At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Pakenham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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from the west Pakenham
chancel door and coffin lids Pakenham Pakenham

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We are in working Suffolk, the rolling fields to the north of the A14, and these are proper villages, some even with shops, pubs and schools. But Pakenham has two things that most villages don't have, and taken together they make it unique in England, for it has both a working windmill and a working watermill. It also has an unusual church - or, at least, unusual for Suffolk. As you climb the rise of its churchyard you see that it is cruciform, one of only a handful in the county. There is another not so very far off at Earl Stonham, although the church there doesn't have a central tower, and while the churches at Eyke, Ousden and Oulton have central towers, they don't have transepts. Cruciform churches are of course much more common in other counties, and we don't have to travel much further than Cambridgeshire to see them, but in Suffolk they are a rarity.

While it would be an exaggeration to say that the reformers frowned on cruciform churches, there were an inconvenience. The use of transepts split the congregation up, and made it difficult for all to focus on the pulpit, so they often fell into disuse, were perhaps closed off, and sometimes they were even demolished. In fact, at Pakenham both the north and south transepts are the work of Samuel Teulon in 1849. He rebuilt the medieval south transept and replaced the north transept which had been missing for many years.

The tower above the crossing is four-square, but it evolves into an octagonal turret. A glamorous moment for Suffolk, and again it would be more familiar across the border in Cambridgeshire, but if you did not know the churches of that county and saw this tower from the churchyard at Thurston a mile or so away you might be hard-pressed to decide if it were a church or a castle.

The Norman west and south doors survive, but since Teulon's time entrance has been through his north porch. You step inside to a neat, crisp nave, although it can be a little dark on a gloomy day. The font is another curiosity, for although it is in a conventional late medieval East Anglian style, instead of the familiar angels or shields the evangelistic symbols here alternate with mythical and symbolic creatures, a unicorn, a pelican in her piety, a lion who appears to be speared with a cross shaft, and a rayed Lamb of God. The pelican and the unicorn also appear on the font at neighbouring Norton. On the stem beneath the bowl are seated monks, one reading, one praying, the other two holding objects which could be a book bag and a reliquary.

Pakenham unicorn on the font agnus dei on the font
Pakenham Pakenham Pakenham

Geoffrey Webb's towering 1930s font cover might put you in mind of the one in the Cathedral nearby. The nave furnishings are also of a high quality, and Anne Riches' 1975 supplement to Cautley's Suffolk Churches and their Treasures records that they are based on the benches at Stanton Harcourt in Oxfordshire. A modern nave altar, decorated with ears and stooks of wheat, sits beneath the crossing. The chancel beyond contains medieval return stalls, but is otherwise a good example of late 19th/early 20th Century richness. There are five-light windows at each end of the church. The 1915 glass by Ward & Hughes is not great, but the sower and reaper would have struck a chord with the agricultural workers of the parish. Earlier glass includes Heaton, Butler & Bayne's east window depicting Christ in Majesty flanked by St Peter, Blessed Virgin, St John the Baptist and St Paul from 1887, while earlier still are two two-light windows of the 1860s and 1870s that look as if they might be the work of William Wailes. One depicts Samuel waking Eli in the night and remembers Thomas Compton Thornhill who died at the age of 14 in 1877.

The earliest glass of all is a composite of 15th Century fragments, although most look as if they came from the same original subject, of an angel holding a wheel. If it was once part of a sequence of the nine orders of angels they may well have filled the tracery in the west window before the Reformation came along.


Simon Knott, February 2021

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looking east through the crossing looking west through the crossing font and font cover
Pakenham Pakenham Pakenham
south transept from the north transept north transept from the south transept Joan Brown Smith, 1721
Martha (Heaton, Butler & Bayne, 1907) angel and wheel (composite fragments, 15th Century) in so much as you do this for the least of these Christ in Majesty flanked by St Peter, Blessed Virgin, St John the Baptist and St Paul  (Heaton, Butler & Bayne, 1887) The young Samuel wakes Eli in the night, the young Christ teaches in the temple
sower (Ward & Hughes, 1915) reaper (Ward & Hughes, 1915) pro patria 1914 1918 Pakenham W I M U

Mary Edith Frost Mary Edith Frost


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