At the sign of the Barking lion...

St John the Baptist, Shadingfield

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


Hover to read captions, click to see enlarged images:

Grand and familiar: St John the Baptist towers above the Beccles road.

Recently restored, one of East Suffolk's loveliest Tudor porches.

What is it?

Where did it come from?

Rare double-headed corbel that used to support the rood loft.

A collection of 16th, 17th and 18th century glass in the east window.

A rare jewel of 19th century enamelled glasswork.

Shadingfield's pretty little pipe organ.


  Set in a gorgeous wildlife sanctuary, the elegant tower of Shadingfield.

If you have driven very much in East Suffolk, then you have probably seen St John the Baptist. It stands high up above the road between Beccles and the A12, and you have to park across the road and climb up to it. The tower is 15th century, and is most elegant, despite (or even because of) its later patching in red-brick, as at Blaxhall. It is, in any case, set into considerable relief by one of East Suffolk's prettiest red-brick porches. A Tudor design of this kind is usually thought of as being early 16th century, but the image niche is surprisingly small, and may not even be for images, and so I wondered if the structure might actually post-date the Reformation. It conceals a very good late Norman doorway, although Mortlock thought that, as the north doorway is more ornate, it might once have been the principal entrance. Be that as it may, we are certainly dealing with a building that is older than it looks.

The graveyard is a fine one, sloping away eastwards, and is worth a wander. But the real reason for coming here is to go inside, because this is one of the most interesting and delightful small churches in the area, and apparently little-visited by church explorers.

As with many churches in north-east Suffolk, the unaisled nave and chancel run into each other with nothing to mark the division - or, at least, almost nothing. For here, although the roodscreen has long gone, there are two extraordinary corbels set in the north and south walls, that once supported the roodloft. Each of them consists of a pair of heads - the one in the north wall is particularly delightful.

To the west of them, the carved bench ends on the front pews are also extraordinary, and look like nothing else I've seen in Suffolk. They are the fine figures of two men - Mortlock thinks one of them is a priest. The benches appear to be 19th century, but as I said, I've not seen anything like them before.

The chancel glass is very good indeed. The east window contains scatterings of coloured glass from the last five centuries, set in clear glass to highlight it. In the north wall, there is a lancet containing unusual enamelled glass, a memorial to Mary Kilner who died in 1858.

Elsewhere in the nave, you'll find a gorgeous pipe organ, painted gaily in the 18th century manner, a fine medieval font, and that curiosity of this part of the county, a banner stave locker. There are twelve churches in the Lowestoft area that have them, and their use appears to be for containing the wooden poles used to carry images and crucifixes in medieval processions. Fair enough - but why only around here? Did other medieval churches possess wooden cupboards? So why have none survived? Perhaps its just a Lowestoft area thing, the need to tidy bits away.

This parish is famous for the Shadingfield altar cloth, a rare and unusual lace-trimmed textile that was given to the church in 1632. This was at the time when Archbishop Laud was trying to reintroduce sacramental practices back into the Church of England, including the re-establishment of altars in chancels. The move fell to the fury of the puritans; Laud was executed, the altars were removed, and the pulpit became the main focus of Anglican worship for the next 200 years. The altar cloth itself is now on view a few miles off in Beccles Museum, which is open every afternoon except Mondays.

St John the Baptist, Shadingfield, is about halfway along the A145 Beccles to Blythburgh road. I found it open.

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