At the sign of the Barking lion...

Chapel of St Margaret, Mells

At the sign of the Barking lion... - a journey through the churches of Suffolk


Hover to read captions, click to see enlarged images:

That chancel arch in full.

Don't go in.

St Margaret's Farm.


Mells chapel, looking east through the chancel arch. At least, you are. The sheep isn't.

If you take the main road from Halesworth to Southwold and the sea, it isn't long before your eye is distracted by the great tower of Blythburgh church, the self-proclaimed cathedral of the marshes, like a great ship riding the land. Before you reach it, there is the vast hulk of the Bulcamp workhouse to pass; it is now being converted into luxury flats, but it still looks pretty grim and foreboding to me.

Because of all these distractions, you may miss the road sign pointing off to the south which declares Mellis 1/2. If you did spot it, you would probably think to yourself, hang on, I thought Mellis was up near Diss? And you'd be right. It is a mistake. However, some local has helpfully scratched off the i, and instead you cross the infant River Blyth and enter the tiny hamlet of Mells.

Pevsner places it in Holton parish; historically, it was part of Wenhaston, the village centre of which is about two miles away. Whichever, it can never have been very big. I walked past four or five houses at the most. Behind them, the hill rises steeply, and Old Chapel Farm is a clue that we have found what we came to see.

The manor here was held by Mettingham College, and it isn't clear to me if the chapel that stood in this hamlet was a chapel of ease to Wenhaston, or for the College of Priests. It was dedicated to St Margaret, a popular Saint in this part of the county. A document of 1550 says that it was not used after 1465, which coincides with the start of the greatest phase of Suffolk church-building. Intriguingly, after the dissolution the manor was granted to Thomas Denny, a relative of one of William Dowsing's more prominent deputies.

If Dowsing came to Mells nowadays, he would not find much to disagree with. All that remains is the chancel archway, clearly Norman, and part of the wall above it. The site is so overgrown that it is hard to make out the outline - when Dutt came this way in the 1920s, he said it had an apsed east end. Nowadays, only sheep pick over the ruins. Most people in Suffolk probably don't even know about it.

For many years, the chapel was on the County Council's register of buildings at risk. Perhaps it has been stabilised, but to be frank there is not a lot of it left. If anyone with any earlier photographs has a scanner, I'd be interested in seeing them.

Oh, and you can't visit it - the sign on the fence makes that very clear. Mind you, the fence isn't very high.

On leaving the hamlet, note that the farm beside the River Blyth is called St Margaret's Farm.

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