At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Leonard, Wixoe

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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St Leonard from the village street. Quaint Victorian vestry and chimney.


St Leonard is not a significant church in architectural terms perhaps, but it so happens that the village was the birthplace of Suffolk's great church explorers, DP 'Sam' Mortlock. He first saw the inside of a church here.

Wixoe is a tiny village right on the Essex border to the east of Haverhill. Only the infant River Stour protects it from the busy Essex parish of Sturmer, which has not only had an apple named after it but was the birthplace of the racy 1960s actress Charlotte Rampling. Her father was the Vicar there, I believe.

Wixoe consists mainly of Victorian cottages scattered along a narrow lane. If you look at it on an old map, you can see that the Colchester to Cambridge railway line ran straight through it, so this church was once a familiar sight to travellers. But that is now all gone, and the village is bypassed completely. You would never notice the church unless you intended to.

St Leonard is the patron Saint of prisoners, and only a couple of Suffolk churches are dedicated to him. Despite the entirely 19th century windows, the church is clearly of Norman origins and the walls slope significantly towards each other as they approach the east. Perhaps there was once an apse. The bell-turret is a tribute to the proximity of Essex, and inside the south porch the doorway confirms your theory about the Normans.

The Victorians weren't just busy building cottages in Wixoe. This church underwent a major restoration quite late in the century, and the overwhelming feeling inside is of 1880s gloom. This isn't as dull as it sounds, for the church is neat and well-kept, and provides a document of, and testimony to, parish life over the last couple of centuries. The only medieval survival is the font, but there are a couple of nice 18th century memorials, including one with a splendid skull.

Simon Knott, 2007


Looking east beneath the kingpost. One of those window arrangements which really works. Ten foot square.

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