At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Mellis

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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chancel south porch Mellis

    Mellis is one of several villages in north Suffolk which are scattered around a wide, open common, and the common at Mellis is the biggest of all of them. At one end, the Norwich to London railway line cuts a swathe, its high speed trains slicing through every fifteen minutes or so. A furniture factory was built beside it, and other buildings, for there was a junction here, with the branch line to Eye heading off through Yaxley. All finished with now, I'm afraid. The former railway buildings are all in use for other purposes, and the trains no longer stop here. Only the Railway Hotel still tells of a former age, although the cluster of industrial buildings are something of a surprise to come across if you didn't know about them.

The church is at the other end of the Common from the industrial bit, set back among old cottages, and looking very pretty, if slightly unorthodox. The two buttresses at the west end are obviously built of old tower rubble, for Mellis church lost its tower in 1730. The collapse seems to have stirred the parish into action, a thing rare for the Church of England in the mid-18th century, because there are other repairs from around the same time, including two further buttresses, this time of brick, at the east end as well. The squaring off of the porch only accentuates the curious overall feeling that the church is, in fact, melting. The church appears small and rather huddled among its crowding churchyard trees, and you step through the tall south porch into the surprise of a wide nave with a long chancel beyond.

Mellis church has a number of early survivals which are outstandingly lovely and give great character to what was necessarily a substantial restoration. The first of these is the font, a fine example of the 15th Century East Anglian style, with characterful lions around the stem. Another is a grouping of medieval glass in the south side of the nave. This is also 15th Century. The upper lights depict saints, mostly fragmentary, and the two lower lights are also fragmentary, but include two angels standing on wheels. All of it looks to be glass of the Norwich school, although it is now in very poor condition. A third is the beautifully carved rood screen. It has been repainted, but the lions in the spandrels are a delight.

Coming closer towards us in time, the Royal Arms are a rare set for Charles I, dated 1634, which is a touch ironic considering something that happened outside on the Common, which I'll come to in a moment. The glass in the east window is the work of Surinder Warboys, who has her workshop here in the village. It is in her usual light-stroke style, although the daisies in the top lights are somewhat bolder. All in all, this is a pretty church, a well-loved and cared for place.

Outside into the secretive little churchyard it is easy to think of this as a remote place, for how peaceful it is here, out on the edge of Suffolk. But then, from the other side of the wide Common, comes the freeeeeeeesfroooooong of an express train hurtling relentlessly towards London. The Common itself is now under the management of the Suffolk Trust for Nature Conservation, who have returned it to its original state after decades of neglect.

The Common is most famous, perhaps, for being where Suffolk sustained its only casualties of the English Civil War. During a muster, a gun went off by accident, and two volunteers were killed. Not a single shot was fired in anger in Suffolk. The only Royalist stronghold, Lowestoft (trust them to be different) gave up without a fight as soon as they heard that Cromwell was on his way. Given what happened here in Mellis, that's probably just as well.

Simon Knott, September 2018

looking east sanctuary chancel, looking west
east window (Surinder Warboys, 1996) chancel font tower arch, royal arms, font
fragments (15th Century) fragments including two angels standing on wheels (15th Century) thurible WWI memorial
Charles I royal arms 1634 an angel stays Abraham's hand from killing his son Isaac (continental altar panel, 17th Century?) lady altar

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