At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Wetheringsett

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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crossing the bridge chancel Perpendicular
lion Perpendicular crown

sermon on the mount (detail)   While parts of Suffolk are certainly remote and far off the beaten track, it is ironic that some of the county's loveliest villages are just a stone's throw from the busiest roads, and yet still maintain a deep peace, as if the modern world was happening somewhere far away. The A140 in particular guts and fillets the little villages unfortunate enough to sit on it, but you don't have to travel far from it to leave all that horror behind. Wetheringsett, for example, is a beautiful village, sunk in wooded lanes, with old houses looking very agreeable. I remember that on my first visit some ten years ago it went straight on my Lottery-winning wish list. Mind you, I still haven't actually started doing the lottery, so perhaps I will need to rely on a long-lost and forgotten great aunt somewhere.

Wetheringsett is a joint parish with Brockford, home to the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway Museum. The church is set on the High Street, but screened from it by trees and a wide ditch. You reach the graveyard across a very pleasing wooden bridge, and there before you is pretty much a perfect example of a late-Medieval East Anglian church. Although there is evidence of an earlier building, All Saints was almost entirely rebuilt during the second half of the 15th Century - hence the full confidence of the tower and the aisles, and a clerestory which is almost all glass.

A lion and a crown greet you at the entrance to the south porch, and you step through the little wicket gate into the clear light of a wide, beautiful Perpendicular building. There was obviously a busy Victorian restoration here, but the crispness of the late-Medieval rebuilding is also a contributory factor. The feel is similar to that at Bacton on the other side of the A140. The long lines of arcades draw the eye to the proportionate chancel arch and the east window, also in proportion, beyond. The effect is technically brilliant. The lack of coloured glass in the nave enhances the sense of space and openness. The garish green of the chancel is perhaps unfortunate.

The war memorial on the north wall has a huge number of names on it for such a small, rural parish, including four members of the Stannard family. Nearby is the parish charity board, relettered in 1960. John Sheppard must have been a fairly jolly type - he left in his will of 1707 provision for an annual feast for the poor of Wetheringsett. Meat and Drink for XX Poor Persons was to be provided to entertain them at a dinner in the steeple of the church. A peal of bells would accompany the feast, and it would take place always on the Festival of the Annunciation of Our Blessed Lady, which is to say March 25th, which was New Year's Day at the time.

Remarkably, towards the end of the 1500s, the Rector of Wetheringsett-cum-Brockford for what would be the last quarter century of his life was the writer Richard Haklyut. He had spent most of his life in the busy centres of Paris and Bristol. Generally considered today to be the first great travel writer, he was responsible for drawing together accounts of the discovery and exploration of North America by Europeans. What is less well-remembered is his championing of the cause of colonialism. He argued persuasively that it would be possible for Europeans not only to bring back the fruits of their explorations, but actually to establish communities in these new lands. It was the beginning of the British Empire, and it heralded half a millennium of conflict as the European nations raced to conquer the New World. His suggestion of the part of the North American coast which might best support the pioneering colonialists won favour with Queen Elizabeth, as did his naming of it Virginia, which referred to both its virgin state and to the virgin Queen.

I had cycled here on this fine June day from Diss, stopping off at as many little churches along the way as I could, but I think that this was the most beautiful churchyard of them all, its ancient stones peeping up through the long grass and the sonorous dog daisies nodding their heads in the wide summer heat.

Among the headstones is a fine example of the early 18th Century. A grinning skeleton holds a dart and a shroud as he runs in a busy manner across the face of the stone, as if he has somewhere to get to. The meaning is clear: As you are now so once was I, therefore you must prepare to die. As I am now so you will be, therefore prepare to follow me. It is quite the best of its kind in Suffolk.

  old bones

Simon Knott, June 2010

looking east looking west chancel chancel
1715 sermon on the mount sermon on the mount (detail) war memorial

dog daisies old bones cross dog daisies


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