At the sign of the Barking lion...

St John the Baptist, Barnby

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Barnby Barnby

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      Barnby and North Cove form a joint village just to the east of Beccles. At one time the Norwich to Lowestoft road travelled along the main street of both villages, but thankfully they are now bypassed. Unfortunately for this poor little church, the bypass left it on the other side of the busy road from its village, at a dangerous stretch known locally as the Barnby Bends. Heavy traffic hurtles past, and car and motorcycle accidents are depressingly regular. If you are visiting the church on foot or by bike it is possible to approach the church by a back road from the village, leaving you only the busy road to cross and no need to travel along it. Do be careful. If you make it, you will find the little church sitting in a dip below the road. There are no aisles, and the nave and chancel run together without a break under a thatched roof, which is to say that they are exactly like the nave and chancel of North Cove church at the other end of the joint village. Similarly, Barnby church has a fairly lean west tower. However, the chancel was not rebuilt here, so what we see is a church pretty much all of the 13th Century tipping into the 14th Century.

You step into what feels a long, tunnel-like structure illuminated by some of Margaret Edith Aldrich Rope's last glass, installed in 1963. Christ stands with St Philip and St John beside St John the Baptist, below the words Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. A simple crucifix is set below it, and would have formed a small reredos to an east-facing altar. Up above, the Heavenly City fills the upper lights. At the bottom, a tortoise, her symbol. Her nickname in the Rope family was Tor. This east window forms the illustration on the village sign, uniquely in East Anglia I think. The sweet roundels depicting scenes from the St John the Baptist story set in the windows on the south side are also hers.

Christ with St John the Baptist, St Philip and St John  (Margaret Edith Aldrich Rope, 1963) St John the Baptist (Margaret Edith Aldrich Rope, 1963) Christ (Margaret Edith Aldrich Rope, 1963) St Philip and St John (Margaret Edith Aldrich Rope, 1963)
The Heavenly City (Margaret Edith Aldrich Rope, 1963) Barnby

the voice of one crying in the wilderness (Margaret Edith Aldrich Rope, 1963) the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Margaret Edith Aldrich Rope, 1963)

These jewel-like windows punctuate an important sequence of wall paintings, which have been extensively uncovered and restored in the 1980s. They are 15th Century, so later than the more famous ones up the road at North Cove. Above one of the windows on the north side is an Annunciation scene. Mary is engrossed in her prayerbook, as St Gabriel descends quietly behind her. Across the church on the south wall is a Crucifixion. It seems too high to have been associated with an altar. Was it part of a Passion sequence? But there doesn't seem to be enough room for all the other scenes. To the west, the Seven Works of Mercy are presented as a tree or vine, and then there is a is a tall St Christopher scene.

Annunciation (14th Century)

Crucifixion Works of Mercy St Christopher

As with a number of other churches in this part of Suffolk, Barnby has a tall alcove towards the west end of the south side. This is a 15th Century banner-stave locker. We don't really know what these were for, but it is assumed that they were where pre-Reformation liturgical and processional regalia were stored. What makes Barnby's remarkable, however, is that it retains its original door, a unique survival in all England. The door of ancient wood is pierced with tracery. And yet, one glance at it tells you that it was never finished. Photographs from the 1930s show the door hung the other way up, but it has now been restored correctly. The locker itself is still in use,but mundanely, for storing hymn books. The early 20th century rood beam and cross have been reset rather oddly at this end of the nave, the 13th Century Purbeck marble font beneath it on its brightly painted pedestal. There are dozens of these fonts in East Anglia, almost all of them within easy reach of the sea.


Simon Knott, September 2022

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looking east God so loved the world
font George IV royal arms, 1825 (Hall pinxit)


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