At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Peter, Spexhall

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Spexhall: deep peace of the Blyth Valley
east chancel wall the storm approaches This is Spexhall 

The Government is always looking to save money on the Health Service, so here is a suggestion. When patients tip up at their GP loaded down with stress, and asking to be prescribed valium or prozac, they should, instead, be sent on a bike ride around the lanes about Halesworth. Here, the deep green encroaching of the fields and copses in late spring, the angelica and the birdsong, and the silent heat of the dusty road, are guaranteed to lower the blood pressure and raise the spirits.

St Peter at Spexhall is a particularly idyllic spot. This largely Victorianised little church sits in a sweet little graveyard behind a fence and gates. In spring, the long grasses and Mary's Lace boil up around the walls, and if you sit down on the slab of a tombchest for a while, you'll know that there's nowhere else on earth you'd rather be. Lichened 18th and 19th century gravestones peep up for a little sunshine, and beyond rests the church, a neat little building looking all of JK Colling's 1870s restoration. I like the flying buttress he put over the Priest door in the chancel, a witty borrowing from the great church at Blythburgh. The round tower is after Colling, being rebuilt in 1910. There is one significant survival from earlier days, a great curiosity. This is the lattice pattern set in brick into the east wall. This dates from when the chancel was rebuilt in the early 18th century, presumably because it had fallen into such a bad state. This is so like the same thing in 15th century flint at nearby Barsham that it surely must be a copy.

The tower replaced the one that fell in 1720. The base is possibly Saxon, at the very least early Norman. There is also a surviving blocked Norman north doorway. It is all very well looked after, and obviously loved. I noticed on the busy signboard at the gate that the parish has an electoral roll of only nine people, but it has the good fortune to be part of the Blyth Valley group of parishes, which are some of the friendliest and most welcoming in England. There is a sense in which St Peter is re-inventing itself as a kind of wayside shrine, a place for passers-by to seek spiritual refreshment. As the sign in the porch says, it is always open, and you step into a pretty, open, light interior that is far more than just a posh venue for the Sunday club. This seems so obviously the way forward for the Church of England; the parish churches are its most visible act of witness, a powerful one, reminding us of something outside of the busy, materialist world of the 21st century.

Pretty 19th century tiles and simple benches give the interior a rustic feel. A plough has been set in the long chancel, and a candle burns for St Walstan, the ploughman's Saint, more often found in Norfolk than in Suffolk. The glass in the east window is good and unusual, depicting Christ the Good Shepherd flanked by Miriam and the Widow with her mite. Mortlock says it is by Jones & Willis.

There are some 15th and 16th century brass inscriptions, and one figure, reset on the wall, but more moving is a surviving Flanders Cross, returned to this parish by the Imperial War Graves Commission when it was replaced with a permanent one in the years after the First World War. It marked the grave of Lt. J D Calvert of the Rifle Brigade, who died on the 15th February 1915. These crosses are increasingly rare survivals, but are so important, more so than cold stone memorials. Soon, no one will be left alive with a memory of the Great War. Just as this church is a touchstone to the past, so these crosses spark a remembrance in the heart.

  Lt. J D Calvert 15-2-15

Simon Knott, 2007

looking east chancel looking west font
brasses Miriam Good Shepherd The Widow's Mite war memorial 
Miriam and the Widow with Christ the Good Shepherd plough Lt. J D Calvert 15-2-15 royal arms

Spring 2007


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