At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Little Blakenham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Little Blakenham
enchanting shaded by trees

I firstr cycled out this way some twenty years ago, and was shocked at the ugliness of the landfill site above the village. Coming back in 2000, I found that it had gone - or, at least, it had been covered and landscaped successfully. Coming here again in 2007, it had begun to mature. Unless you knew what was there before, you would think it nothing but a very bumpy hill.

Actually, it creates a rather secluded valley, cutting Little Blakenham off from the advancing tide of Ipswich. On both previous visits, Ihad cycled through fields of pigs on the way from Bramford, and on that sunny early Spring morning in 2000, with the larks rising and the golden cowslips emerging from their sleep, I was enjoying my bike ride very much.

But I hadn't prepared myself for such a gorgeous churchyard, and even today when I have visited just about every churchyard in Suffolk and Norfolk, I feel the same. St Mary is on the far side of the village, up the road to Nettlestead. You climb to the edge of the houses, and this dear little church sits on a hillside near the road, its graveyard continuing up the hill westwards of it. The trees shade it - but not too much; the celandines scatter a carpet of yellow among the graves, and it is all utterly enchanting.

It is not possible to go around the church, because the garden of the old rectory comes right up to the east wall of the chancel. The land has been cut away here at some point, but a little gate still goes through the hedge. The years have not been kind to the south porch, but even with its broken tracery, the low entrance arch makes it rather charming, and there is a lovely modern Madonna and child in the alcove above the entrance. It is an interesting contrast with the similarly fine one at neighbouring Bramford.

Inside, St Mary is neat, bright and tidy, and obviously as well loved as neighbouring Great Blakenham, Baylham and Nettlestead. Indeed, this is essentially a 19th century church within a medieval shell, although it does have one remarkable feature from earlier days, one of Suffolk's three surviving James II royal arms - Norfolk only has two.

The chancel has some fine Pre-Raphaelite frescos in the splay of the north window, which date from the 1850s restoration of the church. They are supposed to be an overpainting and elaboration of what was there before, which may be true but probably isn't. They are in the traditional 13th century colours of red and yellow, although they are thoroughly Victorian in style. On the eastern splay is a male figure with a halo, and on the western splay a woman cradling a dove; they may be intended as Mary and Joseph, and thisd is perhaps a representation of the Presentation in the Temple. It would certainly be interesting to know what was underneath. The extensive wall paintings at North Cove had their Victorian elaboration stripped away in the 1990s, to reveal a stunning range of 13th century murals. But actually, these here look lovely as they are, and I'd be quite happy if they were left alone; not least, because the plaster they are painted on is cracking, and they will one day be lost to us forever.

Simon Knott, 2000, updated 2007

looking east Mary at the Presentation? altar Joseph? looking west 
window window window window sanctuary
roundel St John 1849 St Peter roundel 
hymn numbers James II Eustace Charles Mason William Arthur French
font mothers union war memorial Light of the World

 

 

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