At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Ethelbert, Tannington

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Tannington door caged

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Tannington will be familiar to anyone who travels the major roads of Suffolk, because it is home to a major agricultural haulage company whose many lorries bear the village name. But if you have ever jockeyed for position on a busy road with one of these beasts, the name will have given you quite the wrong idea of the place, for Tannington is a peaceful backwater, out on the long curving road that narrows beyond Worlingworth, before becoming a track connecting the churches of Tannington and Bedfield. On a sunny day the churchyard is as pretty as any, wide and open with St Ethelbert's stubby tower rising in the middle, and only an old farmhouse for company.

The church is a good mix of Decorated and Perpendicular work, and the tower was probably complete before 1451 when a series of bequests begin leaving money to the new porch. They would probably have been to the tower if it had not been completed yet. The flushwork porch rises to the top of the nave wall, and the nave and chancel are continuous under a single roof as often in east Suffolk. In fact, the division is clearer inside, as we will see.

Stepping into the nave you can see that St Ethelbert is one of those simple country churches which have been restored enough to make them suitable for modern Anglican worship, but still with a rustic feel and character all of its own. This is a building full of light, and the light illuminates some of the most beautiful benches in the county.

They are 15th Century, and their bench ends have been terribly badly mutilated. But somehow this adds to their poignancy, and, although they are clear victims of 16th Century iconoclasm, they are so smoothed that they look as if the centuries had simply melted them away. There are parts of three separate series here. Firstly, some are obviously from a set of the Seven Sacraments. Baptism is easy to spot, and its partner on the same bench is Penance. Another bench is from a series of Seven Deadly Sins. We see Avarice scooping money into a sack which hangs over the back of the bench end. Across the way is an image from yet another series, the Seven Works of Mercy. This depicts Sheltering the Homeless. There are some benches at the back of nearby Bedingfield church which are so similar that they must be the work of the same carver, and may even have come from the same church originally. It seems likely that the carvings at Wilby are also from this same group.

sacraments: Baptism and Absolution Deadly Sins: Lust? and Avarice Iconoclasm at Tannington
Deadly Sins: Avarice (front) Iconoclasm at Tannington Deadly Sins: Avarice (back)
mouth of hell mouths of hell Works of Mercy: shelter the homeless

There is a creamy austerity to the nave, and if the division between nave and chancel cannot easily be discerned externally, inside it is marked by the high canopy of honour to the now lost rood and screen, which punctuates the roof about two-thirds of the way along. Beyond, the chancel is again simple and light. The royal arms for Elizabeth II are one of about half a dozen sets in Suffolk. Another recent addition is the window with local scenes including the church and Braiseworth Hall. It depicts sowing and reaping, and the verse While the Earth remaineth and Summer and Winter, Seed-time and Harvest shall not cease. It remembers a former churchwarden, and it would be interesting to know who the artist was.

sowing and reaping (1970s, artist unknown) Braiseworth Hall (1970s, artist unknown) Tannington church (1970s, artist unknown)
While the earth remaineth and Summer and Winter seed-time and harvest shall not cease

That this parish is mindful of its past is shown by a display case of items of local interest. It includes a memory of one of the boys who came back from the First World War, a certificate of the Companions of the Great War (Framlingham branch) for Private SG Crisp. In the same display is a surviving parish truncheon, as wielded by the 19th century parish constable. Looking out across the fields from the graveyard, drinking in the deep peace of this, the heart of rural Suffolk, you can't help wondering what on earth he could have found to use it for.


Simon Knott, January 2021

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looking east looking west
font grief weeping at an urn for Jane Barker, 1826 Dade memorial Elizabeth II royal arms 1966
canopy of honour Pro Rege et Patria


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