At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Peter, Lindsey

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Lindsey cast iron grave markers Lindsey

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This was one of the first churches I ever visited in Suffolk. I'd been told about it by that great writer about Suffolk churches, Roy Tricker, and although it wasn't a church which featured very strongly in books about the county, he told me enough to make me want to see it for myself. I wasn't disappointed, and over the years since I've found plenty of opportunities to come back.

I suppose that not much has changed in Lindsey since my first visit back in the early 1990s. It is still a quiet little spot in the gentle hills between Hadleigh and Lavenham. The chapel of St James, now in the care of English Heritage, still hides away behind a hedge on the top road. Tragically though, one of the pubs has closed. The White Rose is no longer, and only the Red Rose remains. These two had existed at either end of the village for centuries, and for one of them to be lost is like an arm being lopped off.

I came here once with my young children on an icy January morning. The temperature was just creeping above freezing, the rime of frost retreating and dissolving, the air stunningly clear in the bright winter sunlight. It was the first year of the new century. Across the valley I could make out scatters of crows miles away, and there was a frozen silence that I loved. I stood and breathed the cold air, and then the cries of my childen larking in the graveyard brought me back to reality.

Lindsey, along with its neighbours Kersey, Boxford and Groton, was a hotbed of puritan dissent in the early part of the 17th century, and from here hundreds of families fled across the Atlantic to the New World. The Winthrops of tiny Groton would become founders of the State of Massachusetts. But most of the settlers were poor working families, and they would devote themselves to quiet, prayerful, unpersecuted lives, and work hard to build new communities. Of course, they would never see Suffolk or the valley of the gentle Brett again.

Did they miss it? If I had been brought up in this beautiful landscape, I would always remember it on a bright winter's day, and yearn for it. I don't suppose that I would ever stop longing for it if I knew I would never see it again, and perhaps they did long for it, for all across New England you will find towns and villages with the names of East Anglian parishes, including Lindsey, Kersey, Boxford and Groton.

In comparison with the familiar glories of nearby Kersey, Monks Eleigh and Lavenham, this is a small, rustic church. There is no tower, and little chancel to speak of. But of all the mid-Suffolk cloth-village churches, this is the one that most retains a sense of continuity. You can imagine the late-medieval liturgical presence here as easily as you can imagine its current use for Anglican congregational worship. There is a taste of every century. In winter, it is colder and damper inside than out. You step into an ancient space, furnished with lime-washed wood and cold stone. There is no coloured glass, just a few fragments of 15th Century survivals in an upper light. The white walls seem to bow outwards, and large windows with their dropped sills intensify the sense of lightness and air. In summer, there is a sweet coolness about this building which accentuates its remoteness from the 21st century, and I love to come back here on warm summer days.

The unsafe tower was removed in the early 19th century, and the clear glass of the west window fills the church with light. It is almost all of a piece, 14th century Decorated. If you sit quietly, and not for very long, and if you are in a particular frame of mind, it is not so hard to conjure up a sense of the numinous here, a mystical energy, for this is a church which lends itself to private prayer far more than its grander neighbours. For here, the subtle interplay of spangling on wood and stone is ageless, timeless. The square font has waited here longer than most. It dates from about 1300, or perhaps a little later given that Suffolk craftsmen were often quite conservative and resistant to new fashions and ideas. It now stands against a pillar on the arcade of the south aisle, which is traditional, but it must have stood alone at some point, since it has designs on all sides, and, in any case, it is older than the pillar against which it now stands.

font (late 13th Century) font font (late 13th Century)

The wine-glass pulpit and the light wood of the rood screen dado are set off by the surviving red, green and gold of the painted panels. Beyond, the three-sided altar rails are almost ghost-like, the oak is so silvered. The 17th Century memorial to Nicholas Hobart and his family, with its grinning garlanded skull hanging beneath, adds a note of mildly absurd gravitas. The Hobarts came from here in the Brett Valley, but another more significant branch of the family would up sticks for grand Blickling Hall in Norfolk, and one of their descendants would give his name to the capital of Tasmania.

Grafitti on this arcade includes what appears to be a scratch-dial near the font, so this stone must once have been outside. Near it here is what is apparently a 12th century bishop. If this particular scratching is contemporary, then it is older than the church, and both these stones must have been reused from an earlier building. And there is a rose, to remind us of the pubs.

The great drop-window in the south aisle wall must have been off-set by an altar. Mortlock thought it was to the guild of St Peter. He also detected fixings for a parclose screen, and so here is an ordinary village church with evidence of its former Catholic life. Perhaps it is not so well known as its neighbours, but Lindsey's church and churchyard are quintessential rural Suffolk, timeless, without the triumphalism that overlays so many country churches, and what's more it is open to pilgrims and strangers every day.

Simon Knott, October 2020

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looking east chancel three-sided altar rails
looking west pulpit, rood stair entrance and rood screen fragment rood screen remnant
screen (15th Century) Our Father chest as side altar and riddel screen
Nicholas Hobart, 1609 garlanded skull, 1640s 17th Century cherub
fragments (15th Century) G R arms

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