At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Naughton

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Naughton: click to enlarge
Naughton Naughton lost in the woods

On the high, lonely road from Nedging to Naughton I kept passing small groups of men in green, carrying broken shotguns, with tired-looking dogs panting in their wake. The shoot was obviously over.

Naughton is a pretty village. As with nearby Kettlebaston, I always think that I could live here - well, for a few hours, anyway, until the novelty wore off. The church is in a tiny graveyard surrounded by trees on the edge of the small village green. If you did not know where the church was, you probably wouldn't find it. Not because it is remote, or away from the village, but simply because it is so secluded by trees. The road stops short of it, so you can walk across the green, and enter the graveyard through a narrow gate. Once, this must have been the case with so many.

The church is small and pretty in its neatly clipped surroundings, the vast hedges and trees engulfing it. It is like a secret garden. The church probably hasn't changed a great deal since the 14th century. The battlements of the tower appear to have been renewed, I think, and the rendering is recent. The roof was probably thatched originally, although there isn't a surviving dripcourse on the east face of the tower. I had not been here for seven years, and remembered liking it a lot, and so with some trepidation I stepped through the doorway into the relief of a delightful and fascinating interior, with brick floors and a fine roof. It hadn't changed a bit.

The most striking medieval survivals are the wall-paintings. A bold St Christopher, in clean 14th century lines, was uncovered in the 1950s.The Christchild sits smiling on his shoulder, holding a scroll in His left hand. St Christopher himself tilts his head, as if lifting his right shoulder to bear the weight.

The other painting is rather curious. At first isn't entirely clear what is going on; there are two figures that might be angels, hovering with their heads together. What may be an animal at the top right is facing inwards, and so it appears that all three are looking at the same event. A fourth figure in the top left might also be an animal, and what seems to be a robed person is to the right of it. At first, I wondered if this might all be part of a Nativity scene, a common depiction in East Anglian churches. In fact, the image is now generally identified as the warning against gossip - These are not animals and angels, but devils who hover and write down the sayings of village women neglecting their rosaries. There is a fragment of the same scene across the county at Grundisburgh.

warning against gossip St Christopher

The font below is a delight. It has been reset in the blocked north door, which looks rather well, actually. It was obviously a square Norman bowl, of a kind common in this part of the world. At some point, the corners have been cut off to make it octagonal, and a little sequence of blank arcades have been worked into one of the faces. There's a good modern crucifixion above it.

The view to the east is curious. Two medieval tie beams are very low across the span, cutting off the view to the east window. Actually, they are plenty high enough, but from the nave you have the illusion that the Vicar might knock his head on one.

A final, fascinating detail is so tiny that you might even miss it. The rood screen has gone, along with the entire rood apparatus, of course. But look up high on the north pier of the chancel arch. You'll see that the moulding has been cut away from the western part of the arch to accomodate the rood loft. Even more interesting, a medieval nail still protrudes from the pillar. It probably supported the candlebeam.

Coming back in January 2008, I knew that this would be the last church of the day.It was nearly three o'clock, and I was a good twelve miles from Ipswich, and I don't like cycling around country lanes after dark. I came out and spent a few moments sitting in the graveyard, contemplating, preparing myself for the rest of the journey.

Suddenly, there was one of the loudest bangs I have ever heard. Someone on the edge of the graveyard, about 20 feet away, had let fly with a shotgun at a rook in the tree above me. Shot scattered on the headstones around. He ran in gleefully to pick up his kill, without saying anything, but grinning broadly. Perhaps it was all he'd shot all day.

And so, I left. On the edge of the village, a row of houses and a garage are Nedging Tye, the ancient grazing settlement of the adjacent parish of Nedging, which has quietly melted into Bildeston itself.

Simon Knott, 2001, revised 2008

pipes chancel north doorway crucifixion war memorial
looking east blocked north door eagle benches
M U view west lancet window  quatrefoil


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