At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Andrew, Marlesford

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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porch (15th Century) Marlesford


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If you did not know Marlesford was there, you might never find it. And yet it sits right beside the busy A12 hurtling traffic north from Ipswich. Cycling, I've always approached it from the other direction, perhaps by the quiet lane down from Hacheston, across the ford, and into the lovely village. Coming from this side, the busy road to the east does not intrude. The church sits on a back lane, full of familiar greenness on this spring day in 2019. The fields around were verdant too, horses kicking their heels in restlessness at the still-unfamiliar sunshine. Birdsong filled the graveyard, and I felt good to be alive, good to be here.

And I remember other visits, one late on a chilly September afternoon at the other end of a year. A smell of woodsmoke blended with the rising dampness of the graveyard, a feel of Suffolk beginning to prepare itself for winter. I thought of this now and considered this is simply one of the loveliest little villages in East Suffolk.

This is a small church, with a pretty south aisle but no clerestory. The renewed sanctus bell turret on the nave gable probably reflects what was there before. You step into an interior which balances perfectly an ancient space and an enticingly rustic 19th century restoration. This brought the church its collection of Ward & Hughes windows, depicting the children coming to Christ on the north side, and Mary Magdalene meeting Christ in the garden on the south. They are by no means the best of 19th Century workshops, but on a sunny day the scheme here is memorable.

The south aisle has its own little sanctuary, with modern wrought iron rails enclosing the sweetest little altar. The Alstons gaze rather severely from their 17th century memorial, while further west is a later memorial to Lemuel Shuldham, who at the age of 21 was killed in the Battle of Waterloo: Far in advance, within the right of the French lines, his body was found the next morning and buried on the spot. Above the inscription is a cornucopia of the paraphernalia of battle, a cannon, a banner, a cornet, and so on. But the memorial is not wholly secular, because the inscription goes on to say that the memorial was erected to preserve in his native village a record of one so early and nobly lost... in the blessed hope again to behold him in the beauty of immortal life.

Marlesford is probably most famous for being the home village of Flora Sandes. She was born in Yorkshire in 1876, but her father moved to Marlesford to be rector here when she was nine. She spent almost the next thirty years living in this little backwater, where she seems to have made quite an impact, tearing around the local lanes in a French racing car which she had taught herself to drive. On the outbreak of World War One she joined the St John's Ambulance Brigade, and set sail with a group of other nurses to the Balkans.

However, she became separated from them behind Serbian lines. For safety, she joined a Serbian regiment, and was soon promoted to the rank of Corporal. Shortly after her 40th birthday, she was seriously injured in a grenade attack, but recovered to reach the rank of Sergeant-Major and to be awarded the King George Star, the Serbian equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

She retired from the Serbian Army in 1922 to run a hospital. At the start of World War Two she was interned by the invading Nazis, but then expelled, and she returned to Suffolk to spend the rest of her life. She undertook lecture tours in her Serbian Army uniform, and eventually died at the age of 80. A small brass plaque in the chancel remembers her here, but her life is best known for being the subject of the book and film The Lovely Sergeant. It is the quite extraordinary tale of a remarkable woman.

Simon Knott, May 2019

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looking east side altar chancel
font Mary Magdalene meets the Risen Christ in the garden (Ward & Hughes, 1880s) Of such is the Kingdom (Ward & Hughes, 1880s) crucified WIlliam and Avis Alston, 1641
fell in battle at Waterloo north doorway image niches Marlesford MU
Alston monument Flora Sandes

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