At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Ringsfield

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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


Ringsfield porch Ringsfield 

Princess Caroline memorial angel mermaid mermaid

St John the Baptist   Ringsfield is a rather suburban village between Halesworth and Beccles, all bungalows and 'modern family homes'. But the church sits some way to the north, and the churchyard is a delight. I first came here in Easter week of 2000. Easter was late that year, and the whole churchyard was ablaze with yellow celandines and pink and white blossom. I came back in early October 2009, and at this very different season the ground was just as verdant and deliciously overgrown.

On the north side of the church, tucked into the angle between the nave and the transept, is a flamboyant angel, looking for all the world like a French war memorial. This is not so far from the truth, for here is the grave of Princess Caroline Murat, the great-niece of Napoleon Bonaparte and a grand-daughter of the King of Naples. It seems that she married the local squire, and in her dying she injects a note of the surreal into the setting.

Apart from the tower and the western end of the nave, the church is almost entirely Victorian, the work of the great William Butterworth in the 1880s. He was also responsible for the refurbishment of nearby Ellough and Redisham. The church appears sunken within the graveyard, perhaps as a result of the importation of earth over the centuries to enable further burials. You have the impression of walking between green and yellow banks to reach the south door on the far side.

Here, on the south side of the church, there is another splendid sight, for a great brick memorial to Nicholas Garneys, who died in 1599 was reset here at the time of the Victorian restoration. A great arch encloses a terracotta mermaid. The memorial has that great rarity, a surviving external brass. Oddly, a modern gravestone nearby also has a brass inscription.

Butterworth's extension of the nave and rebuilding of the chance accentuates what is a common feature of churches around here, the sense of being in a long tunnel. This sense is increased further at Ringsfield by the dimness of the interior, punctuated as it is by jewel-like windows. Butterworth took out the box pews and even a western gallery, and so this interior must have been very cramped indeed.

We arrived the day before the Harvest Festival, and so the interior was suffused with the evocative fragrance of apples and blackberries, a perfect accompaniment to the coloured glass, a feast for the senses. Probably the best of the glass is the Annunication scene under the tower, which Sam Mortlock says is the only work in Suffolk by the Bell & Beckham workshop. There is an excellent series of Saints and Old Testament figures by Clayton & Bell along the north side.

To the south, there are two outstanding pieces of continental glass, probably dating from the 17th century and installed here as the gift of a collector. One depicts the Adoration of the Magi in haunting detail, and the other is a delightful and simple roundel of Mary and Joseph looking for the infant Christ. Unseen to his parents, he is glimpsed through a doorway, standing on a table in the temple, preaching.

A great curiosity is the Laudian screen of the early 17th Century. Did it come from here originally, I wonder? It is coloured gold and black, with Latin texts and carving. The finials are jaunty pyramids, and I do not think there is another one like it anywhere in Suffolk. Beside it is the contemporary pulpit - or, at least, what is left of it. Pulpits of this period are rather more common than screens, of course, but what survives here apart from the back boards is the octagonal tester, a sounding board placed above the minister so that his sermon can ring out. It is octagonal but small, perfectly in proportion, and the whole piece must have looked very elegant. Beyond, in Butterfield's chancel, are some contemporary stalls. Presumably the lost box pews and west gallery were of a similar date. You can't help thinking what this interior must have looked like before Butterfield got his hands on it.


Simon Knott, December 2009

looking east Annunciation looking east Harvest Festival
Hail Mary Blessed Virgin at the Annunciation St Peter Christ in Majesty St Paul Elijah
Adoration of the Magi St John the Baptist and Elijah Annunciation Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich garde la foy
screen Harvest Festival the finding in the temple screen
Moses Three Marys Three Marys Christ in Majesty with St Peter and St Paul
screen war memorial pulpit

the Ringsfield dead

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