At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Stuston

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Stuston 1861: chancel

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          We are not so very far here from where the busy A140 and A143 roads meet, but this little church sits deep in the woods, a secret, silent place. We are away from the village up a narrow lane that peters out in undergrowth. In summer, the close-flanked trees in the graveyard absorb all sound - or, at least, most of it. The first time I visited, I had my two young children in tow, so the trees had a bit of a job on their hands. In those days, this church was kept locked, but the keyholders were very kind to my children, and I 've never forgotten that. Today, like others in this benefice, All Saints is open to strangers and pilgrims every day.

The tower is round with an octagonal belfry, so presumably 14th century although the tower arch suggests earlier work which it replaced. The body of the church was also perhaps 14th Century, but in any case is pretty much all Victorianised. An old photo inside shows it pre-restoration, the east wall supported by tie-bars. There are two dated slabs, one on the south side with an ornate monogram for 1861, and a memorial stone to Osmund Clarke dated 1865 on the north side. So what was more a reconstruction than a restoration happened here in the 1860s, when exciting things were happening across the main road at Brome.

The populations of rural East Anglian parishes reached their peak in the middle of the 19th century, and have been slowly falling away since, but it is hard to imagine that Stuston was a particularly busy place even in those days. Half a mile or so north of the churchyard, the River Waveney forms the northern boundary of the parish, touching Norfolk and the town of Diss, but even today you would not know that you were so close to somewhere so urban.

You step into a typically simple, rustic, narrow nave which opens out into the east through a chancel arch with red, black and yellow banding, and a large north transept and windows picked out the same way. Back in 1961 Pevsner had been a bit sniffy about the interior, considering it 'truly terrible', but of course we like this kind of thing a whole lot better now. There is a good chance that the architect here was the great Thomas Jekyll, who was working for Lord Kerrison at Brome in the 1860s, although as James Bettley notes in the revised Buildings of England: Suffolk West a plan for a complete rebuilding survives by E B Lamb who was also working locally at this time.

The 1727 memorial to Sir John Castleton is opulent, with sweet cameo portraits of the children who predeceased him, as if they were miniatures from the lockets of giants.

Sir John Castleton (Castleton memorial, 1727) Castleton memorial, 1727 Dame Bridget Castleton (Castleton memorial, 1727)
Charles Castleton (Castleton memorial, 1727) John Castleton (Castleton memorial, 1727) Elizabeth Castleton (Castleton memorial, 1727)

Other survivals from before the restoration include a little image niche in the eastern splay of a window, with its associated piscina. A nave altar was here once, focus of some long-forgotten devotion. In another window the socket for the door bar emerges in a splay.

The glass is good of its kind, by three competent workshops. The east and west windows are by Heaton, Butler & Bayne who were at their best in the 1860s, and scenes in the life of Mary Magdalene are of the same date by William Wailes. The glass of half a century later by the Norwich workshop of J &J King depicting the Flight into Egypt and the Presentation in the Temple is probably the best glass in the place, but perhaps it doesn't have quite the 'period piece' feel of the other glass which was installed during the restoration.

The church has both a war memorial and a roll of honour for the boys sent away to the First World War. Seven of them never came back. When Arthur Mee came this way in the 1940s he found a frame beneath the memorial containing faded poppies brought back from Flanders by the rector. The memorial remains, but of course the poppies have long since gone.


Simon Knott, August 2020

looking east looking west
Flight into Egypt (J & J King, 1912) Presentation in the Temple (J & J King, 1912) Christ the Good Shepherd flanked by St Peter and St Paul (Heaton, Butler & Bayne, 1860s) St John the Evangelist (Heaton, Butler & Bayne, 1860s)
agnus dei (William Wailes, 1860s) Mary Magdalene anoints Christ's feet with oil (William Wailes, 1860s) Christ in the house of Martha and Mary at Bethany (William Wailes, 1860s) Mary Magdalene anoints Christ's head with oil (William Wailes, 1860s) Pelican in her Piety (William Wailes, 1860s)
WWI memorial 1914-19 mine eyes have seen thy salvation (J & J King, 1912) roll of honour 1914-19

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