At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Thorpe Morieux

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


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The bold west tower.

From the north.

15th century porch, wearing white for Eastertide.

The hemmed in south side.

Looking east

Looking west.

The font, all daffodilled up.

15th century image bracket, now part of the war memorial.

The organ, formerly in the Curzon chapel in London.

Piscina and sedilia.

Suffolk's youngest hatchment.



St Mary: always first seen across fields.

Thorpe Morieux is one of those lost, remote Suffolk villages in the hills between Stowmarket and Hadleigh, a good five miles from the nearest major road. It is not particularly quaint, or picturesque; it's a working village, surrounded by rolling farmland. This is one of the last places in Suffolk you can really not hear the hum of distant traffic. For the people who live here Lavenham is the local big town, which says it all, really.

Morieux, pronounced M'roo, was the name of one of the parish manors; something similar happened to the name of Stonham Aspal. St Mary is a church that you always see for the first time across the fields; no matter from which way you approach, there it is in the green valley below. There is no village centre, and the walk up to the church is between cowfields, vaguely reminiscent of Yorkshire, an illusion helped by the surrounding hills. Even more exotic than the hint of northernness is the llama farm at the bottom of the lane; the inquisitive beasts will probably spot you as you wander down to them, and crane out for a look.

You approach from the west, and the elegant tower thrusts up beyond the lychgate. The church is very hemmed in in its graveyard, particularly to the south, but the fields around provide the real setting. St Mary is a a good example of that moment where Dec is becoming Perp; everything is in the right place, an archetypal village church. The wood and brick 15th century porch is simple and beautiful, and don't miss the broken slab of stone leaning up against the east wall of the chancel. It has bevelled edges, and Mortlock thought it might have been the original mensa. I searched it for consecration crosses, and found on one piece a hollow towards a corner that might once have been an indented cross; but when I scraped the stone with my finger it came away easily, and so I guess it might be anything. In the 1980s, Mortlock found this slab inside the church; presumably it broke in two when they moved it.

You step down rather suddenly into the interior, and the nave falls away rapidly towards the east. This is unusual; on an ancient site, particularly if it is on a hill, the nave often rises to the east. I wondered if it was simply that the chancel had sunk into the marshy ground over the centuries.

Two spectacular objects are immediately opposite the doorway. The first is the grand transitional font. You can see how design had moved on in the century or so since the Norman font at nearby Great Bricett; we no longer have elaborate reliefs, but the style is increasingly elegant. In the decades to come, it would lose its squareness as well, but for now it still broods magnificently. Beyond the font is more elegance; the organ came from the Curzon chapel in Mayfair, and brightens up what can be a gloomy nave on a dull day.

This is partly because most of the windows on the south side are filled with coloured glass, some of it very good. I was particularly taken with the memorial window to a former Rector which features Saints Peter and Paul. You can see it at the bottom of this page.

There is an unusual image bracket set in the south wall, all vines and ivy. Mortlock thinks it 15th century, and not in its original location. It seems to have been found and moved at the time of the 19th century restoration, and later made to form part of the war memorial. Probably it was beside the altar to St Nicholas, who Cautley says was the patron of a guild here in the years before the Reformation.

The chancel arch is flanked by two hatchments. Now, I'm not a great one for hatchments, but the one to the south of the arch is interesting because it is the latest in Suffolk, and one of the last in England. It dates from 1934, and is for one of the Warners of Thorpe Hall.

Stepping into the large chancel, there are two fairly decent memorials to that ubiquitous family in this part of the world, the Fiskes. The better one, on the north wall, dates from the late 18th century; the one opposite is early 19th century. Again, I'm not a great one for this kind of thing, but they are elegant and restrained, and not too imposing.

18th century Fiskes 19th century Fiskes

The sill of the sanctuary south window drops to show that there was a sedilia here once, but any remains of it have been lost. The 13th century angled piscina beside it survives, with an elegant column separating the two parts.

Altogether then a handsome building, and well worth a visit, with its setting in the remote mid-Suffolk hills amid the farmyards of an earlier, buisier age than today, when nothing very much at all seems to happen in Thorpe Morieux, particularly. I got back on my bike, and headed up the steep lonely road towards Hitcham. I looked back into the valley, seeing the impressive Thorpe Hall rise like a moon behind St Mary.

20th century St Peter and St Paul

St Mary, Thorpe Morieux, is about 3 miles east of the A1141 Hadleigh to Bury road, about two miles north-east of Lavenham. When it is open, a sign is placed on the road outside. When it is kept locked, the keyholder is in the adjacent converted barn. See MAP

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