At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Catherine, Pettaugh

At the sign of the Barking lion... - a journey through the churches of Suffolk


Hover to read captions, click to see enlarged images:

from the west - the tower.

tower stairway on the north side.

beautiful 1930s east window.

memorial to soldier in Crimean War.

very curious early 17th century bench end.

reddish font, not unlike Nettlestead.

Falstoffe brasses - and a bit of Roger de Trumpington in the middle at the bottom.


In a little dip above the Stowmarket to Yoxford road.

I had already visited every other church within ten miles or so of here, but I had never been to Pettaugh. And why had I never been to Pettaugh? Simple. I’m a cyclist. St Catherine sits beside the horrible A1120 Stowmarket to Yoxford road, a hellish shortcut that drivers take between the A14 and the A12 to avoid Ipswich. There is also the old Roman road that passes through, connecting Winston to Crowfield; but I had already been to those places, and getting to Pettaugh had lost its appeal. I put it on the back burner.

It wasn’t until the early Spring of 2003 that I ventured out this way, along the Roman road after photographing Coddenham. It is marked as perfectly straight on the map, but it isn’t quite; over the centuries, smallholders have encroached slightly onto it, marking it with history, I suppose. I tried to imagine Roman legionaries marching along it to their camp at Caistor, but I couldn't.

I was pleased to see that Pettaugh, pronounced Pett-'r, still has its shop and post office, which perhaps shows the benefit of passing trade on the road I abhor so much. The pub had closed, which grieved me, although there is another one on the road back to Crowfield.

 The day was a grey one, the rain barely an hour off, and there were very few people about. But on this February morning I had found that most of the churches I visited were open.

This one wasn’t. I wandered about grumbling, deciding what to do. The setting was lovely, with the church sunk in a little dip at the top of the rise, and there was plenty to look at in the graveyard. The inside of St Catherine isn’t terribly famous for anything, and I was tempted to wander around for a bit and then head on to Stonham Aspal. But I knew that I probably wouldn’t come back this way for a very long time, so I went into the porch and got the churchwarden’s phone number off of the board.

As the number included an area code (other parishes please take note) I was able to ring a very nice lady from my mobile. And, being very nice, she hurried straight over with the key. Instead of taking me inside, however, she took me on another tour of the church, this time making sure I noticed the roof (I hadn’t before). The roof has a story behind it that will warm your heart, I hope – it certainly did mine.

It seemed that, a couple of years before, the south chancel roof had lost some of its tiles. As is often the case, once the roof is disrupted they all start coming down, so scaffolding was brought in and an architect went up.

He very quickly came back down again. It seemed that the whole roof of both nave and chancel was in a dangerous state of repair. Some of this had been evident from inside, since water had a habit of pouring into the organ, and the 19th century ceilings were stained with damp.

Everything would need to be replaced. However, this is a small parish, with a congregation that barely runs into double figures, and the eventual repair bill would reach more than 30,000. The nice lady, who was very candid with me (I think she thought I was from the Diocese) told me that she had become a churchwarden with a view to her pastoral role, and that fundraising had never been in her plan. However, she prayed about it, rolled up her sleeves, and as far as possible got the whole village involved, churchgoers or not.

Amazingly, within a year, the money was raised, and all the bills paid off. The extraordinary thing was that the contributions from the people of the parish, from public and private bodies, and from friends far and wide, came to almost exactly the right amount. It was like something out of a James Stewart film.

And, of course, there are now many people in the parish who have a stake in their village church that they didn’t before. The congregation has actually increased, along with the goodwill. What a nice story.

Part of the restoration included entirely redecorating the inside of the church. The parish put their faith in a young man who had worked alongside building firms on renovations, but had never actually done a church before. Well, as I stepped inside at last, I could see that he had made a splendid job of it. The ceiling is a pale blue, as it should be, the walls an off-white. The church was completely refurnished in the later years of the 19th century with sober, simple furniture. Many churches like this seem very faded today, but this one doesn’t. It is clean and bright and loved – you could feel the faith of the place.

I was glad I had got inside. The east window is a delight, dating from the 1930s, but without any of that decade’s familiar triumphalism. Mortlock tells me that it is by Caroline Townshend and Joan Howson. Christ the Good Shepherd stands at the centre, with two simple tales of redemption flanking him; the raising of Lazarus on the left, and the discovery of Zaccheus to the right.

The font, although bashed about a bit by the Anglican reformers in the 1540s, is a good one, and there are also some pretty little brasses. You won’t find them unless you look for them, as they’ve been reset in a display on a ledge in the former north doorway. They show members of the Falstoffe family, more famously at Oulton, and even more famously in Shakespeare. They are smaller than you’d expect, but one piece of the brass is very curious and rather exciting, since it is a palimpsest of part of a copy of the famous Trumpington brass in Cambridge.

I climbed high onto a rickety chair to photograph them. “I bet you’re not insured for this”, I joked.

“Oh, don’t worry”, replied the churchwarden, “it’s only an old one from the village hall. We can get another one if you break it.”

Desite the squeaky clean Victorian benches, there are some delightful early 17th century stalls up in the chancel, one burly bench end bearing the date 1615. Its grandness is magnified in these otherwise trim little surroundings.

The Victorian refurbishment of St Catherine was overseen by a venerable old clergyman who was Rector here for more than half a century. His picture hangs in the vestry, and I guess he must be feeling pretty pleased with the old place at present.

Much seemed to be going on, and replacing the roof seemed to have been a catalyst for it.

Just when I moan about dying churches, where the congregation appear to be doing little more than putting out the lights, I come across an apparently insignificant parish whose church is a model of faith in action. I felt that Pettaugh was such a place.

St Catherine, Pettaugh, is located on the A1120 near the junction with the Crowfield to Debenham road. It is kept locked, and although no keyholder is listed, the churchwarden was very helpful.


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