At the sign of the Barking lion...

St George, Thwaite

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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west door sun dial north doorway
Thwaite Thwaite Thwaite

St John the Baptist   Pity the villages which are touched by the hellish A140 Ipswich to Norwich road, its lorries hurtling through the night in each direction on their single lanes. Part of Thwaite actually lies along the road, but there is a prettier, gentler part of the village not far from the road, surrounding St George's squarish graveyard. The parish room on the northern edge is a curious survival.

When I first came this way in 1998, I was saddened to find a neglected, ramshackle church with the only locked door for miles around. It was, in fact, in its last days of usage, although I didn't know that then. I observed on an earlier entry that a sign on the door warned of an uneven floor and crumbling masonry, and all around me the graveyard was dank and overgrown, and clearly used by locals for exercising their dogs, which was a bit disgusting. From the outside, you could see that this is basically a 12th century church at heart, but the chancel and west wall are thoroughly Victorian.The tower fell in the early 19th century, and Mortlock observes that the rubble was used to build the pair of cottages adjacent to the churchyard.

Since my first visit, this poor little church has undergone something of a roller coaster ride. It was abandoned about ten years ago, and plans were discussed for turning it into a village hall. However, these plans seem to have been scuppered by a lack of interest among locals.

Indeed, the salvation of the building came from people who had moved into the village from outside, and it was from one of these that I went to get the key. The sign warning of the uneven floor had been renewed, although there are even greater dangers, as we shall see. Beside the warning sign was a keyholder notice, a cause for optimism. However, it must be said that when I knocked on his door he was not terribly pleased to see me, as he was just about to sit down to his lunch. He couldn't let me have the key, as the church was too dangerous to enter unsupervised, but he offered us five minutes of his time. As is often the way, he ended up giving us four times as long.

One of the most remarkable features of Thwaite church is visible without getting the key. This is the set of extraordinary headstops which support the porch roof. They are apparently 16th century, and appear to be deliberately pulling ugly faces. It is fascinating to wonder if they were based on real, contemporary people. Above the porch, the roof of the church is in a parlous state, the guttering coming away and the tiles sagging. This was the reason for the keyholder's caution - already one part of the ceiling had fallen in, and there was concern for other stretches.

And yet, we stepped into a church which felt cared for and loved. As well it might, for a small group of villagers have really begun to get to grips with the place. About five years ago they formed a trust and began to raise money and carry out essential repairs, but they found the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich obstructive and generally unhelpful. The working group threatened to walk away and abandon it again, so the Diocese reluctantly declared it redundant and sold it to the trust for a pound. Since then, the work has continued, although a fabulous six figure sum would still be needed to get the building thoroughly ship shape again, and this is not a good time for fund-raising.

Despite the long years of neglect, the medieval features of St George have survived intact, most famously the 15th Century pulpit, but also part of a 15th Century glass figure of St John the Baptist, set in the east window. It may very well not have come from here originally, but it certainly has pride of place now.

At the west end is a lozenge-patterned window by Charles Clutterbuck, of which Mortlock speaks highly. Again, it is in need of repair, not least because of the weight of the bell turret above it. George Thomas Carpenter, an Edwardian Rector of this place, is remembered tenderly by a lozenge on the south wall. The organ is apparently still playable - indeed, the keyholder told me that he and his grandson like to come down to the church and play it, which I thought was lovely. In the long run, the future of this building must be as a village hall of some kind, with the eastern end retaining its liturgical integrity for use at Christmas, Easter, Remembrance Sunday and so on, although it has to be said that this goal still seems rather remote at present. However, I think that Thwaite church is now in safe hands, which it certainly wasn't ten years ago.

I wondered what Orlando Whistlecraft might of made of it all. He was Thwaite's most famous former resident, a self-styled weather prophet and poet. He meticulously recorded the weather for almost seventy years in the 19th Century, leaving a valuable archive. He wrote about the changing seasons, and used his observations to make predictions for local farmers. His cast iron gravemarker is immediately to the east of the church.

  Thwaite head

Simon Knott, April 2011

looking east George Thomas Carpenter Thwaite head St John the Baptist Thwaite head

Orlando Whistlecraft Orlando Whistlecraft Orlando Whistlecraft
a friend so true there are but few blessed sleep from which none ever wake to weep Whistlecraft J Smith Eye

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