At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Peter, Milden

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Does Suffolk have any lonelier, prettier spots than this? Here we are, high above the Brett valley, Lavenham church off in the distance and only the village hall for company. Whichever way we've come, the last couple of miles to the church have been along narrow country lanes, the hedgerows full of angelica, birds scattered in surprise by an unfamiliar bike or car. I first came here a quarter of a century ago, quite early on in my journey around Suffolk's churches. I came back in the Spring of 2003 expecting to be disappointed, but I wasn't; it is as deliciously remote and beautiful as I'd remembered. It seems inconceivable that we are barely 80 miles from central London.

The church is towerless; it was taken down in the mid-19th century, and not replaced. This may make St Peter appear rather small from the outside; inside, it is wide and open, bare-walled and brick-floored, full of light. Without its tower, its Norman origins are less hidden, and the rebuilt west wall does not ill-serve it. All around, cowslips scatter across the grass, with sprawlings of violets in the shade of the trees. An avenue of laburnums leads up to the porch; this is a replacement of the original early 20th century planting, but will eventually be as lush as its predecessor. A deep peace is filled with the piping of blackbirds. My ten year old son darted about, exploring the stones; when I had been here before, I had held him as a baby in my arms.

St Peter is militantly open everyday. I know this because, shortly after we arrived, and my son was energetically pouring coppers into the alms-safe, a woman arrived to do the flowers. She was as elegant as her church. So often I make a visit, and a churchwarden arrives to check on me within a few minutes, ostensibly to put up a notice or water the display; but here, it must have been genuine. There are no houses around, and she arrived by car. She showed me the portrait of William Burkitt in the vestry, an 18th century Rector. Mortlock found his picture fascinating, because Burkett's cassock had been cut out to provide the clothes for the picture; and so did I. Burkitt is mentioned on the charity board to the left of the organ, for learning all the poore children to read.

St Peter has a number of features that would be better known in a less remote church. Firstly, there is the pretty Norman font with its spindly legs. It is probably the original. Beside it are some earthy, rustic benches, one of which is dated 1685. A deep Norman lancet in the south wall reflects the age of font, and beneath it are traces of wall-paintings, uncovered in the 1980s. They seem decorative rather than theological, but there is a consecration cross beneath the window. Also on this side is a memorial for three churchwardens; grandfather, father and son, all Hawkins, served here from 1814 to 1926. What changes in the world they must have seen.

The 17th century pulpit has the same engagingly rustic tone as the font. It can never have seemed out of place. And up in the wide, beautiful chancel, James Alington has lain since 1627. His feet are the worse for wear, and he rests on a pile of books, so he can't be getting much sleep. But there he is, in the clothes of a generation earlier; someone had put a posy of laurels in his fist. More 17th century benches, of simple, rural quality, stand in front of him. He's rather wonderful, but I don't suppose that there are many people outside of this parish who have ever seen him.

The parish lost just two men in the First World War, William Griggs and Rupert Mowles. They are remembered on a memorial, and also on a rather haunting hand-drawn roll of honour from the time.

Finally, around to the north side, to see how significant the Hawkins family has been in this parish; perhaps thirty headstones, spanning 200 years, huddle together in the silent shade of the graveyard.


Simon Knott, July 2003, updated July 2015

Milden Milden Milden
Milden Men of Milden font in unbroken succession Milden
Milden bones hour glass
Griggs & Mowles

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