At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Nicholas, Wrentham

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


Hover to read captions, click to see enlarged images:

A glum gaze through a window reveals a practical interior.

The Pound. Every parish once had one.


St Nicholas keeping its end up.

The Rector of Wrentham, Leonard Payne, has been a great friend to this site, so it is with some irony that I must report that I have never been able to get into his church. This isn't the place's fault, or even Leonard's, you'll be pleased to hear. Instead, an unlikely set of circumstances has seen me arrive here five times to find a wedding going on (twice), a funeral, the church closed for repairs, and finally the keyholder out. So it goes.

For anyone travelling up the A12 from London and Ipswich towards the Waveney ports, Wrentham comes as a suprise - it is bigger than you'd think. You can see how it has served the tourist trade over the years, before the dualling of much of the road made the journey from London possible in two and a bit hours. A few shops still survive, but I don't suppose many people stop here anymore. The large congregationalist church on the main road now seems to be some sort of antiques warehouse, and generally Wrentham probably benefits from the fact that it is one of the few unbypassed villages on the A12. Mind you, I don't live there, so I don't have to put up with the traffic.

As you look around, you may wonder where St Nicholas is, for no tower peeps up above the houses. In fact, Wrentham's parish church is about half a mile away across the fields, and although you can reach it from a narrow lane in the village, you will be directed off of the A12 on a larger one if you are approaching from the south.

You'll find St Nicholas sitting prettily at a junction of narrow roads - these are obviously ancient routes, because they curve around the graveyard and cut down beside it, so that the church appears to be sitting on a mound. It seems pretty clear that this was the original heart of the village, but that everyone drifted eastwards when the London to Yarmouth road was put through in the 18th century.

The graveyard is a delight; it isn't very big, but it has a good collection of 18th and even 17th century graves, which is a most unusual thing to find in Suffolk, or indeed, anywhere. It surrounds what can only be described as a big church, even for this part of Suffolk. The great 15th century tower stands tall and proud in the middle of this island - supposedly, you can see the sea from the top. The church beside it, although clerestory-less, is long and wide, with two big aisles. The northern one is Victorian, but the other is 15th century, matching the tower and porch. Mortlock thought that they had seen better days, but they look pretty good to me, so I assume they have been restored as part of the repairs programme. The chancel is probably the oldest part of the church, stealing 200 years on the south aisle and tower judging by the windows, but it is supported by red-brick flying buttresses that are rather elegant. Mortlock thought they might be 19th century.

So, that's as far as I got. Inside, it is said to be spacious, with some interesting memorials, including a couple of brasses. Peeping miserably through the window, all I could see was stacks of plastic chairs, which at least showed that there was a bit of life in the old place.

St Nicholas is part of a very welcoming benefice of a dozen or so parishes, who actually publish a leaflet - get this - that tells you a brief bit about each church, its opening hours, and where you can get the key if the church is locked. I think that is wonderful. However - one caveat - on the occasion I actually made it into the porch at Wrentham, the keyholder wasn't listed. You might be advised to pick up the leaflet in one of the benefice's other churches first - nearby Wangford, for example, which is always open in daylight hours.

Not far from the church, along the road back into the village, you'll find Suffolk's best preserved pound. This was used in the 18th and 19th centuries to contain stray animals rounded up in the parish. Their owners could get them back on payment of a fine. It is a perfectly round, red-brick structure, a delight to the eye. Ironic, that this parish contains not only a building that I seem to be finding it impossible to get into, but another from which it is impossible to escape.

St Nicholas, Wrentham, is about half a mile to the east of the A12, between Blythburgh and Kessingland. There is a keyholder, but make sure you read the caveat above.

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