At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Mellis

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Mellis angel west end 

lion   Mellis is one of several villages in north Suffolk that are scattered around a wide, open common. The one 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 twenty minutes or so. A furniture factory was built beside it, and 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 speaks of a former age.

The church is at the other end of the Common to 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, and are rather naturalistic.

Mellis lost its tower in 1730. The collapse seems to have stirred the parish into action, a rare thing 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.

You step into a church that is, at first sight, almost entirely Victorianised, not in itself a bad thing, but this was a fairly anonymous job. However, this place has a couple of earlier survivals which are outstandingly lovely. 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, and appears to depict a selection of Disciples, although it is now in rather poor condition. A third is the beautifully carved rood screen. It has been repainted, but the lions in the spandrels are outstanding.

The Royal Arms are a rare set for Charles I, 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 - I liked them a lot. All in all, this is a pretty church, a well-loved and cared for place.

We went outside into the tight little churchyard, and I thought how peaceful it was here, out on the edge of Suffolk. But then, from the other side of the wide Common, came the freeeeeeeesfroooooong of an express train hurtling relentlessly towards London.

The Common is now under the management of the Suffolk Trust for Nature Conservation, who are trying to return it to its original state after decades of neglect. This involves ensuring that it is grazed appropriately, and that invading plants are removed before becoming established - this isn't interfering with nature, incidentally, since it normally involves excising pampas grass and rhododendrons.

The Common is most famous, perhaps, for being where Suffolk sustained its only casualties in the 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, November 2008

looking west font
looking east 15th Century glass chancel war memorial
daisies lion lion C R


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