At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Hollesley

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Hollesley Hollesley

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          Approaching Hollesley (pronounced Hoze-ley) you come out of the forests to find the heaths and marshes of the Bawdsey Peninsula spread out before you, and perhaps it seems a surprisingly busy and perhaps mundane place under the circumstances, for Hollesley is the largest village on the Bawdsey Peninsula, with a proper shop, a school and a pub. But behind you are memories of a darker time, for during the Cold War there were two huge American airbases in this forest, dictating the line of roads and, mercifully, the abundance of trees. Today, Woodbridge and Rendlesham bases are being developed for residential and commercial use, although parts are still cordoned off, waiting for military installations to be either removed or to find a new role.

Beyond the village the sea appears in this sprawling parish, and the fortress between the two was Hollesley Bay Prison Colony, erstwhile home of Hollesley's most famous former resident, the playwright Brendan Behan, and the setting of much of his screamingly funny autobiography, Borstal Boy. Beyond that is a fortress of an earlier age, one of the Martello towers that line the Suffolk coast from Aldeburgh southwards. It is set at the end of Shingle Street, a strange, remote community.

Hollesley's parish church is set in the middle of the village, just off the High Street and up a gentle rise, looking crisp and polite in its churchyard. Its reconstruction at the end of the medieval period can be fairly accurately dated from bequests found by Peter Northeast and Simon Cotton. In 1430, the rector Robert Culteler left 40s to the tower to be newly built there, and in 1452 John Sarle left money to the structure of the new tower. In 1465 Richard Welnatham left 5 marks to the construction of the tower, but by 1487 money was being left to internal furnishings suggesting that the building was complete by that time, and in 1495 Ellen Serle left 2s to the reparation of the bells, so the tower must have been complete by then.

The 1880s gave it a good seeing to at the hands of that not always gentle diocesan surveyor Herbert Green, but curiously, when he knocked the north wall through to build an aisle, a 13th Century arcade was found in the stonework. Obviously, this church had been made smaller after the Reformation in the same way as nearby Bawdsey. He also encased the nave and chancel in renewed flints.

You step into a clean, bright, well-kept interior, and any danger of Green's customary gloom is allayed by the the beautiful light of Meg Lawrence's 1984 glass of Holy Family set at the end of the north aisle. It remembers two young people, Clare Butler and Andrew Benning, who were killed in a car crash just before Christmas 1983. The other memorable feature of All Saints is the set of unusual bench ends. As at several Suffolk churches, they date from the middle years of the 20th Century, but James Bettley records in his revision of the Buildings of England volume for East Suffolk that they were designed by Munro Cautley, who was diocesan surveyor at the time, and made by Harry Brown. Intriguingly, he adds that the original medieval benches that inspired them are stored in the tower. They include such curiosities as a gryphon attacking a lion, St Agatha bearing her breast, a three-dimensional rendering of the Dennington sciapod, and a sphinx which recalls the Tutankhamun craze of the 1920s.

       

Simon Knott, May 2021

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looking east up at the holy end font
sciapod (20th Century) gryphon attacking a lion (20th Century) Holy Family (Meg Lawrence, 1990s)

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