At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Walpole

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Walpole south doorway

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Walpole is not far from the edge of Halesworth, but it is large enough to have a life of its own, and judging by the centre of the village appears to have been at some time a place of significance, with two large early 19th Century former inns and a contemporary Georgian shopfront fronting the widening road. The parish church is away from the village centre, set up the hill above the road to Halesworth behind a large churchyard. It is essentially the 1870s work of the architect HM Eyton who was busy in east Suffolk in this decade with his rather unforgiving High Victorian style. Among the few survivals here are a Norman south doorway (has it been recut? It is in rather good condition if it hasn't) and the lower part of the medieval tower, which a bequest shows was going up in the 1440s. Eyton replaced it with his own rectangular tower topped out with a squared-off octagonal bell stage under a fully octagonal spire which Pevsner thought awkward, and while you wouldn't want every church tower to be like this it has a certain charm.

You step into an interior which is intimate, although a little gloomy on a dull day despite the absence of coloured glass. The font is an elegant 14th Century piece which was not from this church originally but was brought here by Eyton from St Andrew, Norwich which had undergone an extravagant restoration including a new and vulgar High Victorian font. Pevsner thought that the panel set above the entrance to the south porch outside was from Walpole's old font.

Eyton also retained a couple of older memorials, both of which seem grand and urban in this simple space. An urn and a cherub with a curled wing remember Samuel and Mary Badeley who died in the late 18th Century, while another of a couple of decades later is to the Philpott family, patrons and incumbents at that time, one of whom was suddenly removed from this world to a better (after but an hour's illness) on St Valentines Day 1814.

The Incorporated Society for Buildings and Churches gave 30 to the 1870s restoration to allow the parish to do away with pew rents and reserved family pews, and these benches still fill the nave and aisle. However, the star of the show here at Walpole was revealed in recent years when the parish cleared the long chancel of all its furnishings to reveal one of the most memorable expanses of Victorian tiled flooring in Suffolk.

Walpole village is perhaps better known by church enthusiasts for its Old Chapel a little further out of town, a late 16th Century former farmhouse converted by an independent congregation about a hundred years later. After closing for worship in 1970 it is now in the care of the Chapels Conservation Trust and retains its original furnishings.


Simon Knott, January 2021

looking east chancel looking west
font 19th Century tiles hudd
Mary urn and cherub with a curled wing (1780) she was suddenly removed from this world to a better (after but an hour's illness) Behold! The Lamb of God

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