At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Martin, Nacton

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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the pelican, in her piety (Kempe & Tower, 1907)   Nacton is one of a number of lovely villages in close proximity to Ipswich. And it really is close to town - I live near the centre of Ipswich and I can cycle out to Nacton church in twenty minutes. The village is scattered in a valley, with two great houses, Broke Hall and Orwell Park.

There are a couple of exciting 1960s modernist buildings as well, although the village does have the unenviable reputation of not having had a pub for a couple of centuries, thanks to the temperance tendencies of not just one but two major landowning families in the parish. Technically, the vast Shepherd and Dog on Felixstowe Road is within the bounds of Nacton parish, but it is not the kind of pub I expect many villagers would make the effort to get to when the smashing Ship Inn at neighbouring Levington is closer and more convivial.

The two great families were the Vernons and the Brokes. St Martin is in the grounds of Orwell Park, and a gateway in the wall shows where the Vernons used to come to divine service, but the Brokes must have arrived by road. Orwell Park today is a private school, and Broke Hall has been divided into flats, but St Martin still retains the memory of the great and the good of both families.

Externally, St Martin gives no indication of the early 20th Century treasures in store within. It only takes the sun to go in, and that rendered tower ends up looking like a grain silo, the colour of cold porridge. This is a pity, because on a sunny day there is something grand and imposing about it, especially with that pretty dormer window halfway along the nave roof. It gives a pleasing Arts and Crafts touch to the austerity of a building which was almost entirely rebuilt between 1906 and 1908 by Charles Hodgson Fowler. They'd actually been two dormers, and Fowler retained that on the south side. They had been installed in the 1870s by a budding medievalist, but there had been an earlier going-over by Diocesan architect Richard Phipson in 1859. Mortlock tells us that Fowler added the aisle, the organ chamber and vestry, the porch and the east window. The roofs and floors were also replaced. The small south transept survived from the earlier restoration, largely because it forms a memorial chapel to the Broke family of Broke Hall. Grand memorials record their miltary deeds, including captaining the Shannon when it captured the Chespeake during the American War of Independence.

The medieval font also survives, and is a good one, although perhaps a bit recut. Around the bowl, angels bearing carved shields alternate with symbols of the four evangelists.The wild men are striking, and the smiling lions are reminiscent of those you often find on Norfolk fonts of this type.

font: angel holding a shield of the Holy Trinity and the eagle of St John font: winged man of St Matthew flanked by angels holding shield of the IHS monogram and the Holy Trinity font: angel holding a shield of the Holy Trinity flanked by the winged man of St Matthew and the eagle of St John
font: lion flanked by two wodewoses font: woodwose flanked by two lions font: winged man of St Matthew

There are two image niches in one of the window embrasures, but otherwise this is almost entirely a Victorian and Edwardian interior, full of Brokes and Vernons. Their greatest legacy to St Martin has been the large range of stained glass which ultimately gives St Martin its character. It is interesting to compare the church to St Peter at Levington, a mile or so off. There, the church is simple and rustic; the difference that the money spent here has made is accentuated by a visit to both. But St Martin has been given a sober gravitas, a self-confidence that falls short of triumphalism.

There are some fragments of medieval glass surviving, including a fine shield of the Instruments of the Passion which may or may not have come from this church originally, But the glass in Fowler's north aisle is the star of the show. At the west end is a finely drawn 1913 Adoration of the Shepherds and Magi by Burlison & Grylls. The shepherds are lifted directly from the late 15th Century Portinari altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes, today in the Uffizi gallery in Florence. The use of images from Northern European old masters was common practice for the workshop. To the east of it is a rather less successful window by By Christopher Powell, and believed to be his only work in Suffolk, depicting the three figures of the Sower, the Good Shepherd and St Martin. It is interesting to compare it with his similar window at Dersingham in Norfolk.

Next along is a memorial to the Pretyman family. Herbert Pretyman died in 1891, and when Fowler's aisle was complete in 1906 his widow installed the central light, a typically predestrian image of St George by Clayton & Bell. However, the two figures that flank it, St Michael as Victory and St Raphael (but it is actually St Gabriel, surely?) as Peace are something else again, tremendous images installed in 1920 to give thanks for the safe return of two Pretyman sons from the horror of the First World War. The angels are wise and triumphant, their feathered wings flamboyant. No one seems to know who they are by, and it would be interesting to know.

To the east again is a lancet of the Blessed Virgin and child by Kempe under the guiding hand of Walter Tower, and the Kempe/Tower partnership was also responsible for the east window, a not entirely successful collection of workshop cartoons of the crucifixion and Old Testament prophets. Beside it on the south side of the chancel is the earliest modern glass in the church, two post-resurrection scenes by William Wailes.

The only other 19th Century window is on the south side of the nave, a chaotic assemblage of heraldic symbols from Broke family marriages, showing arms and crests over the generations. It dates from the 1860s, and is by Clayton & Bell.

When the church reopened in 1908, people were delighted by the Anglo-catholic mood of the time that had been injected into the building. Outside, their ancestors lie beneath headstones that have been eroded and smoothed clean by the salty air that comes from the great river beyond the school. Hardly any of the 18th and early 19th century inscriptions are legible now. One exception is to a man who died in the middle years of the 19th century who fought at Traffalgar. This is as clearly read now as it was when Arthur Mee came this way in the 1930s.

  an angel collects the precious blood of Christ on the cross (Kempe & Tower, 1907)

Simon Knott, January 2017


Adoration of the Magi and the Shepherds (Burlison & Grylls, 1913) St Michael as Victory (1920), St George by Clayton & Bell (1905), St Raphael as Peace (1920) The Sower, the Good Samaritan, Saint Martin (Christopher Powell, 1920s)
Magi (Burlison & Grylls, 1913) Holy Family (Burlison & Grylls, 1913) Mary and Joseph (Burlison & Grylls, 1913) Shepherds (Burlison & Grylls, 1913)
St Michael, 1920 St George by Clayton & Bell, 1905 St Raphael, 1920
In Praise and Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the safe return from the Great War (Pretyman memorial window, detail, 1920) St Michael as Victory (1920) St George by Clayton & Bell, 1905 St Raphael as Peace, 1920 Royal Arms of Victoria (Pretyman memorial window, detail, 1905)
The Good Shepherd (Christopher Powell, 1920s) St Martin (Christopher Powell, 1920s) Blessed Virgin and child by Kempe & Tower, 1905 Mary Magdalene encounters the risen Christ (William Wailes, 1863) Thomas touches the wound of Christ (William Wailes, 1863)
Broke memorial window (Clayton & Bell, 1863) Broke memorial window (Clayton & Bell, 1863) Crucifixion flanked by the Blessed Virgin and St John with the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah flanking the pelican in her piety (Kempe & Tower, 1907) instruments of the passion (14th Century)
Blessed Virgin at the Crucifixion (Kempe & Tower, 1907) Isaiah (Kempe & Tower, 1907) Jeremiah (Kempe & Tower, 1907) St John at the crucifixion (Kempe & Tower, 1907)
Broke 1803 Middleton (Clayton & Bell, 1863) angel with a wreath and a martyr's palm (Clayton & Bell, 1863) badger

Countess of Shipbrook, Viscountess and Baroness Orwell, of the Kingdom of Ireland his professional skill was signally exhibited when, commanding HMS Shannon, he engaged and captured the United States frigate Chesapeake sword, scabbard, wreath, cross having received from his sovereign various marks of distinction for his conduct in the field during the war in Spain under the Duke of Wellington and in the campaign of Waterloo, in the former of which he was severely wounded
his remains are interred in the cemetery at Kensal Green near London Captain in the Royal Navy his remains are deposited in Alloway church yard served at Navarino 1827, the taking of St Jean d'Acre 1840, commanded the Gladiator in Baltic 1854 and in the Black Sea 1855 at Sebastapol

he serv'd in the glorious Battle of Traffalgar

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