At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Nicholas, Little Saxham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Little Saxham

Little Saxham Little Saxham
Little Saxham Little Saxham

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Little Saxham is a handsome village, not far from the edge of the Ickworth estate. The church is set at the eastern end of the village where the main road from Bury forks, agricultural vehicles and 4x4s thundering suddenly around corners concealed by ancient yews, the view of the church itself spoilt somewhat by an exuberant use of street furnishings. And genealogists making their way here would be disappointed to discover that the southern side of Little Saxham churchyard was pretty well cleared of all its older gravestones by lawnmower enthusiasts in the 1960s. A few of the older headstones have been reset in a line to the south of the nave, with some good 18th century ones near the porch. An old photograph inside the church shows this graveyard as it once was, an entrancing jumble of priceless ancient memorials. Rather hard to get a lawnmower between, however, and so they are now gone.
But the wide expanse of grass does at least offset Suffolk’s best round tower, and perhaps England’s. There are historical reasons for others being at least as interesting, but are any as lovely? The bell-stage is Norman and thus is particularly worth a gaze because so many of Suffolk's round towers have bell stages of later centuries. The Victorians did very little to it, and the outside body of the church itself is still broadly as it was on the eve of the Reformation. The Lucas chapel (more often referred to these days as the Crofts chapel) on the north side of the chancel was built in the 1530s, just before such things became theologically unacceptable.

You step through a doorway that is broadly contemporary with the tower top, and on your left are two notable archways. The first is a low Norman arch, roughly the same size as the doorway you have just stepped through, but set barely a metre and a half off of the floor. This has been variously identified as a tomb recess, an aumbry, a safe for valuables and a doorway into a lost chapel. None of these seem right, and it seems more than likely that it is the old north doorway, possibly moved here in the 19th Century, although to what purpose is a mystery. Perhaps it was reconstructed simply to look like a tomb recess, for the Victorians went in for that kind of thing. It may have been intended to echo something similar in the chancel. Beside it the tall, narrow tower arch raises the eye heavenwards. The doorway above it recalls the one at Thorington, where the tower is also not dissimilar. Below the arch are panels of the former rood screen, the lions, squirrels and eagles facing each other off in the spandrels.

Turning eastwards, the medieval woodwork is memorable for such a humble building. A lady at a prayer desk may well be part of an Annunciation, a dragon biting its tail looks heraldic, and what is probably a lion looks not unlike the cock-monster at Stowlangtoft.

bearded lion dog woman reading a prayer book creature

Mortlock thought that the entrance to the rood stairs being six feet off the ground suggested that it had once been used to store valuables. This may be so, but I think it is far more likely that it is giving us evidence of a now-vanished wooden section of the stairs that led down into the aisle, as at nearby Denston. The chancel is at once beautiful and plain. The communion rails were rescued from the abandoned church at Little Livermere, and were reset here. On the north side, the curious memorial with its heraldic devices is the blocked up entrance to the Lucas chapel, now the vestry. The shields come from the tomb of Sir Thomas Fitzlucas, which once stood inside.

The entrance to the vestry is from the east end of the north aisle. It is kept locked. However, it is worth contacting the keyholder listed on the door, because, from its days as the Lucas chapel, it still contains the grand tomb of William, first Baron Crofts, in all its 1670s Restoration glory.

Beside the tower arch is the parish war memorial, with three names on it. Frederick Fisher was wounded at Ypres, and died of his wounds at home in Little Saxham in 1919. The other two on the memorial are brothers, George and William Sansom. George was killed at Neuve Chapelle in 1915, William on the Somme in 1916. The two brothers are also remembered on Frederick Fisher's headstone outside in a gloomy corner of the churchyard.


Simon Knott, January 2021

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south doorway looking east sanctuary tower arch font
pulpit St Nicholas, St Paul, St Peter, St Edmund St Luke, Blessed Virgin and St James organ rood stair entrance
virtute et fidelitate in arduis fidelis beware of a thorn
heraldic glass IHS St Edmund (Heaton, Butler & Bayne, 1910) St Nicholas gilt cherub
memorial carved cat (early 20th Century?)

skull flanked by scrollwork war memorial died from wounds received in action... killed in action at Neuve Chapelle...  killed in action at the Battle of the Somme


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