At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Lawrence, Lackford

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Lackford this is the gate of heaven

Victorian child   There are few lovelier settings for a church in Suffolk than that of St Lawrence. It sits on a bluff overlooking the Lark Valley, and the distance from the nearest road means that all you hear are the birds, the occasional horse cropping and snorting in the adjacent field, and perhaps the breeze in the beeches. Several public footpaths meet at the churchyard gate, but to reach the church by car or bike you need to come up from the village through a new housing estate which presumably stands on the old glebe lands. A hard track then takes you the last quarter of a mile to the pleasant churchyard.

There was a fairly major 19th Century restoration here, and externally this appears to be what you see. A narrow north aisle was added, the old one having been previously demolished and its arcade blocked up. The crispness of the tower, porch and chancel also speak of this time, but in fact all are 14th Century survivals, and the tower has a very good Decorated west window, unusual for Suffolk. At the other end, the chancel has a flattened Perpendicular window, typical of the early 16th Century and equally unusual. At the time of the Restoration, the quotation from the Book of Genesis This is none other but the House of God and this is the Gate of Heaven was stencilled above the south doorway, and there is, as I pointed out in an earlier entry for this church, an irony about that.

As lovely as the setting of the church is, its remoteness unfortunately leads the parish to keep the church locked. Despite the doorway being the Gate of Heaven, I had been trying to see behind it for years. Even coming during Open Churches Week 2011 didn't help, and I got short shrift from the churchwardens when I moaned about this.

Well, there still isn't a welcoming keyholder notice, but the emergency contact list gives details of the churchwarden's address, and it must be said that he was very nice about it when I called without making an appointment. The church was being prepared for a wedding, but I was still invited in and allowed to wander around exploring for myself, for which I was very grateful. The church had undergone a massive internal restoration about ten years before, when a new roof was built above the visible scissor-braced one, and a number of older features had been brought to light. The church historian Clive Paine had visited soon afterwards, and his discoveries added to the interest of the place. The churchwarden was very informative about these, and he was clearly very fond of his church.

The carved foliage of the 14th Century font is beautiful. It must be contemporary with the rebuilding of the church in the years immediately before the Black Death. To understand the effects of that rebuilding, it is only necessary to turn to the east, when the most striking feature of St Lawrence becomes immediately apparent. The walls to north and south suddenly thicken and bulge inwards, and the only explanation for this can be that the church once had a central tower. Indeed, the most easterly arch in the north arcade must once have been the entrance to a transept from the crossing. This, then, was probably a Norman church substantially rebuilt in the early 14th Century. There are little cowled faces forming corbels to the roof support, and some detached ones which had been reused as building rubble were found during the restoration. Also found was the remains of a carved head, which Clive Paine suggests was that of a statue of St John the Baptist from the 15th Century guild chapel in the transept here. Rather odder are the two heads still in situ either side of the chancel, one scowling and the other smiling in a way that only reminded me of Stan Laurel.

Another discovery that Clive Paine made was beneath the medieval bench ends which are built into the long Victorian bench which runs down the north aisle. Under the most westerly set can be seen a carved, broken wheel, the sign of St Catherine. Interestingly, the nearest other parish church to here is St Catherine at Flempton, and in the late 19th Century these churches were already in a joint benefice - so did these bench ends come from there?

There is the upper part of a figure in 14th Century glass in an upper light of a nave window, quite probably in its original setting. There are 19th Century roundels of the Agnus Dei and the Evangelistic Symbols in the windows of the aisle, a memorial to a Victorian Rector. The only other glass is in the east window, the work of the great Henry Holiday, but it is really rather poor in both quality and design. It depicts the children being Suffered to Come to Christ; he stands centrally with a mother and father either side, the bewhiskered father carrying a baby and a little girl hiding in her mother's skirts. It was originally made for Clapton parish church in London, but it has ended up here.

I was really glad I'd seen inside at last. This is a fascinating interior, and if it is not as lovely as the churchyard outside it makes this quite the most interesting of the churches in this area. If only it could be more welcoming!

  agnus dei

Simon Knott, May 2013


looking east looking west Suffer the Children by Henry Holiday father and daughter by Henry Holiday Suffer the Children by Henry Holiday 
grumpy cowled head 14th Century glass Stan Laurel
St Matthew St Mark St Luke St John
St Catherine's wheel St Catherine's wheel heads 14th Century font

clerk of this parish for 20 years caretaker of this church also on the left hand side killed in action at Passchendaele
sacred dead

lost his life in British Columbia fell in action at Nakadi East Africa WWI: the Meekins brothers

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