At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Peter, Palgrave

At the sign of the Barking lion...

home index e-mail what's new? - a journey through the churches of Suffolk

St Peter, Palgrave (c) Peter Stephens

man in a hat angel south doorway dragon king

  2015: I've visited Palgrave church several times since this account first appeared, most recently to take the photographs here. However, I hope I will be forgiven for retaining the original text from 2003, if only for its freshness, and perhaps also for what may be viewed at this distance as its charm.

2003: I arrived at Diss railway station in that gentle sunshine for which we’ll remember the Spring of 2003. Diss is in Norfolk; I had just crossed the border on my train journey from Ipswich, but I was bound for Diss's southern suburb, the Suffolk village of Palgrave. I cycled off from the station. I headed under the railway line, and over the infant Waveney. At this point, I entered Suffolk again, but there were no county signs in either direction. To be honest, it didn’t feel that different, apart from the way that the road surface improved, the schools came off special measures, the police force became efficient, and so on.

The countryside opened out into golden oilseed rape fields under a wide sky. It was good to be home. Soon, I was coming into Palgrave village, which seemed very pleasant indeed.

In medieval times, Palgrave was actually two parishes; the westerly one, Palgrave St John, has been subsumed into this one, and that church has completely disappeared. However, this pretty church is walled neatly into its graveyard at the heart of the village, which spreads neatly around it. As this was my first church of the day, I hoped it would be open; it always puts a crimp in a trip if the first one is a lock-out. I was not disappointed; St Peter is a friendly parish that knows that part of its Christian mission is to welcome strangers and pilgrims.

I stepped through the elaborate arch of the late 15th Century south doorway. An angel and a dragon contended in the spandrels, and there were characterful heads carved in the entrance arch. Inside, a very nice lady was busy with the flowers, and took time out to show me around. All the while, I was conscious that above my head the lovely painted roof of Palgrave. Marian monograms and symbols punctuate the whitewash; once, many small Suffolk churches must have been like this. Perhaps someone can explain to me why this one hasn’t faded like many of the others; I don’t think it has been redone.

The other famous treasure here is the font. It is unlike anything else in Suffolk. Clearly Norman, but much more elaborate than most, its most outstanding features are the faces in each corner. Again, this is a more intimate experience of the faces we normally see as corbels; but Palgrave has these too, stunning medieval characters along the lines of the arcades.

Palgrave Palgrave

While we are on the subject of treasure, there were two modern features that were obviously loved by the locals. Firstly, Surinder Warboys has her studio nearby at Mellis, and here is one of her windows in the south aisle. The light flooded through it. The lady told me that everybody liked it, but that it was very hard to do a flower arrangement in front of it! I thought that they had done very well. Secondly, up in the chancel is the benefice millennium banner – people from all the parishes came together and produced this amazing patchwork cross. On the back, there are panels depicting the mission of the Church. Apparently, it is shared around the benefice churches for display for a few weeks at a time.

In the place where many churches now display the coat of arms, Palgrave has part of a suit of armour. I have seen an explanation in several books that it was from the parish armoury, which was once stored in the upper room of the porch, as at Mendlesham. This upper room has now gone, and the armoury has, as in most churches, been dispersed. However, I could find no evidence for this story, and it seems to be based on one of Arthur Mee’s fancies. I don't think it is even real armour; rather, it is similar to the mock plate armour behind the Bacon memorial at nearby Redgrave. It seems likely to me that this is also part of an old set of armour associated with a memorial of some kind, which the Victorians swept away. I don’t suppose we’ll ever know.

Back outside again, I took time out to photograph the famous grave of carter John Catchpole, with its relief of a wagon and horses – you can see it in the left-hand column. It seems a modern fashion to decorate headstones with symbols associated with the deceased; nice to know it was happening in the mid-18th century.

I turned, and looked back at the neat tower, the splendid porch with its dramatic niches. You can see that there was once an upper room, but it has now gone.

And it was time for me to be gone, too. Waving cheerily, I headed off in the direction of Thrandeston, all the road back to Ipswich open in front of me in the sunshine.


Simon Knott, August 2003, updated July 2015

The large photograph at the top of this page is courtesy of Peter Stephens and retains his copyright.

wagon and horses

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