At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Margaret, Stradishall

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


Hover to read captions, click to see enlarged images:

You're welcome.

A baleful glare.

Into the gloom - the green glass imparts an appropriate mood.


Gloomy Sunday, my hours are slumberless, deep is the shadow that lives without numbering...

England's love affair with the motor car has killed this little village. Here, the Newmarket to Clare road crosses the one from Bury to Haverhill, and it is hellish, particularly if, like me, you had been cycling a meandering route through narrow lanes for the last thirty miles. I shot out onto the main road to the south of Wickhambrook, and instantly regretted it. Here, the cars race through, way over the speed limit. As the Clare road wound through the village, they shot out of blind corners, only just avoiding me. It would simply not be possible for children to walk around without danger here. It occured to me that my children were much safer playing out on the streets where we live near the middle of Ipswich than they would be here.

You might think that this Parish church would have a spiritual role to play, providing a village centre, a place to meet, a place to rest. You would be wrong, because it is firmly locked, with no keyholder listed. Somewhat laughably, a big sign beside the door reads WELCOME. You'll be pleased to learn that half a dozen pilgrims and travellers before me had scrawled their thoughts in response to this notice.

I wouldn't have minded being welcomed, because the sky was the colour of lead, and thunder was grumbling off to the west. The first heavy drops were beginning to fall as I rattled the door in frustration (once, in Northumberland, a 'locked' door opened when I shook it hard enough, so I always try). There was an air of decay about the notices in the wooden porch, as if this were some beleaguered inner city, rather than wealthy west Suffolk.

If the weather had held off, I might have been able to wander around the gorgeously unkempt graveyard, overgrown with trees and shrubs, and full of 18th and 19th century graves - thank God that this one was not cleared of headstones in the manner of so many! Instead, as the rain fell steadily, I circumnavigated the building.

Although it is fairly small, St Margaret has the full medieval works - two aisles and a clerestory, as well as nave and chancel. Externally, it looks rather curious, because of the nave roof, which is almost flat. I was reminded of nearby Kedington. Rather charmingly, a chimney sticks out above the south side. I looked up at some serious gargoyles, who gazed balefully back at me. I stood on my toes, peering through a window into the gloom, seeing what might be 16th century benches, a 15th century font, and the outline of a St Christopher on the far wall. Gloomy as it all appeared, it was more inviting than standing in the cold and wet of the churchyard. But it was not to be.

I waited for a break in the storm, and pushed my bike back to the busy road, hoping to get to Clare and my lift home. But I turned at the last minute, and contemplated St Margaret. It is in places like this that the Church of England is shrivelling up and dying, and one wonders who will care for this dear little church in fifty or a hundred years time.

On I travelled, the grim bulk of Highpoint prison under the low clouds on the hill to the west. One of the inmates here was Myra Hindley; she, you'll remember, was the Lancashire girl who, in her early twenties, was beguiled by her lover, the psychotic Ian Brady, into assisting him in a series of child murders. Hindley spent 36 years in prison. She fully repented of her crimes, assisted the police at every opportunity, found God and became a practicing Catholic. "I ask people to judge me as I am now, not as I was then", she said. Lord Longford campaigned tirelessly for her release until he died last year. Her original sentence of thirty years would have ended in 1996, but in 1990 the then-Home Secretary David Waddington decreed that Hindley should die in prison.

Even if she had been released, there would have been no prospect of her resuming a normal life, even if that were possible after spending two-thirds of one's life in prison. Before she died, she made it clear that, if released, she planned to spend the rest of her life in an enclosed convent. It seemed more a desire for vengeance and the bitterness of public opinion that kept her behind bars than anything else, but if there had been any vestige of Humanity, Mercy, or mere Christianity left in the hearts of the British people, she should have been released.

St Margaret, Stradishall, is just south of the junction between the A143 and the B1063, on the road to Clare. It is set back from the road, on the right hand side. It's locked.

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