At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Michael, Occold

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Occold: simple and homely
tower and porch from the graveyard gate chancel 

fairy glass by Lou Spencer   I'd never been inside this church, and we were threading across north Suffolk in June 2007, along those lanes which wind and interlink and generally never take you the same way twice, when I suddenly noticed the village coming up on our starboard side. And so we stopped. It was probably a good five years since I was last here.

Most unusually in this part of high Suffolk, and despite being in the jolly friendly Eye benefice, the church was always kept locked when I was first exploring Suffolk, and I had never found a keyholder in. The street is lined with large houses set back from the road, giving the village a secretive feel.

Nowadays, a sign in the church porch tells you that the building is open during the day, but at 3pm on this summer Saturday we found that it was, after all, still locked. I went looking for the keyholder who was, perhap uncharacteristically for a Saturday, in.

The grand tower and Perpendicular windows cannot disguise that this is a simple, homely building. St Michael is not one of Suffolk's more famous churches, but it is a neat, light church, obviously well-used and well-looked after. The 19th century restoration was robust without being particularly urban, and consequently there is still a feel of the ploughboy and the blacksmith about it, rather than of any rich family. The font has been reset most oddly at an angle in the north doorway opposite the entrance, with glazed tiles of the four Evangelistic symbols and the Lamb of God set about its feet.

font base St Luke St John
Lamb of God St Mark St Matthew

There are a few medieval survivals. Along with the font, there is a beautiful Decorated image niche in a window splay on the south side of the nave. Even lovelier, in the next window splay east the roodloft stairs turn up through the wall about a newel rail. There is a 15th century brass to William and Johanna Corboulde beneath the carpet in the middle of the nave. In the chancel, the old stalls have misericord seats.

On the north side of the nave, and entirely different in character, is the naive royal arms for Charles II, as though copied from a child's colouring book. Some restoration arms are sophisticated, but this retains a puritan rejection of all things cultured. Similarly, the wooden memorial board opposite for Elizabeth and Francis Scotchmer is in a full-blown Puritan style - but he died as recently as 1830, a very late date for such a thing. Be ye always ready, for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh, it warns us, barely a decade before the Oxford Movement began to create the modern Church of England.

Certainly, Occold had been supportive of the Laudian project in the 1630s, and the beautiful font cover and pulpit were probably locally made. The Puritan iconoclast William Dowsing visited Occold in 1644, suggesting that he did not entirely trust the parish to do what was needed to counter Laudianism, and he helped them get rid of superstitious images in their glass. They obviously learned his protestant lesson well.

As a counterpoint to these puritan survivals is an elaborate and fantastical window of 1995 in the south chancel window. It remembers Nerissa Jones, who had died in 1985. She was an illustrator of children's books. The artist was Louise Spencer. The imagery, although secular, was intended to 'fit in with the special atmosphere of the church, rather quiet and mysterious'. Images from Nerissa Jones sketchbooks were included - fairies, flowers, elves, letters. Some of the glass is recut Victorian glass from damaged panels found in storage.

It is a pretty thing, with some nice details - perhaps the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts, which might be a test of modern glass, but it adds to the sense of continuity, of ordinary people who have lived in this place.

  window for Nerissa Jones, by Lou Spencer

Simon Knott, 2002 (updated 2007)

   

looking east font and north doorway sanctuary looking west
stuart pulpit font cover Elizabeth and Francis Scotchmer Charles II royal arms
tree by Lou Spencer landscape by Lou Spencer image niche in a window splay vestry door pulpit and rood stairs with a newel rail
Herbert Nicholas Todd MA Oxon misericord seat pulpit detail roodloft stairs

 

 

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