At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Peter, Thorington

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


hover to read,
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a touch Victorianised

hidden by trees

north nave window

looking east

Flanders cross

font below the tower

looking west

Bence memorial

beautiful piscina, now at floor level


The setting of this church is so lovely, set as it is along a narrow, hilly lane amongst great trees, with only its former rectory beside it, that one can forget for a moment that the awful A12 thunders northwards not half a mile from here.

With the light cascading through the trees on this July afternoon, with not a single other human being sighted since leaving Bramfield, this could have been any time. The round tower is, with the possible exception of that at Little Saxham in the west of the county, Suffolk's finest.

The blind arcades that line it are typical of late Saxon design; there is a little evidence of Victorian repair, but they don't seem to have been restored. The mock-Norman west window is theirs, however. The pretty battlements were added in the 16th century. Apart from these, it must have stood here like this through the alternating seasons for at least a thousand years. Those centuries have brought trees in abundance, so you may struggle to find the church if you don't have an Ordnance Survey map, and struggle further to photograph it when you do find it.

Stepping inside, then, is going to be exciting. The north door, which faces the road, is open. What will we find?

Well, we will find that, although we are often sympathetic to the Victorians, what they did here is so horrid that it is hard to forgive them for it. They were good at so much, but Victorian mock-Norman is just clumsy kitsch.

As at Wissington, Wordwell, Whepstead and, most stupefyingly, Stoven, the Victorians did not think this interior Norman enough, and so they made it more Norman than it was already. Hence the absurd tower arch, erected to create a baptistery beneath the tower, as at Hengrave. The chancel arch is, I'm afraid, also theirs.

Fortunately, they did not discover the original tower opening above their arch, and this has been found and reopened in more recent years. It suggests that the tower originally had a defensive purpose; a ladder up to here could be climbed and then drawn up, making it easy to defend against attackers.

There are some old benches, a memorial to the Bence family that seems rather out of scale in this little church, and a gorgeous 14th century piscina that now sits against the raised floor of the Victorian chancel.

The chancel was rebuilt as part of the 1860s restoration, and actually the glass is really good. It doesn't pretend to be Norman, for one thing. That on the north side is curious: Christ is shown giving his commission to St Peter to build the Church - but Christ is shown with the crucifixion wounds in his hands.

On a summer's day, with your back turned to the tower arch, this is a lovely place to be, with the birds singing outside, and the coloured glass spilling its light across the benches.

St Peter, Thorington, is on a minor road between Bramfield and the A12. I found it open. See MAP

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