At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Andrew, Sotherton

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Sotherton Sheep

Sotherton Sheep Sotherton Sheep Sotherton Sheep

knight   I'd been looking forward to coming back to St Andrew, remembering its setting as a particularly lovely one, at the end of a narrow lane off the Halesworth to Beccles road. There is no village. Even the Parish of Sotherton is too small to be marked on anything but a decent Ordnance Survey map. The only other buildings in sight are a cottage on the edge of the churchyard, and the old farmhouse, from where you collect the key. The farmhouse's position in relation to St Andrew gives it a proprietal air, and there is a sense in which the church is actually a part of the farmyard complex, as at Letheringham. The gently rolling fields enfold the little church, and when the corn is as high as a cyclist's eye it gives an intensely secretive feel to the place. Coming here in late August 2008, I found the harvest in full progress, as if the land was being stripped back to reveal a profound secret.

This charming litle church was completely rebuilt by the Victorians. But they reused the old materials, and at any rate this is a church worth visiting. It is a fine example of good 19th century rural work. The architect was Henry Ringham, most familiar from his superb wood carving in the Ipswich area, particularly at Woolpit and Great Bealings. He built the fabulous Gothic House in east Ipswich, but went bankrupt before he was able to take up residence. However he was still considered a significant enough Ipswicher at the turn of the century to have a road named after him.

My great delight in coming back here was magnified by finding the churchyard playing host to a flock of the friendliest and most inquisitive sheep I have ever encountered. They rubbed themselves against me like sleek cats, and generally did all that they could to get in my photographs. I spent longer looking at the outside of the church than I did the inside, and quite missed them when I had to cycle off in the direction of Uggeshall.

Quiet and unassuming, without a tower or a prominent position, St Andrew does, however, have one great treasure. Two surviving panels of the roodscreen are attached to the vestry door. Although they have clearly been overpainted, they retain their 15th century gessowork (plaster of Paris attached to wood or stone, and then painted). More remarkably, St John is accompanied by his symbol of an eagle. This is one of only two times this symbol is known to survive on a roodscreen panel in East Anglia.

St John St John and St Mary Magdalene Mary Magdalene

There are other medieval survivals. The font is a good example from the eve of the Reformation, with a hint of the elegance which the English Renaissance might have brought if we had not chosen the Puritan path instead. The blocking early 17ty century font cover is a rustic contrast.The surprising survival is the 13th Century effigy of a knight, sleeping soundly in a recess on the north wall. The matching recess on the south side is empty, but is was probably simply a Victorian affectation to have two of them.

The 19th Century glass is singularly good. Some of it is in the familiar style of Ward & Hughes, but the rest is more interesting, and Sam Mortlock thought it was the work of Charles Hudson and Edward Baillie. He was somewhat less enamoured of the stone pulpit. Munro Cautley was generally rather harsh about St Andrew, and of course it is insignificant compared to the remarkable treasure of nearby Westhall. But I think this church is lovely, and worth visiting if only for all the Victorian sentiment alone.

Coming here in August, I was just ahead of the Historic Churches Bike Ride a few weeks later, and I had been wanting to find a copy of the leaflet listing churches that would be open. I found that St Andrew had a little pile of ten of them, and reasoning that this was probably more than the number of the people on the electoral roll, I didn't feel too guilty about taking one.

  cloven tongues

Simon Knott, November 2008

looking east looking west sanctuary font knight
St Andrew Transfiguration Ascension Pentecost Ascension
Ascension Good Samaritan Pentecost triptych

Sotherton sheep all in a row Sotherton sheep


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