||East Anglia has not far
short of 1,500 medieval parish churches,
and so it is not surprising that some do
not appear to be as well known as they
should be. Take St Botolph, for example,
tucked away in an area of locked churches
to the west of Lowestoft. The first time
I ever came here, I had cycled from Barnby,
with which North Cove forms a joint
parish, a mile further up the awful A146.
Although I had my trusty OS map, it took
me a couple of sweeps to even find this
church, secluded as it is on a closed
road just beyond the pub. You have to go
through a metal gate to reach it. It must
be said that St Botolph has the happier
situation of the two churches, the road
by-passing Barnby village now; but at one
time it went right past this churchyard.
The wide former road ends just to the
east of the church, but a footpath will
carry you on to Barnby,
and to St John the Baptist there.
Cove is so-named, apparently, to
distinguish it from South
Cove. But South
Cove is miles away, and
takes its name from the fact that it is a
mile south of Covehithe.
Probably, this place was simply Cove
before the roads and railways came - and
the railways have gone, now.
The eccentric flint and red brick
tower is rather pleasing beside the solid Norman
nave, which is betrayed by the splendid south
doorway. Decorated windows punctuate the walls,
but they seem a little awkward, as if they didn't
want to be quite so far apart - a bit like the
perpendicular windows at Wissett, away to
How delightful, to enter a
previously unvisited church! What on earth might
we find inside? It may be, this far north, that
it has escaped the kind of Victorian restoration
that renewed so many churches around Halesworth and Eye.
Perhaps there will be an interesting and unique
feature, like the banner-stave locker door at
nearby Barnby. Or,
perhaps, it will all end in disappointment; a
deadly affair of whitewash, pitchpine benches,
and off-the-peg Minton tiles. But, of course, I'm
teasing you. For here, on the walls of the
lengthy chancel, we will find (did you guess?)
some of the finest surviving medieval
wall-paintings in all East Anglia.
They are remarkable for their
quality, their condition and their extent.
"Aha!", I hear you exclaim, as you
cross-refer to your Cautley and your Pevsner;
"They were all repainted by the
Victorians!" Well, it is certainly true that
the heavy-handed Victorians went over them in
oil, thickening lines, filling in gaps, and
generally making them more medieval than they
were already. But, in the 1990s, this Victorian
restoration was painstakingly removed. Also
removed was dirt, plaster and later wall-texts,
to reveal something that I find breath-taking..
The wall paintings are in the
chancel of this narrow building. On the north
wall is the story of the Passion of Christ. The
nailing of Christ the Cross and the deposition
are particularly outstanding. One mysterious
feature, which you might just miss unless you
look for it, is a tiny figure arising from a
coffin, set high on the wall to the west. A
figure in a coffin sits and watches it all. The
1990s restoration of the scroll in the figure's
hands reveals it as the donor of this
is a mighty depiction of Christ in Judgement. The
serious-faced Messiah sits on a rainbow,
overseeing the separation of sinners and virtuous
on the Last Day. The Blessed Virgin and St John
look on, as St Michael makes the judgements.
Beneath, the dead arise from their coffins and
await their fate.
paintings almost certainly date from when the
chancel was new, in the early 14th century. They
were painted over, probably a hundred years
before the Reformation, when the new windows were
inserted. Roundels containing evangelical texts
were applied over this in the 17th century, and
they were uncovered by the well-meaning
Victorians, who revealed and nearly ruined them.
And today, they are restored to their original
vibrancy. You would travel to the V&A in
London if they were there, and pay good money to
see them. So why not come here and see them in
situ, and give your money to these good
|The 15th Century font seems
relatively large in this narrow space.
Sam Mortlock thought it was so like those
at nearby Mutford and Gisleham that it
was probably carved by the same mason.
The hooks above the 19th Century screen
may be medieval, and might have been used
for securing the lenten veil above the
rood. Other than that, not much survives
from earlier times in what was a
relatively pleasing 19th Century
restoration, leaving the interior with a
definite rustic air.
sad note is injected by the war memorial.
One of the boys on it is the Vicar's son,
the splendidly named William Woodthorpe
Barnard Barnard-Smith. He was killed
during the later stages of the Battle of
the Somme in October 1916. He was
twenty-one years old.