At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Kesgrave

At the sign of the Barking lion...

 

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from the north-east, the extension hidden

that massive porch

looking east in the old chancel

royal arms

looking west in the old church

glass in the old chancel

original sanctuary

 

Kesgrave All Saints: imaginative and articulate, the extension to the south

Like its near neighbours, the Anglican Rushmere St Andrew and the Catholic Holy Family and St Michael, this little CofE parish church has been extended greatly in the last few years to meet the demands of new housing in the area.

This must have been a very small church indeed before 1980, and the grand north porch must have quite overwhelmed it. The late medieval redbrick tower is one of several similar in this area, and again appears overgrand for the little nave. The buttressing is most curious, as though the tower and nave had to be joined together at some point.

You step into the middle of the former nave, the former chancel to your left screened off to create a space for private prayer. It is dedicated to St Francis. The screen is narrow panelled in pine, a bit like the east window at Rushmere. Intriguingly, the rood beam survives just beyond it. To the right, the Victorian font has been moved back towards the tower, in an attempt to create the sense of a baptistery, although the space is actually rather awkward.

However, this doesn't matter. For ahead of you is one of the most splendid modern liturgical spaces in Suffolk. It is large and square, competely altering the expected dynamic, and moving the focus quite away from the former chancel.

looking south into the new extension new sanctuary modern church looking back into the old church
reredos west wall of extension lights lectern

Wooden archbraces stretch from east to west, almost in the manner of an upturned boat, and the chairs focus on an altar placed centrally against the east wall. The whole piece is imaginative and articulate. It would have been easy, for instance, to simply place the new altar against the south wall, in the manner of a traditional church. However, here it is both unified with the former chancel, and surrounded in the approved Vatican II manner.

The architect was Derek Woodley, from Felixstowe. He is not well-known, but his work here deserves praise and recognition. He also did the fine entrance area at Kirton, and the restrained restoration of Iken after the dreadful fire. The furnishings, the needlework reredos, the glass and wood are all exquisitely done. The embroiderer was the Suffolk artist Isobel Clover, whose work is more familiar from Catholic churches, such as that up the road at Holy Family.

The extension dates from 1980, but even if it had not been required, major work was necessary to prevent the collapse of the former south wall. The cross beams from the extension are, in fact, holding up the old church.

To the west of the new extension are church offices, and, that blessing in a medieval parish church, lavatories. On the west wall in a case are a pair of medieval sheep-shearing scissors, found when the extension was built, a reminder that Kesgrave has not always been underpasses and supermarkets.

This is a busy, successful building, where the congregation is growing again after a period of decline. The extension and consequent reorientation should give a few other parishes pause for thought.

Simon Knott, 2007

 

 

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