At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Michael, South Elmham St Michael

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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St Michael

St Michael why stand gazing

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          South Elmham St Michael is one of what Arthur Mee called the Thankful Villages, although there isn't really a village, just a scattering of houses. These were the parishes which lost none of their young men to the killing fields of the First World War. If you consider that there are more than twenty thousand parishes in England, and all but just over thirty of them lost somebody, you can see why this tiny number of parishes might be thankful. There are just four others in the whole of East Anglia, these being Wordwell and Culpho in Suffolk, Strethall in Essex and Toft in Cambridgeshire, the first three of these also having no real village to speak of.

The church sits in the fields at the end of a track, from the long straight road. Beyond, the greens and common lands spread the houses away from each other, keeping them distant. It is pretty much all simple work of the 14th century. The sundial on the south nave wall asks us Why Stand Gazing? and tells us to be about your business. You step into a light interior with brick floors and simple furnishings, a perfect setting for a fine reredos of the 1930s, the work of Albert Lemmon, depicting the East Anglian missionary saints St Felix and St Fursey flanking the patron saint of the parish.

The 15th Century East Anglian-style font is guarded by lions. Those on the bowl look introspective, even sorrowful, but the alert fellows guarding the shaft are smug and obviously proud of themselves. There are two handwritten rolls of honour on the north wall, one for each of the great conflagrations of the 20th Century. We have already noted that this parish lost none of its men in the First war, and the roll for the Second notes at the bottom All Returned Safely. Consequently, this tiny parish is the only one in all East Anglia without a war memorial of any kind, and the only one to be doubly thankful.

Simon Knott, February 2022

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looking east chancel looking east
font reredos (Albert Lemmon, 1930s) light
St Felix St Michael St Fursey

A Thankful Village


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