At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Sproughton

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Sproughton: click to enlarge

up to the porch... ...and in.

Thanks to local planning policies, the River Gipping still winds through gentle water meadows before diving into the industrial wastelands of west Ipswich. In these meadows, Bramford and Sproughton still feel like proper villages.You can see at once from the map that both are really part of the greater Ipswich urban area, but if you point this out to me I will tell you to put your map away. The river, a field and the A12 dual carriageway still separate Sproughton from the hellish Boss Hall industrial estate, which is just as it should be.

Curiously, the medieval parish of Sproughton has undergone one of the largest population increases of any in Suffolk. In the mid-19th century, it numbered hundreds; today, it is more than 30,000. However, these people were long since taken out of the parish, and added to the Borough of Ipswich. Most of them live on Ipswich's challenging Chantry Estate, named for being the former farmlands of Sproughton Chantry Hall, which survives, but is also now in the Borough, a Sue Ryder home in a public park. The lands themselves, of course, were originally chantry lands, providing income for paying chantry priests in this very church.

As at Bramford, All Saints sits beside the river, and across the road is a delightful old mill pond, with its derelict water mill. Arthur Mee found this working in the 1930s. The main village street can be a bit of a traffic bottle neck, but this is a pleasant enough place.

This is a largely 14th century building, although the east end is wholly Victorianised. The clerestory and aisles give a sense of a comfortable, Catholic liturgical space at ease with itself, before the excesses of Perpendicular set in. Such a splendid building could conceal great treasures - or, of course, a bleak Victorianisation. Perhaps there are surprises, or there is beauty; perhaps a sense of the beating heart of a faith community. However, while it is almost unheard of for a medieval church in the Ipswich urban area to be locked without a keyholder, this used to be the case here. No longer - while Sproughton is not kept open, like most Ipswich area churches are, there is a keyholder notice today.

Stepping inside, the first impression is that the Victorians were indeed rather heavy-handed here. But the church is not without interest, and there is a terrific Christopher Whall window in the north aisle. If this church is a beautiful shell, then the Whall window is undoubtedly the pearl.

Gethsemane crucifixion
St Christopher crucifixion Baptism of St Alban? before the king

Several hundred years before Whall, Elizabeth Bull was buried here. The year was 1634, and she was certainly a Cromwellian puritan, but much of her life had been lived as a Tudor. She wears her ruff, and kneels as angels draw curtains in front of her.

There is more stained glass, mostly earlier than Whall, and probably the work of Ward and Hughes. The best of the 1860s restoration is the wood carving of the great Henry Ringham, an Ipswich craftsman who is now recognised as one of the great cervers of the century. But overwhelmingly, there is an urban feel to the interior, as if the 19th century restorers were already anticipating the creeping of Ipswich towards this church, across the water meadows.

looking east the empty tomb sanctuary looking west
this cup Crown Him the Lord of Lords Miriam Tabitha 
Elizabeth Bull sacred ledger

Simon Knott, 1999, updated 2007


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