At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Playford

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Playford: last resting place of Thomas Clarkson
lychgate south side 

the friend of slaves   The Fynn valley, north east of Ipswich, has some surprisingly remote and lovely villages. Planning policy has stopped them becoming sprawling suburbs. Here we are, not four miles from the busy Cornhill in the middle of town; but we could so easily be in the middle of nowhere.

The centre of Playford is largely modern. 20th century bungalows mix with substantial 19th century cottages in a wide circle, which may once have been the village green. Playford Hall is nearby, an imposing 16th Century house on the way to Rushmere. There are scatterings of medieval cottages up the hill towards Culpho, and this must once have been the main village. In one of them lived a close friend of mine who died tragically at a young age, to be buried in Playford churchyard. So this is a church I know well.

St Mary sits on the other side of the village to the Hall, dramatic and high on a hill above the road that has cut down beside it. It is an ancient site, quite untypical for Suffolk. You could be in Derbyshire or Yorkshire. The church has one of Suffolk's most imposing lychgates, at the base of the steep steps that rise to the churchyard. It is the size of a garage, and was erected in the 1930s in memory of a mother who had died in the late 19th century. As you climb the steps to the graves, St Mary unfolds before you; one of Suffolk's south towers, the base of it forming the entrance porch into the nave beyond.

Many people who visit Playford come to see something actually outside of the church building. This is the obelisk, which stands beside it. It is to the memory of Thomas Clarkson, friend of slaves. He was instrumental, along with William Wilberforce, in getting slavery abolished in the early 19th century. For years forgotten, he has rightly been restored to popular memory as a result of the celebration in 2007 of the bicentenar of abolition. His memorial is fine and fitting, but there is also a collection of Clarkson graves to the south of the chancel, fenced off with iron railings nearing memorial medallions with inscriptions. Another set beside them are to the Airy family, Sir George of which is credited with the invention of Greenwich Mean Time.

Inside, the church is pretty much all Victorian. There was a big restoration in 1873, the work of our friend Phipson, but the character of the furnishings is mostly that of another restoration some twenty years later. Earlier memorials are still on the walls of the rebuilt chancel, including that to Clarkson. Another earlier survival is a set of George III royal arms, but you would struggle to find anything from medieval days, other than a brass to Sir George Felbrigg mounted on a wall and his heraldic shield in 15th century glass.

Best of all, I think, I liked the glass. It is all by Lavers & Barraud, some of the best that the late 19th century could offer.

Simon Knott, 2001, updated 2008

St Michael looking east in the chancel St Michael and St George Thomas Clarkson Angels with the Risen Christ
east window font St Michael and St George Annunciation Sir George Biddell Airey
royal arms Holy Holy Holy plaques

   a few surviving friends his widow and little boy Clarksons Ephraim
Thomas Clarkson Not the God of the Dead south doorway niche Thomas Clarkson


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