At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Newton

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Newton south porch Newton

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Newton Green is one of the busy villages along the road between Sudbury and Colchester. This close to the Essex frontier, the area has something of the feel of border country. Gentle hills roll down to die in the Stour valley. It is a pleasing landscape but, unless you are a golfer and like that sort of thing, the village is greatly spoilt by the conversion of its green into a golf course. I am not a golfer, and it is hard to see any great beauty in the main road through this village, which is in any case the main road, despite the collection of fine 16th and 17th century houses on the north side.

But the setting of the church is lovely, down a lane opposite the golf course. Quite what the people who live in the house on the north side of the churchyard have done to deserve it, I don't know, but it must have been something really good, because it is one of the sweetest houses I've seen around here.

By the 1970s this church was in a terrible state. The roof of the nave was in desperate need of repair, and the congregation had retreated into the chancel. In a great act of pragmatism, the nave and tower were declared redundant, and vested in the care of the Redundant Churches Fund, now the Churches Conservation Trust, who carry out their duties here with customary enthusiasm although so far resisting renting it out as a Bed & Breakfast which appears to be happening in some CCT churches elsewhere. The exterior is somewhat stark at a distance, but closer to there are lovely little headstops surviving on the windows, and the 14th century wooden porch is a delight, one of the largest of its kind, although unfortunately it is currently out of use because of the dangerous condition of the outer doors. On the north side, so you'll need to go round, is a good Norman doorway. The church is open daily, and you step through the chancel door into the intimacy of the chancel. But as this feels unnatural, let us pretend that the porch is still accessible, and you enter the nave. As ever, stepping into a redundant church gives you a sense of the presence of a past community, as if they had filed out at the end of their last service and all that remained of them now were echoes and perhaps friendly ghosts glimpsed out of the corner of your eye.

Opposite to the south doorway is the font, and beyond it the now-filled-in north doorway, with a pretty modern patterned window set in it. And to the east of this is something very exciting. During the restoration of the nave walls in the 1970s, remarkable 13th Century wall paintings were found, which have been carefully restored. They show a sequence of three moments in the story of the Incarnation as described in St Luke's Gospel. From the left, the angel appears to Mary at the Annunciation, who appears uncharacteristically confident as she faces him. Another angel has his back to her, and then there is quite a large blank at this point in the sequence, where something has been filled in. At first I wondered if it is actually the appearance of the angel to Joseph. However, if you look more closely you will see that the angel is holding a censer. Now, this would suggest that there was, in fact, an image niche in the missing part, and possibly a second censing angel facing the other way beyond. This niche has been replaced by a later window, now filled in. After the Visitation, there is a faint but exquisite Nativity, the ox and ass peeping tenderly over the sleeping Christchild.

wall paintings: Annunciation and a censing angel (13th Century) wall painting: Blessed Virgin and St Elizabeth at the Visitation (13th Century) wall paintings: Nativity (13th century)

The sequence forms the first three joyful mysteries of the rosary, although of course the sequence was rather less concrete at the time this was painted in the 13th century. It is one of the best wall painting sequences in Suffolk, somewhat different in scale and style to the same subjects nearby at Wissington.

The paintings are so remarkable that you might not notice something equally remarkable in front of them. This is a pre-Reformation pulpit, in a wineglass style. Several of these survive in Suffolk, but what makes this one so special is that it retains its dedicatory inscription, Orate P(ro) A(n)i(m)a Richi Modi et Leticie Consortis suae ('Pray for the soul of Richard Mody and Letitia his wife').

In the south wall, opposite the pulpit, is a low tomb recess, with the effigy of a woman in it. The effigy was found under the floorboards during the 1870s restoration. Mortlock thinks it is in its right place, which is probably so, although it does seem a little unusual. A nice piece of Victorian sentiment is fixed to the back of it, possibly from the panelling of the pulpit before it was properly restored.

In any case, the most significant memorial here is up in the parish church. You step through glass doors into the intimacy of the chancel with its fine set of sedilia and double piscina in the south side of the sanctuary. Opposite is the tomb of Margaret Boteler, who died in 1410. The shields are all recoloured of course, but the most remarkable thing is the detailing on her dress. Another lovely detail in the chancel is the scattering of medieval heraldic glass in the upper tracery of the grand five-light east window, and the fragments of 15th Century glass on the south side. These include an image of someone trimming vines from the Labours of the Months, the winged lion of St Mark and the head of a monk, perhaps a donor. Fragmentary heraldic shields contain little beehives in one of the quarters. Another panel is so faded as to be almost indecipherable, but if you look closely you can just make out the head and foreleg of a horse, and the shadow of a man on his back. St George? St Martin? It is hard to tell. Not inappropriate in this church full of ghosts of the past.

Simon Knott, January 2020

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looking east chancel looking west
Margaret Boteler, 1410 font asleep pulpit (15th Century) angel
Margaret Boteler, 1410 heraldic shields and 14th Century glass pulpit: orate pro anima Richi Modi
Labours of the Months, September?: harvesting grapes (fragmentary, 15th Century) head of a monk (fragments, 15th Century) Winged lion of St Mark (fragmentary, 15th Century)
beehive pulpit: orate pro anima Richi Modi St George? St Martin? (fragment)
funeral bier

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