the bowl was removed from the church during the Commonwealth period to prevent superstitious infant baptisms. This not uncommonly happened in East Anglia. It may be that the font was then lost or badly damaged, and at the return of the Church of England in the 1660s it was replaced with an older font found elsewhere, which is still here today.

The rood loft stairs climb pleasingly up from a window sill on the north side of the nave. There was probably a now-lost wooden stage that went up to them from the nave floor. You can see the same arrangement nearby at Occold, although there they are on the south side, and may indicate the influence and possibly even the involvement of the master mason Hawes of Occold. There is very little coloured glass in the church, and what there is, if not good, is at least restrained. The figures in the three east window lancets of St Peter, St Paul and the Blessed Virgin are by Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, and came as part of Hakewill's 1870s restoration. Intriguingly, during Hakewill's time there was a figure brass in the south aisle to the John Garneys whose will we met earlier. He apparently left it alone, for Munro Cautley and Arthur Mee both saw in situ in the 1930s. However, when Thomas Felgate illustrated it in his Knights on Suffolk Brasses of 1976, he recorded that it was loose in the vestry. I wonder where it is now.


Simon Knott, March 2023

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looking east Kenton Kenton
font font stem (15th Century) font stem (15th Century) rood loft stairs
St Peter (Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, 1872) St Paul (Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, 1872) Blessed Virgin (Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, 1872)


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